Let’s face it, people are killed every day,” Marissa Rhodes bluntly remarks at the start of a recent episode of “Dig: A History Podcast.” “But sometimes crimes and murders strike such a cultural thread that they become sensationalized, and people just can’t get enough of the story. And often, that’s where history comes into play.”
Does it ever. Rhodes (MLS ’11) is one of the producers of “Dig,” a history podcast that’s making a name for itself by bringing listeners a range of riveting tales of the past replete with crime, politics, war and sex. She and the other three producers—Averill Earls (PhD ’16), Sarah Handley-Cousins (PhD ’16) and Elizabeth Garner Masarik (MA ’14)—met as graduate students in UB’s history department and are now collectively debunking the myth that history is boring, old news. Says Handley-Cousins, “It just depends on whether or not you can deliver it in the way it deserves.”
With “Dig,” that means almost a hundred episodes’ worth of unconventional topics, well-researched facts, smart insights and funny asides. The goal is to share accounts of the past in a way that matters by going deep into the underlying context, an approach informed by their feminist history orientation. “Women, people of color, immigrants … are often hard to ‘hear’ in history,” explains Masarik. “For many years, traditional history didn’t tell their stories, because their stories weren’t on the surface. It wasn’t until the 1960s and ’70s … that we got a sense of what was going on historically besides what prominent white men were doing.”
The podcast reflects a trend exemplified by period dramas like the TV series “The Alienist,” but it has more scholarly goals. “It’s about building a bridge between the ivory tower of academia and the public,” says Earls. It’s also about building a bridge between past and present, as Handley-Cousins explains. “We live in a time when people, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum, are trying to understand how we got here.”
Each episode of “Dig” requires a monthlong process of researching, writing, recording and editing. The team divvies up topics according to their individual specialties, though they often present in pairs. Episodes are recorded four at a time in Earls’ guest bedroom, and, by midday, “we get a little punchy,” laughs Handley-Cousins. (Listeners can enjoy some of their bloopers in a comical outtakes clip at the end of each episode.)
After three years in production, the podcast now boasts subscribers in the thousands. The project earned its producers a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History. It’s a nice pat on the back for what is essentially a labor of love by four people collectively juggling dissertations, full-time jobs, families and interests as diverse as baking and power lifting. But those crosscurrents give context to their work and underscore their passion for their discipline.
“We love doing this,” says Masarik. “It’s like lecturing to the world.”