The Living Historian: Keeping History Alive

Sunrise at WS Hancock Monument,
East Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg, PA, Summer 2019

Digital Humanities Podcast Review

I reviewed the podcast This Day in Esoteric Political History for an assignment in my Digital Humanities class. My review had to be in the form of a podcast. The audio file and transcript are found below.

The process of making a podcast was both easier and more difficult than I thought. For audio editing, I used Hindenburg. This software was fairly intuitive, and I found it easy to use after about an hour. Additionally, recording was easier than I thought. To record, I used a Zoom H5 and a microphone from Loyola University’s Digital Media Library.

View of audio editing in Hindenburg.

The difficult part was editing the sound itself. I never realized how much microphones pick up from breathing. There were multiple points where I exhaled or inhaled for over a second! This surprised me. Additionally, as I spoke, I altered the script slightly or even omitted complete portions. I had to go back into the typed script and edit it to match what was said.

While doing this, I realized the biggest hole in my script: I was required to include a snippet of the show I reviewed, and I did not record an intro or outro from this snippet. At this point, I had already returned the high quality recording equipment to the university. So, rather than use inferior recording quality, I left it alone. This problem is slightly alleviated by transition music. However, it is obviously the biggest problem with this episode.

Overall, the process was a lot of fun! I enjoyed using the sound editing software, and I learned about podcast production. I never realized how much work goes into podcasts (for reference, it took me about 20 minutes of editing for 1 minute of the recording!). I hope that I get to do this again sometime!

[0:00] Hello everyone! I want to thank you for visiting my website, the Living Historian. I am focused on keeping history alive. As part of my MA in Public History for Loyola University Chicago, I need to review a podcast.

[0:13] The podcast I am reviewing is This Day in Esoteric Political History. I was skeptical when I heard the title. I was afraid it might be a bit too esoteric. However, I found the opposite to be true. This podcast focuses on small events and people throughout American history in order to explore the story more fully. The formatting of the podcast helps this focus. The format is a discussion between the hosts. However, it does not feel scripted. It feels like a natural discussion that I could have with friends or family around my dinner table. The podcast takes these events and relates them to modern-day discussions.

[0:57] The main goals of this podcast are to examine esoteric events in history and relate them to modern day life. For example, I listened to an episode called “The Demon of Andersonville (1865)”. This one drew my attention because of my interest in Civil War history. In this episode, the hosts discuss the story of Henry Wirz, the commander of Andersonville. Andersonville was a Confederate prisoner of war camp in Georgia. I knew a little bit about Wirz’s story from a visit to Andersonville I did earlier this year. But, this podcast gave me an opportunity to learn more about him. One of the most striking facts of this story is that Wirz was the only Confederate officer hung for war crimes. The hosts launch right into historical context surrounding Henry Wirz’s execution. They talk about how Andrew Johnson wanted to reconcile with the South quickly. Because of this, took a lenient approach to the Confederates. This discussion presents problems related to Reconstruction, which relate to modern-day events of racism in America.

[2:02] Wirz was not excused. Andersonville was considered the worst prison of the Civil War, and Wirz was charged with murder and violations of the conduct of war. This show explores how Wirz happened to be a victim of his circumstances. Wirz did not intend for the Union prisoners at Andersonville to suffer. Andersonville could not be supplied with food by the Confederacy. The Confederacy could barely supply their own troops in 1864 and 1865, so why would they be worried about supplying Union prisoners of war? Additionally, Wirz was from Switzerland, and nativism ran high in the US during the nineteenth century. This certainly did not help Wirz’s case. The circumstances of his trial contribute to him being a victim of circumstances. His trial began shortly after Lincoln’s murder. The Union government was on a witch hunt looking for Confederates to prosecute and then execute. This happened to Boothe and his conspirators, and Wirz got swept up in this mania as he was tried in 1865. His trial was popular in the media, and this helped to shift public opinion against him. He became known in papers as “The Demon of Andersonville.” This discussion presented by the hosts shows how the deck was stacked against Wirz: the Confederacy did not supply Andersonville with supplies, he was a foreign immigrant, and his trial took place in the witch-hunt period after Lincoln was killed. This discussion relates to modern-day topics such as racism in America.

[3:38] The hosts end with the memorialization of Wirz. There are two ways to interpret the fact that he was the only Confederate officer killed for war crimes. For some, it reveals the leniency towards former Confederates within Reconstruction. For others, it makes him a martyr: “he was the only one.” This portion relates to the modern-day issue of Confederate memorialization and statues.

Snippet of the reviewed episode

[4:13] Jody: Hello, and welcome to This Day in Esoteric Political History from Radiotopia. My name is Jody Avirgan. This day, November 10th, 1865, Henry Wirz, commander of the infamous Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, was hanged in Washington, D.C. for his crimes war crimes. And it turns out, he’s the only confederate officers executed as a war criminal during the entire run of the civil war.

Return to my review

[4:52] Now, I know what you’re thinking at this point: “Wow, he’s spent a lot of time talking about that single episode. What about the rest of the podcast? Is it good?” Well, Yes! As a matter of fact, it is! This podcast discusses random events and draws discussions out of them. This is their goal: to take a moment and explore how it informs our present. Their target audience for this is historians and people who like random historical information. Other than the topic limitation of political history, almost everything is open to discussion. This is a strength that gives the podcast almost unlimited material. A downside of this approach is that the episodes seem a bit scattered. There is no major overarching theme other than discussions around esoteric events. Despite this, I would still highly recommend this podcast.

[5:45] To top it all off, the podcast is produced well. The sound quality is good and consistent. At certain points, the hosts reference the notes for the podcast. The notes show that the podcast is researched but not scripted. This amplifies the roundtable format. The story is easy to follow, and the hosts provide good historical context. The context displays the true nature of history as complex and nuanced, yet the hosts avoid getting too much into the weeds. For all of this, the podcast manages to do all of this in about twenty minutes!

[6:20] The last thing I want to comment on is the network that this podcast belongs to. This network provides further context for why this podcast began. They belong to a network called Radiotopia. Essentially, Radiotopia is a network for independent podcasters to produce and share their material. Radiotopia is from PRX, or the Public Radio Exchange. PRX helps to provide platforms for people to share their podcasts on. Radiotopia also belongs to the Pro-Democracy Podcast Coalition. The network reinforces the podcast’s goals. Belonging to Radiotopia and PRX show that this podcast supports free exchange of information. Radiotopia belonging to the Pro-Democracy Podcast Coalition shows that this podcast wants to avoid mistakes of political history. All of this reinforces the podcast’s mission: they hope to use political history to inform our situation in the present.

I hope that you have enjoyed this podcast review! This is Brian Burtka for the Living Historian helping to keep history alive!

Notes from the review:





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