Brianna: What does the 19th century sex trade, Jacksonian religious fanaticism, and the orphan labor industry all have in common? These moments in history all have their time to shine on Dig: A History Podcast. What may seem like a grab bag of content actually provides an incredibly entertaining and scholarly resource for folks interested in history. Listen along as I dig into Dig.
Dig: A History Podcast is self-described as a “narrative-driven, open access, and accessible digital history project bridging the worlds of popular and academic history.” Formerly known as the History Buffs podcast, Dig began as a volunteer project and is now produced by historians Drs. Averill Earls, Sarah Handley-Cousins, Marissa Rhodes, and Elizabeth Garner-Masarik. The History Buffs Podcast was founded in November 2015 by the women of Dig alongside Katie Smyser, Tommy Buttaccio, and Dan Wallace. Today, Dig has over 160 episodes. They produce new episodes in series of four every other month. There have been a few hiccups in their schedule more recently, though.
Their home site is neatly organized by feature. The “Episodes” link leads to, you guessed it, all of their episodes dating back to the History Buffs podcast. The “For Educators” link features teaching resources such as lesson plans and tips on launching educational podcasts. They run into some trouble with their “About Us” page that I will get into later on in my review. They also have links to their “Swag” and Patreon, which highlights the success of the podcast. I have to admit, listener, that at the time of recording their Swag site is down. However, Dig’s Patreon page is booming with 66 patrons that help meet the podcast’s monthly contribution goal of $300.
In terms of content, the conversational and entertaining narrative structure of Dig allows for folks to get swept up in the story while absorbing its many historical complications. The historical narrative is the center of the podcast with breaks for the hosts to chat about the material. It is clear how much scholarly heft goes into the production of this podcast. In the “Selling Sex: 19th Century New York City Prostitution and Brothels” episode, the hosts make intermittent book, TV, and movie reccommendations that are relevant to the episode. They provide the *TV show Harlots and the movie Gangs of New York as popular resources for understanding the material. Dig navigates these complicated histories with grace and fun. The fun part is what I think makes this podcast such a success. Listen in as the hosts joke about the experiences of the “House of All Nations” brothel patrons in this episode:
Earls: And after visiting some young men bragged that they may not have traveled much but they managed to see a lot of the world in one night.
Handley-Cousins: Which is a brag!
Handley-Cousins: Because how many guys do you know that can go multiple times in one night.
Earls: Right, right, right. They’re making it up.
Handley-Cousins: So they really were bragging. They went to France and then they fell asleep.
Earls and Handley-Cousins: *laughs*
Handley-Cousins: Oh boy.
Brianna: It is clear that the podcast is trying to both encourage learning while also encouraging fun. By giving resources and making cheeky jokes, this podcast has its narrative form down to an art.
The production quality is also top tier. While I can’t say it’s always been this way for Dig, it’s clear that the producers put in lots of time to learn about quality podcast production. You can check out the entirety of Dig’s catalog on www.digpodcast.org/episodes to listen to their improvement in real time. The audio is clean and the consistent switch between narrators is effective at keeping its listeners engaged. The edits are almost untraceable. The finished product highlights how much of a well-oiled machine this podcast is. Dig, the show that started with very humble beginnings, is a masterclass in effective editing and narrative structure. It’s also just plain fun.
As much as I sing this podcast’s praises, it is not without areas for improvement. First, the “About Page”. For all intents and purposes, it doesn’t really exist. Most of the information that I have gathered about this podcast lives on an American Association for State and Local History press release that was posted to their About Page. Additionally, there aren’t a consistent amount of podcast episodes on their platforms. Youtube only has select episodes posted, and the heavy hitters (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher) don’t include their time as “History Buffs”. The only way to access all of their episodes is to go on their site. A final point I would like to make is about accessibility. There are multiple points in the episodes I listened to where the transcript was missing information from the podcast. Sometimes it was just little human moments, like this one from their episode on “The Kingdom of Matthias: Sex, Gender and Alternative Belief in the Second Great Awakening”
Handley-Cousins: This was like a weirdly big point, like THERE WERE NO PIES. This was, like, a really big deal.
Earls: THE HORROR.
Handley-Cousins: Even though, like, he liked fruit, you would think that he would love pie. But, no. That was too extravagant for him, apparently.
Earls: Yeah, he did not know how to enjoy fruit.
Brianna: However, there was another moment in the same episode where some pretty important context was given. The transcript states that Matthias’ followers were scared of being cursed should they disobey his rule. In the podcast, the context for why Matthias’ followers were so scared was provided, with Handley-Cousins stating,
Handley-Cousins: They had, I should say, they had some, like, reason to, like, believe that he (Matthias) could curse people, just because of this coincidental thing that had happened where this couple, who was joining the church. The man had sort of, like, resisted joining when his wife wanted to. And Matthias cursed him out and then, coincidentally, the guy got really sick and died. Um, but that like, effected everyone. Understandably so, right! Everybody was like, “Oh, my God, Matthias really does have this power.” So that’s kind of key to understanding why they were so in his thrall.
Brianna: What! I went from thinking Matthias’ followers were just religious fanatics to understanding one of many reasons why they followed him so closely. If I wasn’t hearing, I would have completely lost this. This example shows how different of an experience a disabled listener might have when engaging with this podcast. While this might seem like a smaller problem, for a podcast that markets itself as “accessible”, I believe an accurate transcript should be one of the first features of such a podcast.
Overall, though, Dig is a podcast that proves over and over just how important of a resource it is for the history buff and history educator communities. The podcast features tight production and tantalizing narratives to keep the average history buff hooked. It also provides teaching resources to allow history educators to bring podcasting to the classroom. Finally, Dig has an overall air of fun that contributes to a both scholarly and entertaining podcast experience. I hope sometime that you too, listener, can dig into Dig.
For Loyola University Chicago, I’m Brianna Wright.
Check out the Dig podcast here! https://www.digpodcast.org/