The Importance of Voice

This class was my first exposure to Twitter and podcasts for the purposes of history. Although of course I’m familiar generally with the concepts, functions, and purposes of these forums, I was unfamiliar with what Twitter and podcasts looked and sounded like for us. I certainly don’t need to be convinced of social media’s utility for historians, public historians, scholars and professionals. The ability to share resources, collaborate digitally, and market exhibits/research/services is quite remarkable. But I was particularly impressed with this week’s podcasts.

Like my impressions of blogging from this course, the most recognizable quality in the podcast is its bredth and depth of content, which are entirely variable. Different topics, perspectives, and themes are considered in a format that some may consider informal, but I consider quite impressive. Another advantage of the podcast which mirrors advantages of the blog is a seamless integration of sources. The simple verbal transitions from direct quotes to original content remind me of the hyperlinks that are so helpful in navigating a blog post. Not to mention a speaker’s ability to alert listeners overtly that “Hey, this is important,” like in Serial’s episode “Alibi.” This direct line of communication from narrator to listener provided opportunities for commentary otherwise unavailable to content creators.

Most importantly, though, I am stunned by the subtlety of the podcast’s abillity to literally give narrators a voice – narrators who may otherwise go all but ignored by history. Again, Serial illustrates this by addressing youth, diversity and justice with a dynamic cast of speakers, including the convicted Adnan Syed himself. These individuals and their perspectives are all but buried by oral and documentary “evidence” against them, with little other representation in the legal and, thus, historical record.

Furthermore, the actual voices are ephemeral without recording. Though other pieces, such as “Playboy Covers Up” use, reread, and retell existing stories, others capture oral histories otherwise lost. This, in particular, makes podcasts valuable for historians. By marrying technology, social media, oral history, and journalism, many podcasts contribute content in the form of voices that would otherwise face historic erasure.

– Lauren Ericson


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