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News about the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab

Reimagining the sound of scholarship: An interview with Hannah McGregor

Published by Alison Moore

This blog post was contributed by Sophia Han, a former Digital Fellow in the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab. 

What might scholarship sound like in the future? This is the question explored by Hannah McGregor, assistant professor of Publishing at SFU and podcaster of Secret Feminist Agenda, Siobhan McMenemy from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, and collaborators at the Amplify Podcast Network. Working with Wilfrid Laurier University Library, DHIL will be supporting the SSHRC-funded project by building infrastructure to archive scholarly podcasts produced by the network.

In the first of a two-part blog series, Hannah McGregor speaks with DHIL about the questions driving the project. 


How did you and your collaborators come up with the idea of developing a network around the use of podcasts for scholarly communication?
The Amplify Podcast Network emerged out of a prior collaboration with Siobhan McMenemy from Wilfrid Laurier University Press. At the time, I was particularly interested in doing work on podcasting, public and open scholarship, and pedagogy. Siobhan and I ended up putting together a SSHRC Insight Development grant, and we got a couple of years of funding to make Secret Feminist Agenda, a test case to see if it would make sense to make a podcast that is meant to be scholarly.

The project was more successful than we anticipated in a few different ways. There was enough interest, excitement and momentum around it that we decided to take the work further and expand it. That meant moving beyond Secret Feminst Agenda as a proof of concept, into thinking about a podcast network that is built around the same principle. We came up with the idea of the Amplify Podcast Network as a project that would allow us to expand on the model of what scholarly podcasting can look like. Also, we wanted to use the network as an opportunity to do the infrastructure and capacity-building work that needs to happen around scholarly podcasts—in terms of building tools and standards for making scholarly podcasts discoverable through traditional research tools, as well as figuring out how to build consensus around the idea that podcasts count as scholarship. 

Did some of these early conversations involve other kinds of publics?
Questions about how to make scholarly podcasting work count—those are questions happening in the scholarly community because they’re questions around professionalism and career advancement. How have we built the world of academia such that we count certain kinds of work, and don’t count other kinds of work, and why does this matter? 

Questions about podcast content—what do we actually want them to talk about? what work do we want them to do? why do we think podcasts are important in the first place?—those are questions that are engaging other publics outside of academia. 

For me, I know my commitment to podcasting gets stronger all the time. The more I do it, the more I hear back from people who aren’t within the university anymore but miss the opportunity to have conversations about books and ideas. The way we have designed the university is so that the second you leave you are cut off from those conversations. The more time I spend podcasting, the more convinced I am that a lot of people don’t want to be cut off.

This sense of responsibility to hold conversations with communities outside of academia is equally vital to the different podcasters who are part of the Amplify Podcast Network. We’re also interested in using Amplify as an opportunity to build more connections with the professional podcasting world. How can podcasting serve as a bridge between people who are creating things within the university, and people who are creating things outside of the university? 

I am much more interested in the version of podcasting that is a little bit shaggy, a little imperfect, that is put out regularly, that is iterative, and that—like so many other kinds of serialized media—is focused on building relationships based on the predictability of regular releases so that people can look forward to future episodes.

In terms of communicating research insights, what does podcasting do that a book or journal wouldn’t be able to do?
It’s a different media logic. There are a variety of things that it does better and a variety of things that it does worse. 

My focus is on communicating humanities research, which looks different from research in the sciences, where you’ve got a thing called data. In the humanities, we don’t necessarily have data, we don’t have findings. We are grappling with ideas. The very business of what we do is about remediating and interpreting texts. 

You can’t divide the language from the thing itself. The highly specialized scholarly monograph or journal article has developed over time into a precise tool to do discipline-specific work. There are things you can do in a journal article that you can’t do in any other form because it’s a linguistically-precise, point-by-point unpacking of an idea… except that it takes 10,000 words to really unpack these ideas, and you’re demanding from your readers an intense, prolonged commitment.

Podcasting does not lend itself to that kind of precision, particularly the way I do it because my podcasts are not audio documentaries. My podcasts are largely improvised, off-the-cuff conversations, interviews, and improvised monologues. This produces a sense of intimacy with the listener, which is something characteristic of podcasting.

The other characteristic is seriality. Podcasts are regularly-scheduled. They have multiple episodes, and they’re produced iteratively. There isn’t so much of a sense as there is with a book or article, that you have to perfectly craft the thing before it goes out into the world. There are some podcasts that are produced that way, but I am much more interested in the version of podcasting that is a little bit shaggy, a little imperfect, that is put out regularly, that is iterative, and that—like so many other kinds of serialized media—is focused on building relationships based on the predictability of regular releases so that people can look forward to future episodes.

DHIL is working with the Amplify Podcast Network and Wilfrid Laurier University Library to create a digital archive of scholarly podcasts including episodes from Secret Feminist Agenda, and three series currently in production: Community of Praxis by Brenna Clarke Gray at Thompson Rivers University, Creaturely Conversations by Daniel Heath Justice at UBC, and Communication at the Edge by Kendra Cowley and María Alvarez Malvido.

Photo: Christopher M. Turbulence.