Digital Media and the Future of the Historical Profession

Digital MediaIt’s August and I’ve somehow found myself with 7, straight weeks at home. It’s the first time I’ve been home for a full month this year. (Hence why this blog has been a bit of a ghost town.) Since January, I’ve been on a type of “history podcast tour.” Historians & history lovers have become fascinated with Ben Franklin’s World and its success, and they want to know more about the show, how I produce it, and the role podcasts and other digital media will play in the future of historical scholarship. As such, I’ve spoken at a lot of conferences and sat for interviews for podcasts, blogs, and radio.

I’ve participated in a lot of conversations about podcasting, historical scholarship, and the historical profession over the last 7 months. It’s been a lot of fun and these experiences have revealed several key questions people have about these topics:

1. What is the role of podcasts and other digital media in the future of historical scholarship?

2. What has the impact of Ben Franklin’s World been on furthering historians’ ideas about history?

3. How are you making a living podcasting/what are you doing with your career?

I’ve heard these questions enough that a couple of blog posts with answers seem like a good idea. In this post, I’ll answer the first two questions. In a second post, I’ll answer “how are you making a living/what are you doing with your career?”


What is the role of podcasts and other digital media in the future of historical scholarship?

When most historians ask this question, what they really want to know is: do podcasts and digital media compete with traditional books and articles?

My answer: No.

Digital media such as podcasts, blog posts, and digital videos complement traditional history books and articles. They also complement museum exhibits and historic sites.

The 21st-century is a mobile age. We live on our smartphones and time has become our most valuable resource because our ability to connect to the internet and with people anytime, anywhere has drastically multiplied the demands on our time. This doesn’t mean that people dislike reading books or visiting museums. It means they have less time (or feel like they have less time) to devote to those activities. As a result, they want to know that they are going to enjoy something and benefit from an experience before they invest time and money into having an experience.

This is where digital media complements traditional books, articles, and exhibits. High-quality, well-researched, and well-produced scholarship is still very important and the need for it is not diminishing. However, this scholarship suffers from a discoverability problem.

For example, Barnes & Noble doesn’t stock books from most academic publishers. They sell end cap and prime sales space to big, for-profit publishers with deep pockets. What books are those big publishers putting into those visible spaces? Usually those by “Fox News Historians” and journalists with large platforms. This means that many high-quality, fascinating history books by top-notch scholars go unstocked by bookstores and unnoticed by people who would be very interested in them, if they knew they existed.

Digital media such as blog posts, podcasts, and video create awareness. They allow potential readers to know that there are great history books and articles available and where they can find them. Digital media also provides easy and convenient ways for potential readers to get a feel for the author, the history they are conveying, and the quality and depth of the historian's research before they invest time and energy into finding a particular book, or article, and reading it.

I’ve found podcasts to be the best digital media for creating broad awareness because it’s presently the perfect digital media for our mobile age. You can listen to podcasts whenever and wherever you want to, which makes them appealing and fun fillers of commuting/exercise/dog walking/cooking/cleaning/waiting time. Plus the intimacy of the medium allows listeners to feel like they have a bond with their favorite hosts and guests.

This is why listeners repeatedly tell me that I’m costing them a fortune. They buy the history books and visit the historic sites they hear about on Ben Franklin's World because they get a great preview of what they will see, learn, and of the personalities and processes of the historians who authored the books or exhibits.

My prediction for the future: Colleges and universities will create and add digital media programs to both undergraduate and graduate curriculums in academic and public history specialties. Departments will find this profitable in the sense that faculty and student-produced media will create awareness about their programs and the work of their faculty and students and in the sense that these programs will teach students tangible, technical communications skills that companies (and corporatized colleges and universities) desire.


What has the impact of Ben Franklin’s World been on furthering historians’ ideas about history?

Statistical Measurement: Downloads have risen from 288 in October 2014 to an average of almost 69,000 per month in 2016. In a survey I conducted in late 2015, 41 percent of the Ben Franklin's World audience reported that they had purchased a book or visited a historic site as a result of the show.

Objective Measurement: I receive e-mails, tweets, and Facebook messages from listeners on a daily basis that contain questions about history, topics for future shows, and that both thank me for introducing them to a book or exhibit of great interest to them and curse me because they now spend too much money on history books. Similarly, listeners reach out to show guests too. Listeners ask guests further questions about their work and attend guest talks.


Parting Thoughts

Historians should embrace rather than fear digital media. Digital media is, and will, play a big role in keeping traditional historical scholarship alive and well and in reversing the downward trend in major and course enrollment numbers. Plus, digital media offers historians new ways to practice historical scholarship. More options breed creativity and innovation, which every profession needs if it wants to stay healthy and relevant.


Plan for a Historian Digital Media Network

Historian Digital Media NetworkOn March 3, 2016, I explored the idea of whether it makes sense to create a podcast network for historians. Eight weeks later, I am convinced that historians need a network. But we need more than a podcast network. We need a digital media network. Presently, digital media consists of blogs and online magazines, podcasts, and on-demand video. In the near future, virtual and augmented reality devices will enhance each of these media types with immersive experiences.

A digital media network offers historians the ability to cultivate and convey their work to wide and receptive public audiences. Digital media compliments books and articles by providing additional ways to disseminate ideas. A digital media network also provides historians with flexibility. Flexibility to present history in different media and flexibility to work in and develop new forms of media as they enter our digital world.

In this post, you will discover my plan to start a historian digital media network.


Overall Vision

If granted convenient access to the work of professional historians, the public will take an interest in history and historians’ work and become advocates for it. Convenient access to professional historical work will not only increase the ability of society to think historically, but having more advocates for history will help ensure that we have the funding we need for our research and the majors we need to keep our departments alive and fresh with talent.

The historian digital media network has a two-part mission: 1. To create wide public awareness about history and the work of professional historians by providing convenient access to history and historical research through digital media. 2. To educate historians how to use digital media to communicate history to people within and outside of the historical profession.

Plan of Execution

Given the rather large scope of this idea, I have been exploring models for how to execute it. The most promising models come from the technology sector.

Alphabet Inc.: This company made up of many companies started with just one company: Google, the wealthiest company in the world. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had big, long-term plans for what they wanted their business to do, but rather than execute all of their ideas at once, they started with one idea: how to improve people’s ability to search the internet.

Amazon: Today, Amazon stands as one of the largest logistics and technology companies in the world. But, before the company provided computing power on its AWS servers, warehouse and drop-shipping services, merchandise of all types, and digital media, provided one service: the ability to locate and purchase hard-to-find book titles.

Apple: Apple manufacturers high-quality computers and media devices and provides media delivery services. The second wealthiest company in the world started with three dudes in a garage who wanted to bring computers to the people. Their idea: shrink room-sized machines into personal, desktop kits.

All three of these companies are huge in size, scope, and profits. They achieved their success by starting off with one, small idea and executing that small idea well.

Similarly, I intend to start a historian digital media network with one, small idea and executing it well: podcasts.


Why Podcasts?

Podcast-MicPodcasts are hot right now.

Since my last post, Edison Research released its “Infinite Dial 2016” report. The study revealed a large increase in the number of podcast listeners and an increase in the number of podcasts people listen to. Additionally, The New York Times announced that it is creating an audio division, (an Amazon company) released the beta for its new short-form audio service, and Google Play Music finally launched its podcast directory and service. I also intend to start the network with podcasts because, at the moment, it is the media I most enjoy learning more about, working with, and the one I am finding the most success with.

Starting a digital media network with just podcasts is also a large undertaking. Ideally, the historian digital media network will convey history from all periods and subfields. However, launching a network with one podcast from every period and subfield won’t work. We won’t be able to build the audience we need to sustain a network with such a diversified strategy at the start. Therefore, we must begin with an even smaller piece and work our way toward the end goal.


Where to Start?

Listeners patronize networks because they offer consistent content in terms of quality, topic, and release schedule. Listeners are more likely to tune in to new shows if they already know and like the hosts and content of the podcasts they listen to. Therefore, I imagine building the network up and out much like we convey narrative in survey courses.

The network needs to start with one historical period and subfield. It will start by offering content about early American history. Ben Franklin’s World will serve as the network’s first podcast. It will be the base from which we launch other programs. New programs will tie into and build off of the geography and period of early American history because this consistent and related content approach will encourage listeners to sample new network programs.


How to Add New Shows?

Building out the network comes down to two factors: Money and historians.

I cannot build this network alone. I have many ideas for shows and how historians can utilize digital media of all types to convey their ideas, but presently, I need to keep my focus on Ben Franklin’s World. Its quality cannot drop. It is the cornerstone of the network and we must not take its audience for granted. Ben Franklin’s World will not only help us build the audience for the historian digital media network, it will help us fund it.

Ben Franklin's World has grown to a point where I could seek the corporate sponsorship of companies like MailChimp and Squarespace. (I have a different strategy for how to monetize the podcast, but that must wait for another post.) Once I monetize Ben Franklin's World, we will have funds to invest into new shows, which will need webpages, hosting, artwork, audio engineers, software, and recording equipment.

Aside from money, the network needs people. Not only should the network provide a space where the public can hear many different historian voices, but the network needs the labor of many historians to exist. Podcasting is fun, but it is a labor-intensive media. Therefore, I need to find enthusiastic people who share in the vision of a historian media network and find ways to realize the second goal of the network: to educate historians how to use digital media to communicate history to people within and outside of the historical profession.

Ben Franklin’s World could be used as an educational tool. I am confident I could bring in historians and graduate students to work on the backend of the show to gain experience in digital media (podcasting requires knowledge of blogging and video too). As colleagues gain experience with Ben Franklin's World, we could work on ideas for shows they would like to produce and work on launching them.

However, this is easier said than done. I haven’t yet figured out how to effectively bring in people to work on Ben Franklin's World in a virtual setting. I can demonstrate many of the technical aspects of podcasting via a shared-screen video conference, but providing hands-on experience and in-person discussion would be difficult and this type of work is best performed with hands-on practice.

Hands-on practice with the technology and with communication is key as the network must offer high-quality content to realize maximum success. Anyone can podcast, but not everyone can produce a high-quality podcast. Hands-on experience is critical to learning the art of the latter.


First Steps

Clearly, I still have a lot of details to work out and thinking to do. But, I am going to start building the network as I work out those details. I will finalize and implement my monetization strategy for Ben Franklin’s World. I will build the network's website, the gateway to all network content. And, I will survey my audience to see what periods and areas of history they would like to discover more about.

Rome was not built in a day and this network won’t be built in a day either. It’s going to take years. But, I am confident we will sort out the details as we go and hopefully within a few years the network will start to resemble a broad, inclusive platform for the profession. A platform that will help us spread ideas, promote historical thinking, and create advocates who will help support and advance our work.


Network Name

The network needs a name. What do you think it should be?

I am sitting on a couple of domain names, but I would love to know what you think.


5 Tips That Will Help You Stay Current With Scholarship

rp_iStock_000014949090Small-300x227.jpgDo you struggle to keep up-to-date with new historical research? Anyone who writes about history knows that it can be a challenge to keep up with the latest scholarship.

In this post you will learn about the 5 methods I use to stay current on historical scholarship.


Method 1: Academic Journals

Journals will help you stay current on the latest scholarship.

They provide a wealth of information even if you lack the time to read every article (most historians do).

Open a journal, read its table of contents, and read/skim the articles and book reviews that interest you and/or apply to your research. This technique will help you stay informed.

Here is a list of the academic journals I read/skim.

JournalsGeneral History American Historical Review

Journal of American History

Reviews in American History


Early American History

The William and Mary Quarterly

Journal of the Early Republic

Early American Studies

Journal of Early American History



History of New York

New York History

Hudson River Valley Review

H-NETMethod 2: H-Net

H-Net “creates and coordinates Internet networks with the common objective of advancing teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.”

Through H-Net you can subscribe to over 100 different e-mail lists that focus on different aspects of history. H-Net lists are a great way to learn about history-related jobs, conferences, fellowships, and research. They also provide access to a global network of historians. Historians use H-Net to pose, answer, and discuss questions about scholarship, sources, and interpretation.

H-Net is in the process of transferring to a new, more versatile platform called H-Net Commons. If you can’t find a list for your topic of study on H-Net be sure to check out H-Net Commons.


blogMethod 3: Blogs

Blogs about history will also keep you abreast of scholarship. Some blogs read like newspapers about history and scholarship, others discuss the minutiae of research.

I subscribe to a number of blogs, which I check each morning.


History Organizations

AHA Today by the American Historical Association

History News Network

History @ Work by the National Council on Public History


History Publications

The Journal of the American Revolution

New York History Blog


Archives, Libraries, & Museums

The Past is Present the American Antiquarian Society Blog

The Beehive: The Official Blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Smithsonian Magazine


Historian Blogs (I subscribe to over 35 blogs written by historians. This list comprises the most active blogs. I have listed them in alphabetical order by historian/blogger.)

Boston1775 by J.L. Bell

Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics by Mark R. Cheathem

The Last Campaign: Legislative Branch, Presidential Legacy, and Related Matters by Anthony J. Clark

The Way of Improvement Leads Home by John Fea

In the Words of Women, a group blog kept by independent historians who study women’s history

Keith Harris History by Keith Harris

The Junto Blog: A Group Blog on Early American History

Historiann: History and Sexual Politics, 1492-Present by Ann M. Little

American Studier by Ben Railton 

That Devil History by Jared Ruminski

To Breathe Your Free Air by John D. Wilsey


TwitterMethod 4: Twitter

Many historians tweet information about their work as well as links to articles about new scholarship.


Method 5: Conferences

Try to attend at least one history conference each year.

Even if you can't make it to a conference, peruse the conference program. Conference programs contain paper titles, which will provide you with a good idea about the different research projects historians are working on.


What Do You Suggest?

How do you keep up with the the latest historical scholarship?

Which history blogs do you read?

Leave a comment, send me an e-mail, or tweet me.


3 Important Lessons about Website Design

On Sunday February 16, 2014, I launched my new website. The site took about 6 months to create: 3 months of thinking and research and 3 months of writing content, installing plug-ins, and formatting all of my old blog posts to fit my new theme. As I already had a fairly decent web presence, I built my new site on nights and weekends.

I chose to redesign my website because my old site suffered from 3 design flaws.

In this post you will learn 3 important lessons about website design.


Version 1.0 of my websiteLesson 1: Design a Website, Not a Blog

As much as I loved my old website, it looked and felt like a blog, not a website.

It looked and felt like a blog because of the haphazard way I designed it.

I created my old website in late 2011/early 2012 as a blog. I had a separate personal website on, which I created with Sandvox.

Having two websites proved problematic.

First, I had to maintain two websites on two different platforms.

Second, I had two online hubs, when I should have had one.

Neither site served me well on its own.

I learned rather quickly that I did not want to maintain two websites. I also learned that if I wanted to make it as an independent historian and writer, I needed to have a real online hub that showcased all of my writing in one place.

As I loved the clean look of my blog and the functionality of WordPress, I copied the “About Me” information from and added it to my blog,

By choosing to merge my personal site into my blog, I had designed my website as a blog first and website second.

The emphasis of my old website always remained on my blog.

Uncommonplace BookLesson 2: The Power of URLs

About a year after I merged my websites, I recognized that my decision to fold my personal website ( into my blog website ( had a major flaw: I had unintentionally made Uncommonplace Book my lead brand.

All websites have one main URL.

You can use different URLs to direct people to different pages on your website, but your website resides on one URL and that URL is the one that indexes with search engines.

The main URL for my old website was, not

As a writer, your lead brand should be the name you publish under. Your name makes it easy for potential readers and media outlets to find you.

personal websiteBy making my main URL, I likely confused people.

Anyone who used a search engine to find me by name found Potential readers and media outlets had to navigate my website to find out who I was, what I write about, and whether they had found my website.

In our fast-paced, mobile world, you want to make it as easy and as fast as possible for people to find and recognize you and your content.

My new website uses as its main URL and to point to my blog.

It also looks like a website.

My new website emphasizes Elizabeth M. Covart, Historian & Writer. Uncommonplace Book, Missing Advisor Consulting, and all of the other content on my site is secondary to me and my writing.


Reason 3: Responsive Design

Speaking of the fast-paced, mobile world we live in, did you know that 55% of American adults use a smartphone? Or that 42% of American adults surf the internet with a tablet device?*

My old website did not play nice with mobile devices.

I want my blog and published writing to succeed in our crowded, noisy social world. Therefore, I redesigned my blog with a "responsive design" WordPress theme.

Responsive design means my website will adapt to whatever device people use to browse the internet. My website will look great on a smartphone, tablet, laptop screen, monitor, or TV screen.



When you design your website make sure you design it as a website (not a blog), that you use your writer website URL as your main URL, and that you use a WordPress theme or website design platform that allows you to create a site that will adapt to any screen size.


Questions blackboardQuestions?

If you have a question about my website design or how I created any of the elements on my website, leave a comment, send an e-mail, or tweet me.


Did You Know?

Did you know that I am experimenting with posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

Sign-up for my mailing list so you never miss a post.

As a subscriber you will receive one e-mail each Friday with a roundup of the week’s posts.


*Pew Research Internet Project, “Mobile Technology Fact Sheet,” December 27, 2013.