When I go to record a lecture for my online or hybrid courses, I always feel a bit…unflashy. I think that’s because I’ve become an avid listener of podcasts, which offer much more engaging conversations and reconstructions of historical events and moments than I am able to provide with my PowerPoints and screencasts. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled, and perhaps podcasts offer us as teachers a new model for online content as well as existing resources.
While I’ve considered having students produce podcasts (something I have yet to implement), I have begun to occasionally assign podcasts for listening (with supplemental readings, usually primary sources). We seem to be entering a Golden Age of Podcasting, with new media companies forming (Radiotopia from PRX, for example) to produce and disseminate new podcasts, offering a constant stream of content that could be incorporated into the classroom.
Historians are entering the fray as well, a phenomenon recently covered by Jennifer McLaren, which contains a helpful list of established and new podcasts related to history. Notably, the recently launched Past Present podcast by Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young offers in depth conversations about current events through the lens of history and historical scholarship (really, it’s totally awesome. I highly suggest you subscribe!).
When it comes to teaching with podcasts, Past Present is an excellent tool for historical methods students, which I plan to use next semester as a weekly discussion topic to engage students with how historians think. But beyond a methods course, there exist a vast array of expanding resources.
For students, I think that podcasts, or sections of podcasts, should be limited to 20 minutes—long enough to go in depth into an issue but short enough to be digestible, particularly since students may have a learning curve when it comes to how to take notes on these types of media. Certainly, podcasts offer students with new methods for engaging with course content, as well as provide sometimes opinionated content for students to critique.
Below, I’ve compiled a list from the podcasts I listen to frequently that highlight partiularly useful moments, debates, and stories relating to American history. I know there are many, many more possibilities out there, so I’d love to add suggestions from readers to the list!
This podcast from NPR features economic issues, but often provides conversational forays into past events such as the birth of the fed, the minimum wage, and the gold standard.
- A Locked Door, a Secret Meeting, and the Birth of the Fed (The birth of the Federal Reserve, with partiular emphasis on J.P. Morgan)
- Strike One (The story of the Flint, MI sit-down strike)
- This is the End (Looks at the history of technological unemployment)
- When Luddites Attack (The story of the Luddites — not American history, per se, but continues on the theme of fears of technological unemployment)
- The Square Deal (welfare capitalism) (The story of welfare capitalism at one company, an excellent way to engage students with the role of government and business in providing benefits to workers)
- The Birth of the Minimum Wage (A history of the minimum wage, a topic also covered on Backstory, featuring Risa Goluboff on the FLSA The Birth of the Minimum Wage (Backstory))
- Gold Standard, R.I.P. (The story of the gold standard and the Great Depression)
- Milk Carton Kids (A look at the milk carton missing children campaign of the 1980s)
- The Gruen Effect (Examines the design ideals of the mall, also covered by Jeff Hardwick on Backstory, Mall About It)
- Lights Out (The 1977 New York City blackout and mythology surrounding the birth of hip hop)
- Cold War Kids (Cold War bomb shelters and the story of an underground elementary school in New Mexico)
- Longbox (The Parents Music Resource Council, Rock the Vote, and the design of the cd “longbox” in the late 1980s and early 1990s)
- From Populists to Politicos (Episode Excerpt) (Adam Sheingate on the history of the populists and farmers as a political interest group)
- Up to Code (Episode Excerpt) (Thomas Doherty explains the Motion Picture Production Code)
- The Day Wall Street Exploded (Episode Excerpt) (Beverly Gage on the 1920 Wall Street bombing)
- Seen and Believed (Episode Excerpt) (Amy Wood on the different uses of lynching photographs)
- Grill, Baby, Grill (Episode Excerpt) (Loren Moulds explains the 1950s and the masculine culture of grilling)
- Workplace: Little Boxes (Episode Excerpt) (David Franz explores the utopian goals of the cubicle)
- Clean Skin; Dirty Minds (Episode Excerpt) (Kathleen Franz on 1917 soap advertisement with suggestive themes)
- Boxed In (Episode Excerpt) (Louis Hyman on the rise of the box store vs. department stores)
- Dishonor Code (Episode Excerpt) (Carlos Santos on disorder at UVA and Jefferson’s view of higher education; episode also contains segment from Caitlin Rosenthal on the first for-profit colleges in the late 19th century)
- Equality or Fairness? (Episode Excerpt) (Dorothy Sue Cobble on working women and the minimum wage)
- City Men on the Beard Frontier (Episode Excerpt) (Sean Trainor on the meaning of 19th century beards)
- Fashion Riot (Episode Excerpt) (Kathy Peiss on the symbolism of the zoot suit)
- The Dixiecrats Depart (Episode Excerpt) (Joseph Crespino on the background of the Dixiecrat revolt)
- Reconstructing Republicanism (Episode Excerpt) (Annette Gordon-Reed on the factions within the GOP over Reconstruction)
- The Television March (Episode Excerpt) (Aniko Bodroghkozy on television, the March on Washington in 1963, and the civil rights movement; this whole episode offers fascinating insights into the story behind the March)
- Cross of Gold (Episode Excerpt) (Richard Bensel on the “Cross of Gold” speech and the changing role of the press in elections)
- The Road to the Civil War (Part I of the series on the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, focusing on the six months leading up to the war—Part II looks at why they fought, and Part III examines legacies)