In November 2019 the History Department launched Reverb Effect, a history podcast exploring how past voices resonate in the present. Episodes are developed under the creative direction of the season producer, a graduate student who serves as host and showrunner.
Daniela Sheinin (season one producer) and Hayley Bowman (season two producer) connected with incoming season producer Allie Goodman to discuss their experiences and talk about the impact of podcasting on their own work. Reverb Effect is made possible by the Gerald S. Brown Digital Skills Internship program. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What drew you to Reverb Effect?
Daniela Sheinin (DS): In my case the program as we know it didn’t exist. I had been thinking about ways to share the oral history interviews I had done for my dissertation research. When I heard rumblings of a podcast, I thought, I’ll do an episode with those interviews. And then came the call to apply to be season producer. It seemed like a way to get creative with history, with stories, with characters in history. It was very much a kind of exploration.
Hayley Bowman (HB): When I saw the call for season producer, I had been thinking about an episode. I’ve been interested in narrative storytelling for a long time. The podcast seemed like a natural fit. After listening to episodes, I got really excited about the possibilities, which gave me the courage to apply.
Allie Goodman (AG): I was really interested in storytelling. I work with transcripts of oral histories and it was an opportunity to think differently about narrative. I’m also interested in public history.
How did working with Reverb Effect impact your personal and professional goals?
AG: Working on the podcast is good for my research. My episode (Season 2, Episode 5: “A Prison by Any Other Name: Imagining Childhood Criminality in 1920s Chicago”) came from a seminar paper that I’d written for a course. The process of reconfiguring it for a podcast helped me find holes in my research, a lot of questions that I hadn’t answered. The process of flipping it around and reconfiguring it blew those wide open.
HB: My episode (Season 2, Episode 3: “Envisioning Eternity: Women and Purgatory in the Seventeenth-Century Spanish World”) pulled from a chapter of my dissertation where I’m describing miraculous visions. How do I make the things I’m finding in manuscripts understandable to an audience? How do I make it as vivid as it reads in the original seventeenth-century Spanish? I’d already written this chapter, but I did a bunch of revisions based on the podcast episode.
DS: The podcast almost forces a certain level of creativity that is not always necessary in academic writing and is not always encouraged. In a podcast, I’m going to be talking to folks who would never read an academic paper or an academic book. That really helps me with clarity in my writing and with character development. Probably everyone could benefit from developing a podcast episode in that way.
The managerial experience was also useful—like helping contributors craft compelling narratives for topics unfamiliar to me. It gets to the basics of how to make something interesting. If there’s something that came up that made sense to the person writing, but it didn’t make sense to me, then it probably won’t make sense to other people who aren’t in that field.
What were your goals when starting out as season producer?
DS: My goals for the first season were practical. The first was to imagine what this program would be like. Who’s our audience? What’s our format? Ultimately the priority was launching the episodes so there were examples for future producers. It was a lot of exploring, figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and changing things. None of us are experts, none of us have a massive production or editing team. That’s useful in convincing people to test out an episode. Everyone who’s done one has been in the exact same boat, with the exact same level of experience.
HB: Going into season two one of our goals was doing a premodern episode, and Aidyn Osgood ended up being our first pre-modern contributor (Season 2, Episode 2: “The Unnatural Vice: King Henri III, Sodomy, and Modern Masculinity”). We wanted to empower historians who are working on classics or pre-modern projects to think, yes, this is something that is relevant and something that can connect to the present. As a pre-modernist myself, this goal was really important to me.
How has podcasting work impacted how you think about teaching or interacting outside the academy?
AG: Our podcast and public history more generally uses rigorous methods and theory just as all historical work does. But it requires you to communicate it differently and to make it comprehensible to a broader audience. That’s a crucial skill. Podcasting is exciting to use in a classroom, but it also allows us as historians to reconfigure our own work to make it more broadly comprehensible.
HB: I’ve been thinking about the ways podcasting can allow us to think about time. You have something happening historically, and maybe you write about it in narrative form, but how do you bring that to life and make it immediate, bridging time and space? It’s something we do in the classroom as we’re trying to get our students to understand something: Why did this historical actor write this?
DS: It’s quite a bit of responsibility to bear, to write a podcast episode about people who may listen to that episode. And there are so many possibilities for engagement outside of the university and Ann Arbor.
AG: I was in a class where one of the guest lecturers said, we should treat people that we’re writing about like family, and we should be cognizant of what we include and what we don’t, why certain pieces of paper are in an archive and why others aren’t. In public history we’re extra aware of who’s listening. Podcasting is a great way for historians to ask those questions and re-implement the answers in their more traditional work.