U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Podcasting and (Intellectual) History

I’m a big fan of podcasts.  I listen to them while I cook, when I walk the dog, and sometimes as I’m falling asleep.  Over the years, the podcasts I’ve listened to regularly have changed, as I discover new ones and get bored with some former favorites.  The current roster of podcasts to which I subscribe includes some traditional radio shows, like This American Life (which my local NPR station plays) and To the Best of Our Knowledge (which it doesn’t).  Many of the podcasts to which I listen reflect avocational interests of mine, from the Oklahoma City Thunder (Thunder Ground Radio and OKC Thundercast) to music (Sound Opinions) to comedy (WTF with Mark Maron and Jordan, Jesse GO!).  A few touch on topics of professional concern…though in not very professional ways (Filmspotting and The Partially Examined Life).

But one thing is notably missing from the embarrassingly extensive list of podcasts to which I subscribe (which includes many more than those already mentioned): history.  I’ve listened a few times to My History Can Beat Up Your Politics, a perfectly respectable podcast that explores current political issues through the lens of history, but I’ve never been moved to listen to it regularly   And I’ve yet to find a really compelling podcast focused on history, let alone on intellectual history. 

So this brief post is really a bleg:  what am I missing?  Are there any history podcasts out there that are essential listening? Especially given how well-developed the historical blogosphere has become, I’d be shocked if there aren’t some really first-rate history podcasts.  But for some reason I’ve never run into any of them.

8 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. Perhaps you already know about these: BackStory, from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities; the BBC’s In Our Time (not exclusively devoted to history); and American Public Media’s American RadioWorks, which is a documentary series. I’m not that familiar with BackStory but In Our Time is fantastic. The RadioWorks episode, “A Better Life,” is a great hour-long jaunt through the aspect of our cultural history related to consumerism, individualism and success.

  2. Oh, add Radio Open Source to the list — it’s an interview show about ideas, and regularly features historians as guests. Jackson Lears was on there some time after Rebirth of a Nation came out, and in the last year Chris Lydon, the host, has had lots of South Asianists (Ramachandra Guha, Vazira Zamindari) on the show. I’m not always a fan of Lydon but he has great guests.

  3. Thanks, z and z.

    There are, indeed, many wonderful webcasts of courses…though that’s not exactly what I had in mind.

    I should have mentioned In Our Time, which I used to subscribe to but found myself listening to only fitfully. Though, as you say, not entirely devoted to history, when it deals with historical topics it does so seriously and well (as does TTBOOK, which I mention above).

    I had entirely forgotten about BackStory, which I’ve never listened to but which I became aware of when I put together a survey of the ways in which state humanities councils are using the web for the Oklahoma Humanities Council, on which I sit. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities is, incidentally, kind of the gold standard for state humanities councils. They have a huge budget and are very proactive about programming.

  4. BackStory is fantastic. I’ve been a fan for a couple of years and have listened to every episode. A couple of shows were slightly disappointing, but that probably had more to do with my own relative lack of interest in a particular topic. It’s hard to beat three professional historians talking about topics in a sophisticated, but accessible way. I recommend it not just to historians, but to anyone who is at all intellectually curious. I’ve also considered assigning an episode or two to students to listen to in place of reading an article. The only downside is that they don’t release podcasts regularly enough.

    The Journal of American History also has a quarterly podcast in which they interview an author of one of the essays from the corresponding print issue. The thirty-minute podcast is usually pretty enlightening, if not quite as entertaining as BackStory.

    New Books in History has also produced some good podcasts, but I find it a bit more difficult to keep up with. Every week he releases an hour-long interview with an author of a recent book. I find this is prohibitively long. I like to learn about fields other than my own, but sometimes listening to this podcast feels a little too much like work. But I’d recommend, at the very least, checking the archives to see if there are some discussions about books which you are interested in.

    And finally, I can’t help but plug a couple of general interest podcasts that I listen to weekly. There are many, but two of my favorites are the New York Times Book Review podcast and the New Yorker Out Loud. They only feature historians occasionally, but they both deal with ideas and culture in a thought-provoking way.

    I’m glad to hear there are some podcast fans among the USIH crew.

  5. Yay! A fellow podcaster! I agree with the others about backstory (and also with you Ben, about the lack of history on my iPod. Maybe it’s because we’ve got such varied interests? I’ve tried listening to history on audiobooks and it usually doesn’t work either).

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