Teaching History Communications & Internships at Ben Franklin's World

ApprenticeshipOf late, several professors have inquired whether I offer, or have considered offering, semester-long internships at Ben Franklin's World. Their requests relate that I could teach their students valuable digital communications skills they could use in either history or non-history jobs.

Teaching history communications is something I have thought about and something I may pursue in the future.


Teaching History Communications

My thoughts about how I would teach history communications come from thinking about how my involvement with Ben Franklin's World will change or end.

The podcast has been a successful history communications experiment. Within 15 months it has surpassed 500,000 downloads and become a top 8% podcast.

At the moment, I enjoy the intellectual, technical, and interpretive challenges the show offers. But it is not a project I see myself pursuing in its present form for my entire career.

I am a serial problem solver. I find a project or problem that interests me, study it, solve it, and move on to the next project or problem. At some point (I don't know when), I will move on from Ben Franklin's World to one of the other history communications project ideas I have or will have.

Knowing that I have a propensity to seek new challenges, I have started thinking about the long-term future of the podcast. I have three or four ideas about what the future might look like. With the exception of one scenario, all of the ideas involve ensuring that the podcast will continue to exist as a platform for early Americanists to communicate their work to the public.


One idea for Ben Franklin’s World would be to adapt the project for use as an in-classroom educational tool. This would allow me to keep tabs on the project and use it to train students in history communications. [1. I am aware of the many challenges associated with this scenario.]

I imagine a history communications course as a full-year commitment and one that is run more like a science lab than a traditional history course.

The first semester would be the equivalent of a how-to tutorial. We would discuss an interdisciplinary assortment of texts about history, writing, social media, marketing, broadcast journalism, and software and apply the ideas we discuss to podcast episodes in progress.

The second semester would be about the students taking what they have learned to develop their own history communications projects.

This course would offer a win-win situation. The students would benefit from having a working platform to learn on and a project for their job portfolio. I would be able to handoff and work on some of the numerous ideas I have for projects.

I also imagine that the profession would benefit from a course like this one as at least a few of the students’ projects would take off and ultimately provide historians with more communications infrastructure.


Internships at Ben Franklin's World

Although I have sketched the above course in my brain, there are three reasons why I can't adapt and offer it as an internship at present.

First, I don’t undertake any project unless I can do it right and I am not convinced that I can teach all of the skills the professors have asked for virtually and in one semester.

Trying to offer a virtual, semester-long internship would prove frustrating for me and the students.

Some of the software I use for social media and the podcast (which could also be used for websites, blogging, and videos) would be best taught in person so I can provide hands-on assistance.

Also, I can't see how I can offer both the context for how I do what I do and technical skills in one semester. There wouldn't be enough time and to teach one without the other doesn’t make sense to me.


Second, I already have students, thousands of them.

Ben Franklin's World has created a virtual, limitless classroom. Thankfully, not all of my listeners e-mail, tweet, or Facebook message me, but many do and their thirst for information keeps me busy.


Third, there are time and financial aspects of the professors’ requests that do not make sense for me.

Each correspondent has espoused the benefits of “free student labor.” Students would learn about my project while taking some of the work it requires off my plate.

Truthfully, even if I just taught technical skills, it would take me a semester to get a student to the point where they could reliably help me with the technical and time-consuming aspects of the project. For most of the semester they would slow me down. As a historian with many projects and students of my own, time is not a resource I have in abundance.

There is also the fact that professors get paid to teach valuable skills and knowledge to their students. I have valuable skills and knowledge these professors want me to teach their students. Why should they get paid to teach their students while I provide the same service for free?


I realize that all of the professors who e-mailed me value my work and skills. None of them intended to suggest that I teach their students for free. Their requests came from a place of interest in my work and a recognition that I could offer their students a history education with identifiable and marketable job skills.

However, the facts remain that I am not an institutionally supported professor and I do not presently have the resources to teach history communications effectively or add more teaching to my workload. Therefore, for the time being, I will not be offering any internships.


Ben Franklin's World Partners with Omohundro Institute

Ben Franklin's World has its first sponsor and partner: The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture! Together we are producing "Doing History," a 12-episode series that will answer listener questions about the work historians do and serve as an educational resource for those who teach history.

I am really excited about this series and to work with the folks at the OI.

You can read the official announcement on the Omohundro Institute website.

bfworld-oi partners

Historian  SOS

The partnership between the Omohundro Institute and Ben Franklin's World came about because I asked for help.

When I launched Ben Franklin's World in October 2014, I thought I had considered every aspect of the show: I knew how I would record the show; why I would hire a sound engineer; why I would host my audio files with Libsyn instead of Soundcloud; how long my episodes would be; why my in-show music would be Bach; why my website had to be designed to host a podcast; and why I wanted to call the show Ben Franklin's World.

What I never considered was what I would do when the show became successful:

  • How do I choose books to feature on the show when everything publishers send would appeal to my listeners?
  • What should I say to those with unrelated services or products who wanted to sponsor Ben Franklin's World or who invited the show to join their non-history podcast network?
  • And the most scary (for me) aspect of all: How do I say "no" to colleagues I can't feature on the show?

All of these scenarios came up and they began to appear in April 2015, six months after launch.


The Omohundro Institute: A Resource for Historians

At first, I handled these situations by not handling them. I sent ambiguous replies to all queries because I had no idea what to do. There was no "History Business" course in grad school and the advice my fellow podcasters gave never seemed to fit my situation.

In June, it occurred to me that I should reach out to the only historian who I had ever heard speak about the business side of the profession: Karin Wulf, Director of the Omohundro Institute.

At the time, my e-mail to Karin felt like a "Hail Mary" pass. Our interactions consisted of my asking questions at three talks she gave in Boston between 2011 and 2012. I knew her leadership position at the OI kept her busy. But, I also knew that if anyone could answer my questions it would be her or someone from her organization.

Karin answered my e-mail within a few days. She was familiar with Ben Franklin's World and eager to share her knowledge about the business side of the historical profession.

Our conversations turned into an invitation to visit the Omohundro Institute in Williamsburg, Virginia. Over two days, I exchanged questions, ideas, workflows, and processes with Institute historians and staff. Essentially, they provided me with crash course in how to operate a media business within the world of scholarly history.

My visit and talks with the OI also proved enlightening. I knew the Institute published well-researched early American history books and The William and Mary Quarterly. I also knew they offered a two-year postdoc. But, I did not know the full-scale of the resources the Institute offers early American history scholars: colloquia, non-dissertation fellowships and support, and workshops.


The Partnership

In late November, Karin inquired whether a sponsorship/partnership between the Omohundro Institute and Ben Franklin's World would be possible. The venture would allow me to make use of Institute knowledge and resources, the Institute to introduce its role in early American scholarship to my audience, and for us both to produce a valuable educational resource that will communicate what historians do and how we do it to the world.

"Doing History" with the Omohundro Institute in this way made sense. We are going to create and provide value to my audience, educators, and the profession.

I am really excited to partner with them and I can't wait to share the episodes we produce over the next twelve months.

The Doing History series launches on Tuesday, January 26, 2016. You can check it out by visiting the Ben Franklin's World website or the Doing History page on the OI website.



Feedly Shared Collections: A New Way to Curate High-Quality History Content

Feedly_LogoFeedly made a big announcement: Pro users can create shared collections of content that they can make private or public. This has HUGE implications for historians and history organizations.

This tool can help us bring history back to the forefront of the public mind!

What is Feedly

Feedly is the most popular RSS reader app. The app allows you to find, subscribe to, view, organize, and share blog content, news articles, YouTube videos, and podcasts. Feedly displays the headlines and body content for all of the internet content you subscribe to within categorized lists.

Millions of people use Feedly and millions of people love history.


Using Feedly's Shared Collections

Professional Use

If the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, or the National Council on Public History curated a feed of history news its members should be aware of, would you check in with it?

I would.

If these organizations curated a feed of important professional information, it would save me time and keep me better informed because I wouldn't have to hunt for it in all of the major publications. A Feedly shared collection means that we could all visit one place and see all of the most relevant and important articles about the historical profession.

Feedly Shared Collections

Public Use

Imagine if trusted and well-established organizations like the Omohundro Institute of American History and Culture or the McNeil Center for Early American Studies curated shared collections of early American history blogs, YouTube channels, or podcasts that anyone could access.[1] They would be providing an invaluable service because history lovers and professional historians alike could easily check these shared collections and trust that the content within them was worth consuming.[2]

There is so much blog, podcast, and internet video content on the web it is difficult to sort through it and find something worth consuming. Most people give up before they find the gems hidden within the morass.

Historians, history departments, and historical organizations could help their colleagues and history lovers bypass the quagmire by guiding them to reliable, high-quality history content.

Feedly's shared collections are a powerful tool that we can use to communicate history. Shared collections reduce barriers between content curators and readers because Feedly presents readers with access to not just a list of blogs, but the articles and headlines from those blogs. It is a tool that if used properly could help us in our quest to restore history to the forefront of the public mind.[3]

Here are links to my Feedly shared collections and instructions for how you can set-up your own shared collections. I will be adding more feeds soon.


[1] The OIEAHC already has a feature like this with its Octo, but this new Feedly feature could put the content from all of the blogs it features in one, easily accessible place.

[2] History departments could also curate shared collections for students and alumni.

[3] As of now Feedly only allows you to curate blog feeds in its shared collections feature. I hope that as Feedly updates this feature they will add the ability to easily curate shared collections of individual articles.

Announced: History Communication Twitter Chat No. 2

2637715-1Jason Steinhauer released details about the second History Communication or #histcomm twitter chat.
When: Friday, July 24, at 1pm EST Duration: 30 - 40 minutes Hashtag to Follow: #HistComm

Questions for Chat

1. How has history communication evolved to meet the needs of today’s digital audience?

2. On which networks (Facebook, Twitter) are you most likely to seek out history info? Least likely?

3. Which history accounts do you follow that deliver excellent social content?

4. What historical subjects do the history accounts you follow cover? Which do they omit?

5. Which non-historical accounts are doing great work on social media? How can historians learn from them?

6. What is a history project you’re working on/excited about?


The History Truck

The Philadelphia History Truck Do you know about the Philadelphia History Truck?

In April, I had the opportunity to meet Erin Bernard, the creator, curator, and public historian of the Philadelphia History Truck at the National Council on Public History Conference in Nashville.

Like a food truck, the History Truck brings history to the people. Erin strives to tell the story of Philadelphia one neighborhood at a time. Her goal is to connect Philadelphians to their history and allow them to participate in the processes of museum work.

In this post, you will discover how the History Truck works and how you can support its efforts.


How the History Truck Works

Erin, her team, and truck operate in a 10-step cycle:

1. Partner with a neighborhood association

2. Build community relationships by participating in neighborhood activities

3. Facilitate 1:1 oral history interviews & host a storytelling block party featuring neighborhood memories and objects


4. History Truck staff conduct research to verify and contextualize oral histories about the community

5. Use the truck to transport and display an historically-based art exhibit in community green spaces

6. Hold meetings with community members to design a new exhibit about their community

7. Display the exhibit in a neighborhood space to help activate the cultural energy within the neighborhood and empower community members to see and use their neighborhood as a museum and art space

8. Host an exhibit opening that celebrates the artists within the community who helped to make the exhibit

9. Downsize the exhibit and use the truck to transport it across Philadelphia for display in other neighborhoods as a means of connecting neighborhoods with the community message

10. Select a new neighborhood. Start the cycle again


Tonight, June 19, 2015, the Philadelphia History Truck will host its second-annual community exhibit: They Say They Gonna Build, an exhibit that explores university expansion and community building in North Philadelphia.



Erin has proven that the History Truck model works.

She has enabled residents in two Philadelphia neighborhoods to connect with their past and participate in conveying their history to their fellow Philadelphians. However, like digital history projects, the work of the History Truck requires time, manpower, and funding to keep going.

In fact, the Philadelphia History Truck project needs a new truck!

For the past two years, Erin and her team have borrowed a truck while they demonstrated that the "History Truck" model of community-based history works. Now the project needs a new truck that will provide it with a permanent home.

Please consider supporting this endeavor. You can find more information about the History Truck and its Indiegogo campaign by clicking on the appropriate links.