Podcasts in American Studies

Patrick Cox, H-NET President-Elect and Editor's picture

The arrival of H-Net's new network that is both about podcasts as scholarly production and composed of some podcasts, H-Podcast, prompts me to revisit and revise our June discussion on Blogging in American Studies.

Does any either produce or listen to any podcasts that they'd consider American Studies Podcasts? I listen to a few podcasts regularly, but none I'd say are AS so I'd be game to hear a few suggestions and compile a list for suggestions that come in.

While we're at it, what do we think of H-Podcast's topic of "the place of podcasts in the academy"? Do they have a place? Can they? I'm aware of a couple podcasts that are about academia, maybe about the process of writing or research. Are there podcasts composed of academic writing? Could it work? Regarding the few I said I listen to regularly, I have to admit I'm not particularly crazy about them. I'm not sure I like the form itself. They feel like conversations that I'm not allowed to be a part of. 

Happy to hear thoughts, as well as leads for a list I'll post here.



Categories: Discussion

I contribute to New Books in American Studies and New Books in Gender Studies podcast network. I am a historian so I tend to favor history over theory. I do it because I enjoy talking to authors about books that are often neglected. I think most of us do not have time to read everything we would like to read so listening to a podcast is a way to get a sense of a book and where it fits in scholarship. This along with reviews can be very helpful. I listen to podcast myself, but only author/book/ or issue oriented. I would not listen to a podcast about writing or general professional advice. I would rather read that. My own podcasting has helped me network and get to know some top scholars since I select books in my areas of interest. That's my two cents. You get a complete list of my podcasts (27) I have hosted at www.lilianbarger.com under media projects. I would rather do this than blog hands down.

I'm president of the Penn State American Studies Student Association and we are currently working on producing a podcast series that will cover a range of topics, from our own speaker sessions and interviews with both emerging and established scholars to current issues within the field.

One of the reasons we decided to go this route is because of the increasing popularity of the podcast format, especially in relation to blogging. I agree with Lilian that podcasts allow flexibility for the audience as well as a more natural conversational environment for the host/guest. There are many strong American Studies-oriented blogs still, but there definitely is room for adding a network of podcasts.

I'm host of a new podcast, Past Present, that offers a historical take on current issues in American politics and culture. Three historians tackle three topics each week, ranging from the presidential race to changes in urban demographics to the end of realty TV. It's available at pastpresentpodcast.com and iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/past-present/id1043954557

We chose this format because of the conversational nature, and because we believe the approach is something people who already listen to podcasts would find both entertaining and informative. We don't use it as an alternative to writing about American Studies, but as another platform to reach a different audience and engage with it in a different way. To add to John's point, one of the benefits to podcasting, especially in a conversation-style format, is that listeners feel like they have a seat at the table and are part of the conversation. There's also an intimacy established through podcasting (being right in the listener's ear) that's different from written work.

As John mentioned above, we're working on doing something that will be of use to students in the American Studies field, providing both some theoretical material and things like book reviews, survey of current projects by grad students, etc. I'm currently working on our inaugural episode, and we're hoping to get it up very soon. Our show was conceived as a way of essentially keeping grad students and interested parties up to date with what's happening in the field, and won't be as much of a "deep exploration" show as some others might be. I was unaware of the podcasts from either Lillian or Nicole, but I'm glad to know about them and will definitely be looking for them in iTunes!

Two others that I listen to, which might fall into a broadly construed American Studies category, are BackStory (which gets some distribution through regional NPR affiliates, but also operates as an independent podcast out of Virginia) and JuntoCast (which is basically a history podcast about early America, with occasional bits of literature in there as well).

I look forward to seeing if there are any other shows I'm missing out on!

What I think we could really use is not so much podcasts for American Studies scholars, but ones that curate American Studies scholarship for the larger public. There are constant complaints about scholars not making their work more accessible, but this is a job that a podcast could do well. An admirable example of this kind of research intermediary is the BBC Radio 4 show that seeks out emerging social research: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qy05. Basically, it would be great to get more American Studies work out there to compete with NPR's Shankar Vedantam and the idea that only correlative, large-data-set research has anything to say about our social and cultural scene.

I like Ben's idea of American Studies podcasts to reach a wider public. The recent Atavist podcast, American Hippopotamus has some broadly American Studies themes in it (an early 20th century plan to raise hippos in the U.S. for meat) but ends up not really being about that. I can imagine some of the foodways and sound studies scholarship working as podcasts for listeners beyond other scholars. Is the podcast Sounding Out for general listeners? I know about it but haven't given it a listen. How about the podcast from the Southern Foodways Alliance? Also, as I was typing this, I did a quick google search and found this podcast series. I haven't listened to any of the episodes, however, so don't know what it's like.

I agree with Ben about curating American Studies for a larger public...

I also like the New Books Network.

I have heard at least one American Studies scholar (Karen Salt) on the BBC podcast, "In Our Time" - the episode about the Haitian revolution. They've also done episodes with panels on the Frankfurt school and other scholarly topics. These are a great bridge between academic cultural studies and popular media. It seems like it would be great to have something specifically American studies oriented with a similar format.
In our Time: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl

There's also a recent American Studies PhD, David Stein at the CUNY grad center doing a history of capitalism podcast called "Who Makes Cents": http://whomakescentspodcast.com/

It would be great to do some Podcasting from the ASA meetings, and have also thought about some other kind of regular public podcast on American Studies themes, possibly in association with the new journal issues as they come out.

On a related "marketing"/curatorial note, Do you think that there would be a market for an American Studies or cultural studies quarterly subscription box? I currently get one for popular contemporary fiction (through Book Riot/Quarterly). I've been thinking that scholars could probably get more engaged in the "bookternet" (social media and book discussion blogs) I don't know if there is a really a market for this, or if it's feasible...but there is a lot of discussion about issues of gender and "diversity" on sites like BookRiot, the Rumpus, etc and it could be a way to find a wider audience for academic books on these subjects instead of just the best-selling trades.
I was thinking that an American Studies quarterly box might contain a copy of AQ or AMSJ + one or two of the books reviewed in the journal and some random author-generated "swag" of some kind. I looked at the Quarterly website's FAQ and it looks as if we would probably need to find a celebrity scholar to be the curator. The box could include AS book-prize winners at the end of the year, or something. If legal and feasible, it could be an interesting thing to try.

Rebecca Hill

Thanks all. I’ll get a list of American Studies podcasts posted on H-AMSTDY later today. Is anyone else surprised at how few there are? Let us know as you encounter or produce more and I’ll add them. 

As for podcast suggestions, finding a way to get scholarly research outside of the Ivory Tower sounds great. I wonder, though, how big of an audience any podcast (that isn’t also a radio show) ever gets?

A subscription service book box for American Studies… I think that sounds potentially cool. Might do some research on how those are run…

By the way, H-Net has podcast capabilities and people who can help get new podcasts up and running and then hosted on H-Net with some ready made audiences (6573 on H-Amstdy!). If anyone with podcast ambitions (they need not be American Studies-ish) is looking for a home, let us know and we’ll help get your voice out there.

H-Net: so much better than wordpress.


Your Podcasts in American Studies list: https://networks.h-net.org/node/2602/pages/95949/podcasts-american-studies