What Comes Next? Thoughts On the Future of Historical Scholarship

What does the future of historical scholarship and publication look like? 

This is a question I think about a lot. In fact, it’s something that has preoccupied my thoughts for about two years. I think about this question because I’m curious and because I’m in a bit of a spot with my own work. You see, at my core I’m a research historian. I want to make an original contribution to the historiography of early America, but thus far I haven’t produced a book. 

I have a partially revised book manuscript that I haven’t been able to finish because I spend so much time working with audio. As of next week, I will have published at least one podcast episode per week for 156 consecutive weeks. (I’ve already prepared and scheduled the episode to post.) And because I spend so much time working with audio at some point about two years ago my brain stopped thinking about my historical research in terms of text, it started hearing it. 

Before I started podcasting, I thought about how to frame and structure my research as a narrative text composed of chapters, paragraphs, and clear, well-constructed sentences. My brain used to review my research and make connections that I would see clearly in my mind as images and text. About two years ago, my brain stopped thinking about my work in this way. It started sending me sound; I started to hear my work as an audio narrative.

Thinking about my work in terms of sound goes beyond thinking about what Albany, New York sounded like during its Dutch, British, and early American periods. It involves thinking about how I can use all of the attributes of audio—the reasons most human brains find it so relatable, enjoyable, and compelling—to help listeners connect with my scholarly research. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last two years and I’m sorry to say that you won’t be hearing America’s First Gateway: Albany, New York and the Making of America as an audio narrative. It’s the wrong project. It’s wrong because I conceived of it and largely completed it as a text-based project. I can’t retrofit it to the new form I have in mind. I need a fresh start.

I find the idea of producing a primary source-based native audio history irresistible and it’s time to start articulating why I find it so alluring.

I define a “native audio history” as a narrative work of scholarly history created and produced in audio. It is a work that considers and presents sounds that evoke the past as well as the sounds that produce history. When I hear this genre, I hear the archives and intellectual production of history as an integral part of the presentation. It’s a genre that answers the whys and hows of history.

I believe that native audio histories will make it possible for historians to convey more about history than we can in books. (And I LOVE books!) I also believe that they can and will be a real, scholarly form.

Over the course of 2018, I intend to start articulating a plan for how and why I will research and write a native audio history. I will address why audio is compelling; the limitations of books and why I believe an audio history can overcome these limitations; project selection; how I intend to record my research and use sound; how I intend to produce and publish my work; ways I think this type of work can be peer reviewed; and how this genre could add an additional platform and revenue stream to the traditional publishing business model.

Oh, and I also plan to learn how to play the ukulele because playing music helps me think about sound and my trumpet is a bit too loud for my present living situation.