Alison Innes (MA) is a podcaster and social media fan. Between co-hosting the podcast MythTake with Darrin Sunstrum, Alison is the Social Media Coordinator for the Faculty of Humanities at Brock University (
@brockhumanities). She blogs about social media, classics, pedagogy and othter things at her website. You can find her on Twitter at @InnesAlison.
More people are listening to more podcasts than ever before.
Podcasts offer a unique opportunity for what some scholars call outreach, although I prefer the term HumComm—humanities communication (adapted from the term SciComm used by our colleagues in the sciences).
Humanities communication is all about showing the public what we do and why it’s relevant. After all, why should the public care about our scholarship efforts (and, ultimately, our survival) if they don’t understand why our research is important and how it impacts their lives?
The obvious answer, given that I am a podcaster writing about podcasting, may be to produce a podcast. While that’s certainly an option, not everyone has the time and inclination to undertake such a project. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of the podcast movement, though.
A (Very) Brief History of Podcasting
Podcasting first came on the scene in 2003; the term itself was first used in The Guardian in 2004, the same year that the first podcast server provider, Lisbyn, comes online.
Podcast consumption has surged as technology has made listening even easier in recent years. Broadband internet connections have become the norm; episodes don’t need to be downloaded, but can be streamed online.
The production of podcasts has also soared as studio-quality gear has become much more affordable to the average user. Recording software is freely available: GarageBand is standard on Mac OS and Audacity is available for both Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems.
Podcasting Within Academia
So, with podcast listening and making more popular than ever, how is this media being used in the academy and how can we use podcasts to further awareness of and appreciation for the humanities?
Much of the research I have been finding on podcasting and academia has focused on academia as a locus of production for podcasts, and particularly in pedagogical settings. I find the categorization offered by Harris and Park (2008) useful for thinking about the ways podcasts are produced and used in the university. Harris and Park divide the use of podcasts into four categories: teaching-driven, service-driven, marketing-driven, and technology driven.
Podcasts have been used in a teaching context since their early days to improve student experience. At their most simple use, podcasts can be a substitute to a traditional lecture, but the possibilities go beyond this (McGarr 2009). Podcasts can be used to provide supplementary material such as summaries or syntheses of lectures and core material that will deepen students’ learning experiences. They also offer creative potential, engaging students with material by having students produce their own podcasts.
Podcasts can also be used as a service to the university’s community; that is, they are used to provide information about and for the academic community. This could include department or university news, research work, and university announcements, for example.
Marketing-driven podcasts are, naturally, those targeted at recruiting prospective students, and technology-driven podcasts support teaching methods and share teaching practices.
The boundaries between these categories aren’t fixed, however, which afford plenty of opportunities for communicating the humanities to a broader audience within and outside the academy. Teaching- and service-driven podcasts can also be promoted for recruitment, for example, as a potential student may listen to learn more about their future university, department, or professors.
Rather than thinking of only certain types or uses of podcasts as “outreach”, we should consider how podcasts being produced for specific purposes, such as supplementing lecture or as student assignments, can also be a part of a larger, public, humanities conversation.
Podcasting Beyond Academia
But academia need not only be a producer of podcasts, and I don’t think it’s necessary to think of HumComm solely in terms of producing content for others to consume. Humanities communication is about conversation, I think, and joining in on existing conversations is as important as creating new ones.
A very important way of contributing to the conversation is by engaging with existing humanities podcasts. It’s important here to remember to look for these podcasters beyond the university halls, as there are scholarly podcasts being produced by people outside traditional academic roles.
One way to find these podcasts is through podcast networks. For example, I am a part of #HumanitiesPodcasts on Twitter, which is an informal network of independent podcasters who support each other and help promote each others’ work. #PodernFamily is another similar network, although not focused on the humanities.
For independent scholars, producing independent podcasts, podcasting is a way to stay engaged with our interests and share them with others. I have met several podcasters who, like me, use their podcasts as a way to stay in touch with their material and to keep learning long after completing graduate school.
Podcasting fulfills the desire to research and to teach while providing complete freedom to explore the ideas important to the individual podcaster.
As Ryan Stitt of The History of Ancient Greece Podcast explained to me, he reaches far more learners via podcasting that he would as a lecturer—upwards of 2,000 subscribers tune in for each episode, compared with several hundred undergrads in a lecture hall each week. For Ryan, who works for the armed forces, producing the podcast is a way to keep in touch with his subject post grad school. In the process, he shares Greek history with a large, diverse audience.
Most of the team at Footnoting History also have a grad school connection. Christine Caccipuoti finds podcasting a way to join her acting career with her love of writing and history. Podcasting keeps her researching and writing skills sharp and lets her explore both topics she enjoyed in grad school and new areas of interest. Because the podcast team members have diverse interests, the listening audience is exposed to the diverse, and at times complicated, study of history.
For myself and co-host, Darrin Sunstrum, MythTake is a way for us to discuss and work out new ideas. We use the podcast to talk about Greek mythology in an in-depth way that isn’t possible in a first year seminar class following a set syllabus. The podcast gives us the opportunity to explore literary themes and characters that are of interest to us and to engage others beyond the traditional classics community through Twitter and the podcast blog.
While the initial aim of humanities podcasters may not be to engage in humanities communication, they are certainly doing so. Available on public platforms, the podcasts can be downloaded and enjoyed by anyone who wishes. The enthusiasm that dedicated independent podcasters have for their subject is evident to their listeners, who may initially have only a passing familiarity (if any) with the subject at hand.
Supporting the humanities communication work being done by existing podcasts is quite simple in practical terms. Sample episodes from a variety of podcasts that interest you and take the time to rate them and leave a comment on iTunes—believe it or not, those ratings do matter to podcasters! The search algorithms on iTunes rely on ratings, so by rating a podcast you make it easier for others to find.
Podcasters welcome encouraging comments and insightful feedback and you may even find yourself mentioned on air—which may just pique someone’s interest in your own work.
Sharing podcast recommendations with friends, colleagues, and students is also important, and, if you’re so inclined, you may wish to support your favourite podcasts financially through their fundraising page.
The current surge in podcast popularity is an important communications opportunity that humanities scholars are already taking seriously. Podcasting provides a unique way of reaching an audience that is already curious. It is up to us to ensure that we maximize this opportunity to engage the public in conversations about the humanities.
This website is part of the #HumanitiesPodcastsNetwork, which can be found collectively on Twitter. Individually they can be found as follows:
As We Like It website (Aven, Chase, Jonathan, Katie, Mark, Sky)
Golem Radio soundcloud (Elisha Fine)