Updated: Oct 28, 2020
"Pass the parcel.
That's sometimes all you can do.
Take it, feel it and pass it on.
Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day."
-The History Boys, by Alan Bennett
When I decided to start a blog, I knew that my first post should be about Footnoting History. After all, it is probably the main reason anyone knows me. If someone contacts us via twitter (@historyfootnote) I am the person who receives it, and my name is attached to over 30 episodes. In addition to that, I hold a spot on the podcast's Administrative Team, with Elizabeth Keohane-Burbridge (Fearless Leader and Producer) and Nathan Melson (Audio Editor). Elizabeth once described our functioning rather aptly as "the Consulate", a reference to the three-headed government body that governed France before it became an Empire in 1804. Obviously Elizabeth gets to be Napoleon, but as to which of us is Cambacérès and which is LeBrun, I'll let you decide.
Still, thinking about and working on something all the time, does not guarantee you can easily write about it. So I asked myself: what, really, is podcasting about for me? The answer came, as many things do in my life, in relation to the theater- in this case, through the quote from The History Boys at the start of this entry.
Podcasting, for me, has become about exactly that- passing it on. You never know what is going to speak to someone, whether it makes them want to take up the study of history, inspires them to write a story, or simply serves to provide anecdotes they can share with friends. As "new media" (that is to say, internet-based media) has expanded, podcasting has become in some ways as influential as television, film, and music.
When I choose an episode topic, I usually do it because (a) it interests me, and (b) I hope it will interest someone else. I love storytelling, and I love that podcasting allows me to tell stories to people who may not otherwise know them, but who want to hear them. Graduate school was a special experience because it was the first time I was able to sit in history classes with all people who wanted to be there. There was no longer a requirement that you take a history class when you would rather be in a lab or solving a math equation. The people in the room all wanted to learn more about history, just like I did, and the enthusiasm was often palpable (even if we were tired and/or overworked). Podcasting is the same. The people who make podcasts about history and the ones who listen to them have a common ground: a love of and appreciation for the past. If you are curious about a certain area of history, there's very likely going to be someone who offers it to you in podcast form. Not to mention, if there isn't a podcast about the area that interests you, and you are willing to put in the work (and indeed, it is a lot of work, even if it is enjoyable), you can create it yourself. After all, isn't that what we did when we started Footnoting History? No one gave us permission, we decided we wanted to do it, and so we did.
That said, just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should do it. Eating is something I love to do, but I have no business in a kitchen (when I tell you I once managed to burn soup cooked from a packet, I am not exaggerating). That is, of course, a decision that only you can make for yourself, but in the spirit of 'passing it on', I am going to offer you something that may help if you are considering starting your own podcast: The Three Cs.
I came up with The Three Cs when I was planning a panel presentation with Elizabeth last month. We shared it at Big Berks 2017, the conference held at Hofstra University, and run by the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. The panel was called "We Launched History Podcasts- And You Can, Too!" (shout out to our wonderful fellow panelists, Averill Earls and Marissa Rhodes, of History Buffs/DIG Podcast!) so I wanted to develop something easy to remember that could also emphasize the work required while encouraging participation in the podcasting world. I feel like if you at least consider these, they will be helpful in finding success.
Keep in mind, these are only suggestions based on my experience.
The Three Cs
Listeners want to know when they will be able to hear you- not unlike how people like to know what date and time their favorite television shows are released. They may not listen to you immediately, and creating constant content can be tiresome, but if you can develop and maintain a schedule, it will not only help you develop a process, but your listeners will always know when to expect new material from you.
Consistency should also apply to tone and duration. Are you lighthearted? Are you serious? Is your podcast going to be fun or more in a lecture style? Do you want to people to listen to you on short drives or during longer, more involved sessions? There are a myriad of options, so as long as you choose one and stick with it, the people who like that style will be able to find you.
If you are part of a team podcast, like we are with Footnoting History, it is essential that the group you work with has open communication. You won't all agree on everything, and that's okay, but you need to have one thing in common: the goal of the podcast. If you can all agree on what you are trying to convey through your podcast, you will be headed in the right direction.
Regardless of whether you are a solo or team effort, communication with your listeners is something you need to continually do. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr (basically any social media) and a regular website are all good means for this. Be more than just a voice, be someone who is approachable and listens. You will meet some pretty fantastic people this way. (You will also inevitably be trolled, too. Don't let those get to you. It is not worth the stress or anger. Do not feed the trolls.)
Before you enter the increasingly cluttered world of podcasting, take stock of why you are doing it. What do you have that is special compared to others? What angle can you capitalize on that others have not? Have you listened to other podcasts and thought of ways you can improve on what is already out there? The one downside to the fact that anyone who wants to create a podcast is able to do so, is that, well, everyone does. You have to earn your listeners by being different from everything else, because if you aren't, people will stay with what they already know.
Never stop thinking of new ways to put your podcast in people's laps. There are many tried and true methods of gaining exposure (apps, social media, etc.) and you should definitely take advantage of those, but if you can do something no one else has done before, then you might be someone's first found podcast- and that is a great thing. Remember, you are your biggest publicist in independent podcasting.
It is my hope that providing information like this, based on lessons I've learned, will help others who are considering the same path. I want to pass it on, as others have helped me by passing on their knowledge.
In 2006, when The History Boys opened in New York, I did not know any of the people who are now my Footnoting History colleagues, because I was not yet a graduate student. I did not know that one day in the future I would be in a position where, after hundreds of hours clocked in researching and writing, the stories I told would be heard on multiple continents and I could write a blog post to help others. I am certain that if you told me this would happen back then, I would have laughed or made some sort of snarky reply, but then walked away mulling over the possibilities that hitherto had not occurred to me. At some point between then and now, I became not only just a podcaster, but a podcaster known for being a "History Girl", and few things make me happier.
Thank you for finding my blog and reading my first post. I hope you'll continue this monthly adventure with me.