History Podcasts

      13 Comments on History Podcasts

I was interviewed last week for an environmental history podcast. I was pretty excited as I listen of all kinds of podcasts including a number of history podcasts. While there are not nearly enough high quality history podcasts, there are some really good general podcasts that deal with history on a regular basis. Two of my favorite are BBC Radio 4 shows that are re-posted online: In Our Time (iTunes) (Website) and Thinking Allowed (iTunes) (Website). In Our Time records discussions of round tables on a wide range of interesting topics. These include history, the history of science, the history of literature and the history of philosophy. They normally attracted some of the top academics in the field and the host, Melvyn Bragg, is adept at keeping his guest on track. Thinking Allowed tends to focus on sociology research, but it regularly features social and cultural history. This show interviews the authors of recently published academic papers. The host, Laurie Taylor, is skilled at picking apart these academic papers and presenting them in a highly accessible manner. The show really highlights the interesting and important research published by social scientists and would be a great model for public broadcasters or independent podcasters in North America. The BBC also posts a History Magazine podcast that I discovered when researching this blog post, but have not listened to (iTunes)(Website).

Nature's Past

Here in Canada there is a lot less to choose from. CBC’s ideas (iTunes) occasionally deals with history or the history of ideas and our popular history magazine, Canadian History (formerly the Beaver) posts some short interviews (iTunes). The Network of Canadian Environment and History produces a great podcast that I will address further below.

Two history buffs, who are not academic historians, produce interesting independent podcasts in the United States. Bruce Carlson’s My History Can Beat Your Politics (iTunes)(Website) examines many of this same political issues address by pundits on Sunday talk shows and cable news networks from a historical perceptive. It is largely the kind of “Great Men” political history rarely found in university departments now a days, but nonetheless it is often much more informative and thoughtful than the talking points and spin found in mainstream American news analysis. I believe it challenges us to think about what kind of “applied history” is useful to inform our politics and whether we can present social, cultural or environmental history in such an engaging way. A second podcast, which I’ve only listened to one episode, called Hardcore History (iTunes)(Website), was both well produced and thought provoking. Dan Carlin openly admits that he is not a historian, but he reads widely on a topic and presents a well developed argument. I plan on listening to more episodes in the future.

My own field of Environmental History has a wealth of podcasts (two) produced in England and Canada. Dr Jan Oosthoek of the University of Edinburgh has been producing the Exploring Environmental History Podcast (iTunes)(Website) for four years now and he has interviewed some of the leading scholars in the field, such as Donald Woster and relatively obscure historians, like myself. Here in Canada, Dr. Sean Kheraj (an ActiveHistory.ca editorial board member) started a podcast two years ago for NiCHE called Nature’s Past (iTunes)(Website) and has producing a great series of podcasts exploring Canadian Environmental History.

Here at ActiveHistory.ca we are thinking about starting a podcast of our own. What do you think about this idea?

Do you know of other history podcasts?

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13 thoughts on “History Podcasts

  1. Adam Crymble

    You should probably ask some of those podcasters directly what work and skills are involved in putting together a good podcast. I don’t think it’s as easy as speaking into a tape recorder. But I’d welcome another Canadian based history podcast.

  2. Sean Kheraj


    Thanks for writing up this great post, surveying the field of history podcasting (and thanks for including Nature’s Past).

    In general, I think academic podcasting is still finding its feet in this new medium. The dominant form of podcasting has been the iTunes U model of distributing recorded course lectures. This was really just the beginning. With more properly produced podcasts, like Exploring Environmental History and Digital Campus, I think we’re seeing podcasts evolve into a more mature state as a form of scholarly communication. Will podcasts replace journals? Almost certainly not. But I think that they do have a place in the growth of scholarly communication. We shouldn’t be looking at new media communication as a method of replacing traditional forms of scholarly publishing. Digital technologies should be used to grow scholarly communication.

    My recommendation for a history podcast: http://makinghistorypodcast.com/

  3. Jim Post author

    Thanks for bringing up the iTunes U podcasts. I’ve never really got into listening to these, as many are recordings of undergraduate lectures and simply don’t transfer to a podcasts very well. Another example are the conference presentation recordings that we have recorded for NiCHE over the past few years. I know these are interesting for those of us studying environmental history who can’t make every talk during a conference, but I don’t imagine a wide audience will find my presentation at the ASEH too enjoyable: http://niche-canada.org/audio-video

  4. Sean Kheraj

    I tend to agree with you about the recorded lectures on iTunes U. They’re a particular type of podcast that replicates analog tape recorded lectures. This is still immensely useful, especially for projects like Open Courseware (http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm). While they take some advantage of the digital medium (infinitely copyable; global distribution; searchable; easily stored), they do not take full advantage of podcasting as a means of scholarly communication.

  5. Jim Post author

    I agree. I could imagine listening to iTunes U course from other fields, like the sciences, where I don’t have much of a university level background, to better understand a topic. Do you know if they are working on a way to include PowerPoint slides? I think it would really help to include visuals along with the audio recordings.

  6. Adam Crymble

    You can add power point slides yourself if you make a slidecast video. The problem is it requires an extra level of skill and work. Most people find pushing the record button challenge enough, despite those Windows commercials with the 7 year olds making videos and putting them on their parent’s tv.

  7. Ian Milligan

    The very same day Jim posted his post, there was a query sent over H-Labor about labour podcasts. Norman Markowitz responded by pointing out that Political Affairs has podcasts which often deal with labour issues. Apparently there is a labour day interview with Rosemary Feurer (a well-known American labour historian), as well as podcasts on labour conventions, the Employee Free Choice Act, minimum wages, etc. (link here: http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/4881 as well as iTunes at http://www.itunes.com/podcast?id=219660429) To be honest, I haven’t checked it out yet, but it seemed like a helpful suggestion.

  8. Janine

    Radio National from Australia has excellent history podcasts.

    in particular the Hindsight, Background Briefing and Rear Vision programs. You can get them from the site or subscribe through I-tunes. Quite a few of them deal with Australian topics, but not exclusively.

  9. Yog

    Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast is superb. It’s extremely accessible, and Dan doesn’t assume the listener has any real level of historical knowledge, but it’s not dumbed down either. Dan explains the complex nuances of history by giving the listener plenty of context and making frequent analogies to modern-day life.

    Check it out here: http://www.dancarlin.com/disp.php?page=hharchive

    I recommend starting with “Punic Nightmares” or “Ghosts of the Ostfront”.

  10. Shawn Kent

    I produce a history podcast from Canada (http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/hard-as-a-rock-podcast/id467735205), but sadly it is not about Canadian history. I am a history buff, but I tend to really enjoy the biographical stories of men and women overcoming great odds. As a result I need to podcast what I love, and that really is the the key to creating a podcast. It is actually fairly easy to do, but I would highly recommend using a Mac, and Garage Band. It makes things far easier.

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