It’s Podcast Week here at Nursing Clio! This week we will be talking to the producers of two new history podcasts, Sexing History and DIG: A History Podcast. We will also share our own must-listen picks. So whether you’re an avid podcast fan or just thinking about exploring the genre, we’ve got you covered. To kick off our series, Jacki Antonovich sits down with the ladies of DIG: Averill Earls, Elizabeth Garner Masarik, Sarah Handley-Cousins, and Marissa Rhodes.
Jacki: Before DIG, you all ran a podcast called History Buffs. What inspired you to reconceptualize and re-launch as DIG?
Averill Earls: Well, we adopted the name “History Buffs” as a play on our hometown — because we all live in Buffalo, NY. Apparently, though, we were the only ones who got the joke.1 It wasn’t a big deal, and we built a following up around the History Buffs name. But then we kept getting these really hostile reviews on iTunes — essentially, because we had the name “Buffs,” folks expected us to be hobby historians, rather than trained historians with more than just names and dates to report. We tell stories. Good storytelling is something we strive for with every episode. But it’s our job to think about why and how things happened, and what we can learn from historical moments.
So when the opportunity came to part ways with a few of the founding members of the History Buffs, Marissa, Elizabeth, Sarah, and I decided to rebrand. We wanted to keep doing hard-hitting, well-researched episodes that would be interesting to a general audience, but we’re leaning into our professional qualifications. We have two PhDs, two ABDs, three MAs, one MSed, and an MLS between the four of us. And we’re proud of that, and excited to put those degrees to work for our listeners. That’s why we open our episodes with “We are YOUR historians for this episode.” That’s what this project has always been about, and we have finally hit our stride with the relaunch of DIG.
Jacki: Your first three episodes are all fascinating and quite titillating. In your premiere episode, you discuss the Marquis de Sade. In episode two, you explore the life of Marie Stopes, a famous birth control advocate and eugenicist, and in your third episode you dive deep into 19th-century brothels in New York City. Will topics on the history of gender and sexuality play a large role in the DIG world?
Elizabeth: We wanted to start out with a bang and really grab people’s attention when we launched our rebrand. And what better way than to start out with a series all about sex?!? So that’s why our first few episodes are “titillating.” (Not that we totally don’t “dig” that kind of history anyway. Get it? Dig? ba-da-ching!)
In answer to your question, of course gender and sexuality will play a large role in the DIG world because gender and sexuality are integral parts of history! Our goal as podcasters, and as historians in general, is to weave the intimate and personal details that have so often been overlooked into larger historical narratives. I think all four of us would agree that you can’t “do” history without “doing” gender, so that’s the attitude that we bring to the podcast. We approach our DIG episodes with the same seriousness and historical inquiry that we give to our “day jobs” as educators and researchers. We are just stoked that others are enjoying listening to the podcast as much as we enjoy making it.
Jacki: You all sound like you are having SO much fun doing the podcast (especially the blooper reel at the end). Can you talk a little bit about how you put an episode together and how you balance the serious history side with the “fun”?
Marissa: We don’t want to do history that people don’t want to listen to. We try to speak how we would with friends at a cocktail party; friends who are like us — intelligent, irreverent, and informed — people who are interested in what we do but don’t necessarily have enough content knowledge to do the history themselves. That’s where we come in.
We’ve changed our method a lot since we started History Buffs in 2015. We used to each do our own research, write up our own copy (sometimes in bullet form, sometimes as prose) and then get together and mash it together on recording day. This gave us mixed results. Sometimes it worked well (e. g. Frankenstein) but other times it failed miserably.
As DIG, we’ve developed a different approach. Now each person “owns” one episode per series. They do all the research and write the copy themselves but share it ahead of time with the rest of the producers. Their second-in-command for the episode reads it before recording, and makes suggestions or notes.
On recording day, we split the copy and take turns reading it and offering various asides as we go along. Lately we’ve started making sure that 3 if not all 4 of the producers are in the room during recording even if they’re not officially on the episode. That way, we can benefit from the input (or heckling) of the peanut gallery as we go along.
We used to edit out any mistakes or mis-speaks we made. But now we usually work them into the episode so that our listeners get a sense of our personalities and our process. Sarah and I have moments of brilliance but overall tend to make a lot of pop culture references that no one understands; Elizabeth tells it like it is, with a Texas drawl of course; and Averill, the mother hen, judges people without mercy and keeps us all (meaning me, Marissa, and my fast-talking and mic-evading face) in line. Sometimes we drink too much coffee or take too much cough syrup or occasionally even drink too much wine and things get silly. But that’s ok. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Historians have fun too.
Jacki: What can we expect in the future for DIG?
Sarah: Well, we’re in the midst of a four-part series on war. We try to take one unifying theme and make it the central focus of a series, but we also try to play with the theme a little — our war series, for example, includes an episode about the failed McGovern campaign alongside an episode about the military revolution in early modern Europe! We have a couple more of these series planned out.
In the coming weeks, we’ll have a series with lots of spooky history that will be a perfect for Halloween listening. We’ll be doing a series on winter, and then we’ll have an entire series on the history of masturbation — which will include an episode about early 19th century whalers and their wives’ dildoes! How amazing is that?
We’re also always scheming — right now, we’re working on figuring out ways to grow our audience, make our podcast as accessible as possible, and trying to monetize. We want to keep the podcast available for everyone, but we’d also like to make it generate at least enough revenue to pay for our website hosting fees and other operating costs. I think we’re also ruminating on some future projects — I know I’ve been thinking about how to occasionally have a video episode!
Jacki: What are your favorite podcasts to listen to? Those that may influence your approach, and those that just tickle your fancy — and why they tickle your fancy.
Averill: I regularly listen to the Ottoman History Podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and just about anything from Radiotopia. Sarah listens to all kinds of podcasts, from history shows like Deconstructionists Podcast and The Whiskey Rebellion, to advice podcasts like Savage Love, to more focused podcasts like her cousin’s Grief Relief podcast. Elizabeth listens to the entire Crooked Media line up, history shows like In the Past Lane, and empowerment shows like Style Your Mind. And Marissa is notorious for her true crime obsession (see All Killa No Filla) and history podcasts like The History Chicks and Queens of England.
Sometimes we like the NPR-style highly produced shows with music and sound effects to help carry the story, and sometimes we just like popping in on people’s conversational shows. Depends on the mood. We approach podcasting in much the same way.
Listen to DIG episode, “Selling Sex in 19th C. NYC”:
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