Jim McGrath on Podcasts and Public HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: public history, podcasts, public engagement
Jim McGrath is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities at Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. He is the co-creator (with Amelia Golcheski) of Public Work, a public humanities podcast. In addition to podcasting and digital public humanities, Jim is interested in digital pedagogy, speculative and creative uses of digital archival materials, data literacy, and digital storytelling. Jim is on Twitter @JimMc_Grath.
The medium of podcasting is two decades old, but this digital form of storytelling still seems full of untapped potential for public history practitioners. Sensing this opportunity, our professional organizations have created spaces for training, critique, and reflection on all things podcast-related. For example, this year’s NCPH conference featured a podcasting workshop run by Your Museum Needs a Podcast author Hannah Hethmon, and an entire section dedicated to podcast reviews was part of the February 2019 issue of The Public Historian. The American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History publication has featured occasional writing about podcasting since 2008, and in 2015, Kate Preissler wrote here on History@Work about what the popularity of Serial might teach us about the podcast as a form of public history. “Thanks to Serial, people are having intelligent, insightful discussions about memory, historical evidence, and interpretational bias,“ she observed. “This is a conversation we should join.” Four years later, we seem to be in the midst of a podcasting boom: a March 2019 headline in New York Magazine declared that “The Great Podcasting Rush Has Only Just Begun.”
Podcasts present particular challenges and opportunities for public history practitioners. At Brown’s Center for Public Humanities, I’ve worked in and around podcasts in a few different ways: as co-creator and co-producer (with Amelia Golcheski) of thePublic Work podcast, as an instructor encouraging students to create location-based audio storytelling, as a consultant on podcasting in pedagogical contexts elsewhere on campus, and as a collaborator with community partners who are looking for new forms of digital storytelling. A part of recent Providence history was the subject of season one of the popular podcast Crimetown, and while cultural practitioners here in the area have had decidedly mixed reactions to the show’s depiction of the city through the lens of true crime, the story’s popularity has led many of us to think about where podcasts might intersect with our interests in engaging particular audiences.
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