In Catherine McNeur’s HST 411/511 course Public History Lab: Podcasts and History, students are recording their own podcasts. The title of their project? “This Week, Back Then.”
The idea for the class arose after Professor McNeur taught HST 411/511: Public History Lab: Heritage Trees. The class looked into the history of Portland’s trees in an effort to help expand information on Portland’s Heritage Tree program. To that end, students created projects to disseminate their findings to the public. Some students found that the best way to get their research out there was in the form of a podcast.
Local radio station 90.7 KBOO partnered with Professor McNeur and her class. Students received training in audio production at the studio, and they had the opportunity to video call with staff involved in history related podcasts. They discussed just how much work goes into crafting a podcast—from creating topics to the logistics of getting the episode on the radio. Undergraduates spent time crafting and producing two podcasts while graduate students worked on three.
With an emphasis, but by no means exclusive focus on local history, students tackled many different challenges in piecing together a final project. They scoured archival documents, looked for secondary sources and investigated photo rights.
Topics ranged from the 1960 bombing of vans carrying copies of the Oregonian and the Oregon Journal to the Hyers Sisters–African American pioneers of musical theater—to the 1962 birth of Packy the elephant at the Portland Zoo.
Students recorded their podcasts at KBOO with the help of Erin Yanke, program director and youth advocate for the station. While crafting their episodes students also worked on creating corresponding blogs for cross-media promotion.
The blogs enabled students to reach an even greater audience and provided multi-modal ways of experiencing history. The multi-platform structure of the course allowed students to be involved in a variety of ways in the podcast production. Students were divided up like a typical staff-led environment—working as contributors, managers and even fact checkers.
For some students, the challenge was directing their research and finding a broad audience. In particular, Taylor Bailey, a second-year graduate student in the history department noted, “You can’t simply…write a paper for your professor and record what you’ve written. You must write with a radio audience in mind, and that means avoiding academic jargon, constructing clearer sentences, and being more aware of how things will sound rather than how things look on paper.”
Bailey, for his master’s program, pays particular attention to animal and environmental history. His episodes focused on related topics including the 1967 Supreme Court case Udall v. Federal Power Commission. The court case was responsible for placing a temporary halt on the High Mountain Sheep Dam from being built on the Snake River, the body of water that separates Oregon from Idaho.
Undergraduate Evan Smiley recalled the benefits of the class: “It’ll make you go outside of your comfort zone and challenge you in ways you don’t always expect. And at the end you’ll have a unique project to put on your resume.” While Smiley focused on topics that took place decades ago, they are still prevalent today: the decriminalization of homosexuality in Oregon and the Black United Front’s protests against the Portland School Board in 1982.
On choosing to focus on these topics, Smiley remarked, “I chose both historical events because they were local to Oregon and involved topics such as systematic oppression and institutional racism, which are still highly discussed today.”
If you are interested in learning that Packy was available for viewing six hours after his birth, what the Hyers sisters were doing in San Francisco, or perhaps about the mid 20th century Portland crime boss Jim Elkins, you should tune in to KBOO. The podcasts will begin broadcasting in January next year.