Putting The “Story” Back In “History”

How Podcasts Are Giving Arts And Culture A New Lease On Life

For some time, the venerable old institutions, the bastions of arts and culture, have been reeling from the explosion of digital media. More and more, people are turning to screens while less and less people are marveling at dinosaur bones or trying to figure out a Dali painting. Constantly cash-strapped, museums and art galleries are desperately trying to find a way to remain relevant. The answer is not simply a matter of putting up a Facebook page or encouraging people to follow your institution on Twitter. No, the answer is an army of excited amateurs, wielding microphones and mixers.

Of all the phenomena to take the Internet by storm in recent years, the rise of history podcasters really came out of left field. In fact, that three history podcasts (Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Mike Duncan’s Revolutions, and newcomer Craig Buddy’s History Of Pirates) all frequently appear on the iTunes US home page is stunning in and of itself. More people listen to these shows weekly than most museums and art galleries see in a month. So what exactly is going on? The secret sauce seems to be a slick sense of storytelling. Podcasters are ingesting the academic articles, books, lectures, and documentaries that put the average person to sleep, and are putting out succinct narratives, told with whit and verve.

Nobody likes to sit through a lecture, scrambling to take down dates and scribble down minutia that might appear on the exam. People do like to hear about the to-do list of death and destruction belonging to Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III –seriously, they do! History podcasters still hit the dates, and never fail to talk about the great personas and curious little facts that make history interesting. Some brave podcasters, myself included, have gone one step further and captivated the imaginations of thousands. Shows like Jordan Harbour’s Twilight Histories and my Voices From The Ages crunch all the historical data and convert it into captivating stories, reminiscent of radio plays like War Of The Worlds. Just by putting on their headphones, listeners can be transported to the streets of Rome or the lush gardens of Babylon –all without an admission fee.

Museums and art galleries should not see podcasters as the final nail in the coffin. Rather, the old guard should invest in these pioneers. Instead of just recording in-house lectures and posting them as podcasts, institutions should be bringing in podcasters to tell the often-unbelievable and exciting stories of the priceless objects in their halls. Many libraries and art galleries already have artists and writers in residence, so it would not be a big leap to bring a podcaster onto their team, maybe even as part of their marketing and publicity departments. It would certainly harken back to the days when rich Renaissance patrons supported the flourish talents of their day. Oh and the best part? Podcasting is cheap. Some of the most popular shows are produced with kits and hosting packages that cost less than most people spend at Starbucks in any given month.

I hope that museums and art galleries see the untapped potential out there in the world. History podcasters like myself grew up on trips to the museum, and our ever-growing audience is composed of people who would gladly purchase a ticket to see the wonders of ages past. We want to help. All it takes is one forward-thinking institution to open its doors.

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