A review of Dig: A History Podcast, a podcast that delves into unique historical themes, directed by Averill Earls, Sarah Handley-Cousins, Elizabeth Garner Masarik, and Marissa Rhodes
Dig: A History Podcast
Averill Earls, St. Olaf College
Sarah Handley-Cousins, University at Buffalo
Elizabeth Garner Masarik, SUNY Brockport
Marissa Rhodes, St. Leo University
Additional contributors are noted on the site.
Elizabeth Keohane-Burbridge, University of West Georgia
Averill Earls, Sarah Handley-Cousins, Elizabeth Garner Masarik, and Marissa Rhodes
Dig: A History Podcast is an open-access educational podcast created by four women historians. The primary goal of the show is to translate academic history into audio stories suitable for a general adult audience. With 150+ episodes on U.S., European, and world history, from ancient to modern and from global to regional studies, there’s a little something for everyone.
The life of a Dig podcast series, which is always four episodes in length, begins with the selection of a theme, like “Sex” or “Elections.” Each producer then picks a topic, researches it, and writes a script. Sometimes producers base an episode on a single book and build out from there. When there isn’t much written about a topic, producers gather a multitude of sources, including digitally-accessible primary sources, to piece together the story they seek to tell. All research, writing, recording, editing, sound design, website maintenance, distribution, and promotion is done in-house by one or more of the four producers. As feminist historians, the producers aim to ensure their topic selection is diverse, both in the people, places, and ideas represented and in the authors they highlight throughout the episodes.
All of the producers obtained doctorates in history from the University at Buffalo, with fields of specialization including the 18th-century Atlantic world, 19th- and 20th-century U.S. history, 19th- and 20th-century European history, histories of the body, race, disability, women’s history, imperialism, and gender and sexuality studies. Beyond their research specialties, the producers teach history courses on a range of topics from global and U.S. surveys to seminars in the history of medicine, the Holocaust, witchcraft, women’s history, LGTBQIA+ history, Latinx history, and more. These teaching and research interests shape the topics that producers select. Several producers also regularly teach courses on podcasting, and the Dig team has hosted several workshops on podcasting, most recently at the Organization of American Historians annual meeting (Boston, 2022), and the American Association of State and Local History annual meeting (Buffalo, 2022).
Dig aims to reach a general adult audience aged 18+, particularly those with an interest in history but without access to academic libraries and the treasures of academic histories locked within. The podcast averages around 12,000 downloads per month, with listeners in all 50 U.S. states and in over 70 countries around the world. As educators, the producers have also dedicated time to creating pedagogical resources, including lesson plans and assignment suggestions for specific episodes. They also tag every episode with useful content, geography, and time period information. All educator resources, like the episodes themselves, are freely available on the website. With included transcripts, students have multimodal ways to access the material.
While the target audience remains broadly conceived, Dig’s producers recognize the value of the podcast as a supplement to or replacement for textbooks and academic readings in high school and college coursework. Therefore, the producers have created open educational resources, complete with free lesson plans and ideas for integrating podcasts into the classroom. Instructors in dozens of colleges and universities assign Dig episodes in their classes. The most recent top referrers include Newberry College, University of Connecticut, Whitworth University, University of Louisville, Columbus State Community College, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Maine, University of Regina, West Virginia State University, and University of Arkansas.
In 2020, the producers received an Enabling Grant from the University at Buffalo Digital Scholarship Studio and Network to support a paid graduate internship. In 2018, the producers received a grant to attend a Sustaining the Digital Humanities seminar. In 2017 the producers were recognized for early episodes on New York state history with a Leadership Award from the American Association of State and Local History.
Dig is a podcast series that showcases lesser known stories often related to gender, sexuality, spirituality, religion, and disability — but this list is by no means comprehensive. The podcasters are all women with, as they put it, “degrees and sh*t.” From the start, listeners know that a journey into the past with Dig is going to offer perspectives outside the master narrative. Dig was initially a podcast series known as The History Buffs, created as part of a graduate school project. Quickly, team members Averill Earls, Sarah Handley-Cousins, Marissa Rhodes, and Elizabeth Garner Masarik realized that their voices and interpretations were much needed in the podcast realm.
While Dig episodes can be found wherever listeners find their podcasts, the podcast website offers a plethora of information. Each post includes a link to episode audio, transcript of an episode, images if applicable, a bibliography, further reading, and notes. The site also includes a tab at the top of the page for educators interested in launching their own podcast — or having students do so — as well as sample lesson plans. While the production values and audio clarity of the older episodes are somewhat distracting, the discussions prove to be of such interest that it is hardly noticeable. Recent episodes have professional-level sound quality.
As of this review, Dig has over 150 episodes highlighting stories from U.S., European, and world history from the 15th to 20th centuries. The episodes are grouped around different themes, with the spotlight on gender, sexuality, and religion. Often, one member of the team is responsible for an episode’s research and script, but the hosts present the information in an engaging conversational tone. Perhaps my favorite parts are when the hosts go “off-script” to comment on something they are explaining, which feels like you are all sitting around suggesting insights into that “odd” history fact that you just learned. Or you have been repeatedly saying, “Just like Beth!” (from Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women) in a discussion of what it meant to have a good death in 19th-century America.
To get a good sense of Dig and the hosts, I strongly suggest these four episodes: “Tuberculean Chic: How White Plague Shaped Beauty Standards in the 18c & 19c” (released May 27, 2018); “Miscarriage in Nineteenth Century America” (released February 10, 2019); “Cheesecloth, Spiritualism, and State Secrets: Helen Duncan’s Famous Witchcraft Trial” (released July 3, 2022); and “The Kingdom of Matthias: Sex, Gender and Alternative Belief in the Second Great Awakening” (released September 12, 2022).
While Dig aims for listeners 18+, there is little information in these episodes that would shock any high schooler and would most likely prove most edifying to them as Dig’s episodes provide context that many history courses lack. One suggestion is that the co-presenters who have not written the script or prepared the research for the episode review the script in more detail before recording. It can be a little disjointed to hear a presenter state a fact and then ask, “What, really?” to their co-presenter. However, hearing discoveries made in real time does offer a dose of verisimilitude as often the listener is saying the exact same thing.
The team at Dig demonstrates how public history by academic historians can be enjoyable and educational — a fact that is often dismissed, like many of the topics that this podcast examines, because they focus not on political or military history but on social history.