Podcasting as a medium has only increased in prominence and popularity over the course of the 21st century. It serves a variety of niches and interests, whether these be academic, comedy, news, pop culture, and so on. It is arguably the most accessible form of the Digital Humanities out there, having a platform built into most smartphones! This post seeks to explore this phenomenon: how podcasting sets itself apart, and what it has in common with other digital tools I am familiar with.
I want to look first at what sets podcasting apart. Looking at history podcasts as an example, I think that they usually employ certain modes of storytelling that I have not seen replicated in other DH projects. First, podcasts are usually done through an audio-only format (some podcasts have video of the host(s) and sources that require visual aids incorporated into them). This means that there is more room for oral histories, interviews with reputable guests or members of the public, and so on (usually it is the former). I also think the hosts and studios that produce the podcast get to cater their audience through a variety of related topics, rather than focusing in on major themes. If podcasts have more than one episode, then the audience can pick and choose, if there is not a lot of continuity. I believe that the last major thing that sets it apart is its reach. Apple Podcasts and Spotify for instance host an unfathomable amount of content, so one must brand it right, but the potential and accessibility is quite versatile if you capture the audience. I think that overall, it is probably the most popular form of research that comes out of the Digital Humanities in the 21st century.
I think that while podcasting is quite unique in the realm of DH, I do think that it is not so different as to exclude it entirely. One must consider that it has a large reach oriented towards catered audiences, as DH projects tend to do. I do think that there is the most potential for general audiences here, however. Regardless, it still fits within those parameters. I also think that there is great potential for interdisciplinary collaboration, as guests can shape conversations or topics that will be discussed during any given episode based on their expertise and what they can add to the broader conversation. Podcasts also rely on the similar distribution services, only existing in a server. Otherwise, it would sit on one’s hard drive, unable to be accessed by any given listener unless sent the file(s). Lastly, I think that the express purpose of podcasts surrounding the Digital Humanities is educating those who are willing to engage with the content. If I were to describe these elements without categorizing them under the umbrella of podcasting, one could point to many different projects in Omeka, kepler.gl, Palladio, and so on. There is a lot of versatility to the Digital Humanities in general, but podcasting is amongst my and many other’s personal favorites, whether they realizing they are getting something out of it or not!
I would say podcasting is an emerging mode of conducting public engagement and research, but the sheer volume of shows out there proves that the time for such characterization has already past. While there are inherent risks and dangers to podcasting just as there is any other mode of communication, I think that it is quite unique in its approach; and one that I hope sticks around for a long time.