New podcast series uses artifacts to highlight College history

by Florida Huff | 10/30/18 2:00am

In anticipation of the College’s 250th anniversary, a group of Dartmouth faculty and students has teamed up to create “Hindsight is 20/19,” a 26-episode podcast series celebrating Dartmouth’s history.

“It’s kind of coming out of the 250th, but also just out of a desire we’ve had for a long time to more widely share the cool stories that come out of Dartmouth,” head of Special Collections at Rauner Library Jay Satterfield said.

College archivist Peter Carini said the idea for the series originated from a British Museum podcast that centered each episode around a historical artifact.

“That’s a great idea, to do that with objects ... allowing [artifacts] to become the doorway or entryway into a bigger picture,” he said.

Employing that method, the team selected 25 objects, one per decade, to craft each episode’s narrative.

“What we’re trying to do is use those objects as a catalyst ... to create a picture of what Dartmouth was like on some aspect [at] some time,” Satterfield said.

Carini said that the podcast will intentionally cover a broad variety of topics, ranging from the serious to the amusing. Episodes will detail the role of slavery in the construction of the campus, the effects of World War I and World War II on the College, student life, Dartmouth’s connection with the outdoors, the history of diversity on campus, Dartmouth’s relationship with its alumni trustees and broad administrative changes over the College’s history, said Carini.

“We made sure we were covering a variety of things,” Barrett said. “We weren’t only focusing on [a single] aspect of student life, or we weren’t only focusing on inventions and innovations that came out of Dartmouth, but we were getting a really good mix of a whole range of aspects of Dartmouth’s history.”

In choosing podcasts as a medium, the team was forced to reshape the way they convey narratives.

“We work with students, faculty and researchers all the time to help create narratives out of primary sources,” Satterfield said. “We’re professionals at analyzing documents … But we’re amateurs at podcasting.”

According to Katie Carithers ’20, a student who contributed one of the episodes of “Hindsight is 20/19,” podcasts restructure the relationship between narrator and listener in a way that is “different from fiction or prose writing.”

“It allows, I think, a little informality that opens up a space for us to say we don’t really know what fully happened, we can’t perfectly construct it,” Carithers said. “But here is what we seem to know from the archive, here are our inferences, you can take them and you can also make your own ... I think they’re an extremely exciting narrative.”

“A lot of what determined my podcast for the 1920s was which [artifact] not only would allow a lot of different parts of the story to be brought in, but could also be condensed into 10 to 20 minutes of history at Dartmouth,” Carithers said. According to Carithers, the artifact she selected was a letter, an article from former College President Hopkins to psychologist Dr. Bing Croft, addressing the rampant paranoia regarding homosexuality and homosocial relations between Dartmouth men, especially student soldiers and those unaffiliated with the Greek system.

On the other hand, Carini expressed that podcasts are a unique medium with advantageous features. According to Carini, employing podcasts as a medium also broadens the team’s audience, as listeners can engage with the narratives while participating in other tasks.

“People who might not have time to read our blog [posts], even though [they’re] short, or who don’t have time to come in and look at [the artifact], be told about it, or read up the history of it, they can listen to [a podcast] while they’re driving, or washing the dishes, or while they’re out running,” Carini said. “So I think [a podcast] has that advantage.”

Since the episodes are fairly bite-sized, around 10 to 25 minutes each, they are also easier for students to listen to, Satterfield said.

Carini and director of education and outreach at Dartmouth Library Laura Barrett, both avid podcast listeners, brought their personal experience with podcasts to the table in shaping “Hindsight is 20/19.”

“I wanted to make sure that we brought in other voices and that we had a broad spectrum of voices, so it wasn’t just one person all the time, which most podcasts I listen to are,” Carini said. “We did some things that were kind of fun, like an interview.”

Barrett agreed, emphasizing that she wanted to “play around with having different voices to [sustain] interest and to offer different perspectives, while still having it stay clear and interesting and comfortable, not chaotic to listen to.”

Barrett added that she enjoys podcasts that foster connections between the listener and the story, transcending a simple overview of the topic.

“I learn a lot more that way,” Barrett said. “I knew that I wanted to take that kind of approach, to really help people make personal connections with different parts of Dartmouth’s history through these different objects.”

Carini added that although the core team for “Hindsight is 20/19” is comprised of Dartmouth faculty, the podcast will also feature a few student voices. Among these is Carithers, who said her archival research on the Dartmouth Players, a formerly existing student acting troupe, as a student research fellow at Rauner provided a unique insight into the 1920s as a decade, unearthing connections between the arts, Greek life and World War I at Dartmouth.

“Up until the 1920s, like the College, [the Dartmouth Players] consisted of only men who were the students and the actors in it,” Carithers said. However, Carithers added that paranoia about male actors becoming homosexual due to playing female roles led the Dartmouth Players into becoming co-ed by recruiting local women, several decades before the College itself would admit women.

Carithers said that in uncovering documents hidden in Dartmouth’s archive, “Hindsight is 20/19” sheds light on aspects of Dartmouth’s history that either lack information or have been censored over the years.

“We have this archive that we can also use to hold the College accountable and to recognize its history, both the good and the bad,” Carithers said. “In cultivating that understanding of where we’ve come from and where … issues on this campus [have] started from, we can continue to create change.”

Satterfield said the “Hindsight is 20/19” team intends to release the first four podcast episodes this upcoming January, followed by weekly releases of the remaining episodes throughout the year.

“I hope that it’s fun for people to listen to,” Barrett said. “It’s just really, really fun, and I hope that comes across [to the audience].”

Satterfield agreed, adding that “it’s fun to try out new ways of telling stories that are often stories you’ve told before … bringing [stories] to a new medium has just been a really fun experience.”