The Place of Podcasts in the Humanities
Podcasts have left the garage and entered the university. This seminar considers the ever-expanding place of podcasts and podcasting in humanities research, teaching, and scholarship. Are podcasts welcome alternatives to the gatekeeping of academic journals and exclusive conferences? Or is “start a podcast” the new “learn to code,” just another skill that humanities scholars must adopt to stay relevant in a shrinking field? Do podcasts encourage new forms of scholarship, knowledge, and collaboration? What are the intersections between podcasts and the fields of public humanities, digital humanities, and sound studies? This seminar builds on a conversation that began at the January 2021 MLA conference on a panel titled “The Scholarly Podcast as a Genre” and led to the formation of the Humanities Podcast Network, which is hosting the Humanities Podcasting Symposium in October 2021. We hope this ACLA seminar will offer opportunities to continue considering the role of podcasting in humanities scholarship and teaching. We welcome critical approaches, skeptical takes, enthusiastic adopters, and perspectives from both podcast creators and podcast listeners. Areas of analysis may include, though not limited to:
Podcasts as scholarship
Podcasts as forms of public and/or digital humanities
The humanities podcast and sound studies
The place of humanities podcasts in media ecologies
The humanities podcast and the (neoliberal) university
The humanities podcast under capitalism
Pedagogies of the humanities podcast
Publishing and the humanities podcast
Racism, sexism, ableism in podcasting; ways of redress
Activism in the humanities podcast
Theories of collaboration and voice in the humanities podcast
The Place of Podcasts in the Humanities, Day 1
- Podcasting as Public Humanities
Laura Perry is the Assistant Director for Research and Public Engagement at the Center for Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to joining the Center for Humanities, she was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Scholar with University of Iowa’s Humanities for the Public Good initiative. She earned her PhD in English from University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The aim of this paper echoes that of our ACLA seminar as a whole: to think about how podcasts can move beyond serving as a form of publicity to serving as a form of public humanities. I will examine existing concerted efforts to support academic podcasting, both from national funding organizations like the NEH and Mellon as well as local programs at colleges and universities. Surveying models of academic podcasting, I will consider: how can institutions, departments, and disciplines better support academic podcasters? Rather than podcasts being simply another stop on an academic’s book tour, how might they foster new kinds of collaboration and scholarly communities? This paper will invite reflections on lessons learned from the intersections of digital humanities projects and academic research, as well as on the purposes of public humanities today.
- Beyond the Audio: Using Podcasts to Broaden Humanities Learning
Dr. Beth Kramer is a Senior Lecturer in the Rhetoric Department of Boston University’s College of General Studies. She has over a decade of experience teaching composition and research skills as part of a global, interdisciplinary program. She is currently studying new ways to integrate multimodal learning into composition courses, and has recently presented her work at MLA, NeMLA, and AGLS. In 2017, she co-edited an issue of Impact interdisciplinary journal devoted to podcasting in the classroom.
The rise of podcasts over the last decade has been staggering. From 2013 to 2019, the number of monthly podcast listeners in the US tripled, and is expected to reach 164 million by 2023. Given this trend, it is unsurprising that humanities scholars have embraced the format. Scholars assign podcasts and pair them with texts in their syllabi, teach podcast creation skills to their students, and package their own research in this audio format. Classrooms have become more vibrant and academic scholarship reaches deeper audiences in more creative ways. However, often overlooked in this transformation is the importance of combining audio analysis and construction with the larger skill-set required of twenty first-century humanities learners. Podcasts can be a central component of a larger skill portfolio, which includes visual learning, DME competency and real-world understanding. In this paper, I will discuss how humanities instructors can enhance their use of podcasts through visual design projects, experiential assignments, and interdisciplinary opportunities. Drawing on my work teaching in BU’s Boston-London Program, I will detail how I have harnessed the advantages of podcast pedagogy to create immersive, multi-sensory experiences that create well-rounded students and citizen scholars. Broadening our knowledge of this area will enhance the experience of both educators and students alike into the digital future.
- A Certain Kind of Listening to the World: the Humanities Podcast as Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Translation
Chris Holmes is Associate Professor and Chair of Literatures in English at Ithaca College. He is the creator and host of the literary podcast Burned by Books (a New Books Network Academic Partner), and a host for Season 3 of Novel Dialogue, a Public Books podcast. His book, Kazuo Ishiguro as World Literature is forthcoming from Bloomsbury. His work has been published with Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Modern Fiction Studies, Critique, Contemporary Literature, Literature Compass, Diaspora, and Oxford’s Research Encyclopedia. He is co-editor with Kelly Mee Rich of the special issue: “Ishiguro After the Nobel” in Modern Fiction Studies.
My presentation asks a straight forward question: what does a literary interview podcast add to the study and teaching of world literatures? This question is central to my own work as I prepare to teach a course on podcasting the humanities, while finishing a book on world literature. I intend to offer three senarios in which a form of the literary podcast opens new territory in this field of research and pedagogy. The first, a literary interview podcast, burned by books, in which the host acts directly as critic; the second, an explicitly academic podcast, Novel Dialogue, in which the host is catalyst to a conversation between a critic and a novelist; and third, a theoretical future season of Novel Dialogue in which the host convenes a conversation between a novelist and his/her translator. With each example form, authorship returns from the grave to play a central role in the imagination of how literary works circulate, ask questions, and participate in culture and politics. I will explore how criticism, theory, and even politics come into being as a polyphony of critic, author, text that is more immediately visible and digestable for the listeners and the host.
- How Podcasts Applied Skills and Fostered Collaboration
Mia Lee is a senior lecturer in the Centre for University Core at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. She completed her doctoral degree in history at the University of Michigan and is the author of Utopia and Dissent in West Germany. She currently runs community projects on history from below and the history of everyday life.
I represent a group of historians, who have been designing collaborative projects for tertiary and secondary schools since 2017. The podcast emerged as a way for us to continue our work while abiding by COVID-19 guidelines. My paper would discuss how the podcast format helped extend participation and deepen our amateur history approach.
Several years back, my colleagues and I decided to design projects that prioritized student initiative, peer mentorship, and extra-university collaboration. We hoped to foster a bottom-up approach that included voices and topics beyond the ones typically found in schools. In 2020-21 we switched from live workshops to podcasts. The topic of our inaugural podcast was the Singapore Women’s Charter, which legislated maintenance for women and children and outlawed polygamy. This year marks the charter’s 60th anniversary. In doing this project, students developed multiple skills and perspectives: they analyzed the impetus for the Charter, evaluated the objectives of relevant institutions and actors, interviewed historical actors and scholars, and then synthesized and presented their findings in a logical and appealing manner.
I would be glad to share more about how the podcast helped us open up traditional teaching methods, expand our collaboration, and reach a more diverse audience. I am also keen to learn more about how podcasts are being used in research and collaboration at other institutions.
The Place of Podcasts in the Humanities, Day 2
- “Reception in distraction”: Podcasts and the Technical Reproducibility of Knowledge
Mauricio Oportus Preller is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literary Studies from Northwestern University, where he is writing a dissertation on literary representations of legal figures in late nineteenth-century Latin American fiction. His areas of specialization are Latin American literature, Phenomenology (esp. Husserl), and Critical Theory (esp. Walter Benjamin and early Frankfurt School).
Consuelo Diaz de Valdes Navarrete holds an M.A in Contemporary Philosophy from Universidad Diego Portales, where she specialized in 20th century German philosophy. Additionally, she is the founder of “Te leíste el texto?”, a podcast devoted to the dissemination of western political philosophy for a non-specialized audience.
That distraction has a bad reputation is hardly an understatement. More often than not, distraction is pejoratively alluded whenever one refers to that which is trivial, mundane, or unproductive –in other words, that which sidetracks us from what demands our undivided attention. This is nowhere clearer than in the context of the 21st century classroom, where students seem irremediably subjected to the pervasive sway of distractions that permeate their daily lives in ever-increasing ways. Within the plethora of voices that bemoan the decline of the traditional classroom model, the question as to whether there might be an educative potential in the experience of distraction is seldomly explored.
From the context of the Humanities, we aim to address this question by foregrounding the educational possibilities of podcasts as technical medium. Our argument is inspired by what Walter Benjamin –in “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility”– refers to as “reception in distraction”, which describes the inability to concentrate as the defining trait of the modern structure of subjective experience. By drawing from Benjamin’s insights on technology and perception, our goal is to explore how the “technical reproducibility” of podcasts can contribute towards the reception and dissemination of knowledge in increasingly distracted contexts, while also acknowledging the challenges this poses on the Humanities from an interdisciplinary perspective.
- Sounding Theory: The Podcast Form and the Work of Theory
Saronik Bosu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English, New York University. He is writing his dissertation on the relationship between economic thought and literature in modern India. He has been published in journals such as Interventions and Movable Type. He co-hosts the podcast High Theory, and is also a host on the New Books Network, South Asian Studies. Further details about his work can be found on his website, saronik.com.
How is a podcast that talks theory different from an academic talk about theory? How does the podcast form modify the relationship between voice and the work of theory? What are the podcast genres that theory lends itself to most suitably? And what after all does theory do when it is sounded out and published and consumed in digital formats? My paper takes on these questions from the vantage of my experience as one of the hosts of the short-form interview-based podcast High Theory. This podcast defines theory generously, and then uses breadth of that remit, to play with concepts from the academy with slight irreverence. In this paper, with a focus on High Theory, I study the deployment of theory in podcast form, and how podcasts extend its interpretive and anti-foundational project.
- Podcasting and the Meaning of Scholarly Voice
Jasmine Ulmer (Ph.D., University of Florida) is an associate professor at Wayne State University, where she has been a Humanities Center Faculty Fellow. She recently authored Shared and Collaborative Practice in Qualitative Inquiry: Tiny Revolutions (Routledge, 2021). She currently co-edits the Routledge International Handbook of Research and Methods in Transdisciplinary Feminism. With James Salvo y deLeón, she edits the Routledge Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods and a book series.
James Salvo y deLeón is Assistant Professor (Teaching) of Education Evaluation & Research at Wayne State University. He is a founding editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. His most recent books are Reading Autoethnography: Reflections on Justice & Love (Routledge, 2020) and Writing & Unrecognized Academic Labor: The Rejected Manuscript (Routledge, 2021).
In “Reflections on Radio,” Benjamin says that radio hasn’t made full use of its potential to put as many people as possible “before the microphone at any opportunity, making the public witness to interviews and conversations in which anyone might have a say.” Prescient—and perhaps equally enthusiastic and sardonic—this seems to have anticipated not only what podcasts would actually make possible, but what social media in general has brought about.
While technological practices can indeed give voice to those not yet having an opportunity to be heard, the ease and ubiquity of those practices can threaten to silence still, only in the cacophonous deluge of content, losing voices to the Hawkes processes of engagement algorithms and popularity metrics. If this has been the case for various forms of scholarly social media use, podcasting will not likely be the exception.
As podcast creators, we argue neither that podcasts as a transdisciplinary mode of dissemination will be inherently good nor bad, but rather that good or bad, podcasts will be yet another scholarly mode of dissemination. If so, can there be something of value in scholarly podcasts?
Following Agamben’s thoughts on voice, we suggest that the voice as that which can communicate without content can call forth meaning beyond our scholarly writing.
The Place of Podcasts in the Humanities, Day 3
- Strengthening Artistic Communities Through Podcasts
Jeremy Jusek is the inaugural poet laureate of Parma, Ohio and author of the full-length collection ‘We Grow Tomatoes in Tiny Towns.’ He is the founder and host of two podcasts: ‘Moot’ and ‘Poetry Spotlight’. Please visit www.jeremyjusek.com for more information.
This talk uses the Ohio Poetry Association’s podcast Poetry Spotlight as a case study for how podcasts can be utilized by small, creative groups to humanize its members and strengthen a community. In my presentation, I will show how podcasting bolsters a community where the information-driven social media platforms fail. I break down the added value a podcast can bring an artistic community by focusing on four major benefits: (1) increased member recognition, (2) empowerment of members by recognizing nuanced achievement, (3) the humanization of digital profiles, and (4) added benefit of membership. I also illustrate how the forced adoption of Zoom has helped encourage online involvement, which is partially why there is no better time for organizations to create a representative podcast. I end the presentation by showing the structure and format of the OPA’s podcast Poetry Spotlight, and the good it has done for Ohio’s poetry community.
- Expanding Digital Archives through Audio Academia: A Case for Podcasts
Le Li and Shruti Jain are PhD students at SUNY Binghamton University. They are the hosts of the podcast – ‘Immigrants Wake America’ funded through grants from Humanities New York and IASH, Binghamton University, in collaboration with the Tenement Museum, New York.
In this paper, we will explore the intersections between podcasts and digital archives. We argue that podcasts can serve as a transgressive-dynamic intervention in digital archiving, given their unique ability to cut across racial and gendered lines of preconceived sonic notions. We believe that podcasts hold a unique place in what Mark Hagood calls “audio academia.” Archives, in the Foucauldian sense, are understood as “the law of what can be said.” We will demonstrate this transgressive-expansionist capacity of the podcast by using our own soon-to-be-released podcast Immigrants Wake America as an example. Funded through grants from Humanities New York and Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at Binghamton University, Immigrants Wake America features lively conversations with storytellers about the centrality of immigrant women in their lives and imaginations of belonging in America. Their stories are archived in Your Story, Our Story at the Tenement Museum, New York. Instead of interpreting the stories in our own way, our podcast collaborates with the storytellers and facilitates the unfolding of hidden stories by the storytellers. With its conversational, collaborative, and generative format, it serves as a dynamic medium to represent (his)stories that complicate generic conventions and an intervention in the ways in which immigrant women’s (hi)stories are narrated and passed on.