The Big List of Questions
Research & Reading:
Where's your RSS feed?
It's here. (If the browser you're in can't read RSS, you might want to right-click/ctrl-click on Mac to copy it instead.) Top
What's your email address?
Historypodcast at howstuffworks dot com. (If you're about to ask, "Why isn't that a clickable link?" the answer is "To cut the level of spam in our inbox.") Top
What's your mailing address?
675 Ponce De Leon Ave. Suite 4500, Atlanta, GA 30308. Top
Have you done a podcast on _?
The fastest, easiest and most reliable way to get an answer to this question is to Google "missed in history" and the subject you're asking about. If we've covered it, the episode will probably be the first result (sometimes, the show notes are first). We have other tips for searching the archive here, but you'll definitely get a faster response from Google than from us, unfortunately. Our website and the HowStuffWorks app for iOS and Android also include all our episodes and are searchable. Top
Why haven't you done a podcast on _? Seems like a huge oversight.
It mostly boils down to having about 5,000 years of recorded history to draw from (plus the prehistory we get into from time to time) and only about 800 episodes of the podcast.
Of course, not everyone follows the question of "Why haven't you covered this?" with something that implies that we've made a major oversight or omission in not having done so. But of the folks who do, nearly all are asking about an event or figure who is already incredibly well-known ... say, Marie Curie. We've certainly done shows that have looked into lesser-known aspects of an incredibly well-known person's life, like Rosa Parks or Isaac Newton. We've done the same for events that played out much differently than how people "remember" them, like the Boston Massacre. But in general, we'd rather spend more time talking about people and events that aren't already at the top of folks' memories than rehashing people and events that have already had a ton of time in the spotlight. Top
If I send you a book, will you do a podcast on it?
We absolutely appreciate your generosity, but we already get more books directly from publishers and publicists than we can read and do podcasts on. (Publishers and publicists, we're sorry for not answering your email about the book.) Also, unless something is extremely rare or obscure, we can usually get what we need from the library, thanks to library networks and interlibrary loan. So, unless you're working directly for a publisher or publicist (sorry sorry sorry for not always responding to those releases, publishers and publicists), we ask that you please not send us unsolicited books. The same goes for copies of papers, theses, family documents, and the like. Top
So what does it take to get my suggestion picked for an episode?
There really isn't a formula. When we decide on topics, we're balancing a lot of factors, like what we think will interest people, how much time we have to devote to that particular episode's research, how many requests we've gotten on the subject, how much scholarship already exists on it, and whether that scholarship is high-quality. Particularly when it comes to indigenous peoples whose territory has been colonized by other powers, it's often difficult to find research material that isn't implicitly or explicitly skewed in favor of the colonizers' influence, which is something we want to avoid on our show. We're also trying to juggle when and where events happened, as well as who was involved, so we can present as much diversity in the show as possible.
Basically, we're juggling so many factors when planning our calendar that it always feels like we're letting some things slide in favor of others. For us to do an episode on a listener suggestion, it has to fit within that juggle, which is constantly shifting and changing. We're also creeping toward 1,000 listener suggestions, so ... that's a lot. Top
Why have you never done an episode on [state/nation]?
The biggest reason is just that the world is very large, and there are lots of places that have never made an appearance. But in addition to that, the vast majority of topic requests we get from listeners are from the United States and Europe. The overwhelming number of our listeners are from the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, which means our queue of listener requests is overwhelmingly from those nations as well. We do intentionally choose subjects from the rest of the world, too, but it's safe to say that the U.S. and Europe will always be a big part of what we talk about, and there will always be some nations (and individual U.S. states) that haven't gotten as much air time as others. Top
Why don't you do a series where you do one episode from each state?
A surprising number of folks have requested a one-state-per-episode series. However, since we only do two episodes a week, this would either dominate our calendar with only United States history for months, or it would take us years to finish. Top
Have you considered an episode on _?
After three years and more than 150 episodes, this question has become just about impossible to answer! The process of choosing a topic usually involves considering and discarding a whole pile of topics until we find the best one for that particular week. ("Discarded" topics aren't often discarded completely ... they're just put off for a later date, when they might fit into the schedule a little better.) Unless we've decided definitely to or not to cover something - which is only the case maybe 5 percent of the time we're asked this question - we don't usually have a better answer than, "Maybe? I'm not sure." Top
Will you do an episode on _?
About 80 percent of the time, the answer is, "Maybe! One never knows." Another 18 percent of the time, it's, "We have already." The remaining 2 percent is either a solid yes or no. (In other words, as with "Have you considered an episode on," we can't often give this one a satisfying answer.) Top
What are you doing for Black History Month/Women's History Month/LGBT History Month/ History Month?
We can usually answer this question with the name of an upcoming episode, but we don't really approach our podcast calendar in terms of thematic history months, for a couple of reasons:
- A lot of our listeners live outside the U.S., and history and heritage months fall at different times of the year in different places. For example, Women's History Month is in March in the United States, but in Canada, it's in October. October is LGBT History Month in the United States ... but in the U.K., LGBT History Month is in February. (Meanwhile, the U.S. also has Pride month, celebrated in June, which isn't exactly a history month, but which a lot of people observe by talking about LGBTQ history.)
- One of our major priorities on the show is to cover underrepresented history all year long, not just during a particular history or heritage month. We're not usually planning things "for" Black History Month, Women's History Month, Pride Month, et cetera, because that's history we're trying to tell all year.
How do you research the show?
Holly and I record two episodes of the show per week (more if one of us is planning to take time off that will interrupt our normal recording schedule ... leading up to the winter 2016 holidays we recorded 12 shows in three weeks). Each of us researches one of those two episodes, writes a draft that's somewhere between a script and an outline, and shares that draft with the other. We each spend between eight and 20 hours researching each episode, depending on the scope of the story and the information available about it.
Our individual research processes are pretty similar. For my part, I start with a quick Google search to get a sense of whether I'm likely to find enough information on a subject to do it justice, followed by a search at the local library for relevant books, preferably from university presses. Then, I search a number of databases for scholarly articles on the subject. If I have what I need at that point, great! If not, I try to fill in the details through non-academic, but still reputable sources. Sometimes, when we're talking about a historical figure's life, we'll use their memoirs or biographies as a source, being careful to note any points that might be embellished or inaccurate. We review all that information, confirm our facts, and distill it all down into a story in our own words. Since so many people listen to podcasts while doing other things, we try to strike a balance between the level of detail and the fact that at least some of the audience is distracted. Our final step is trying to work out correct pronunciations for all those words and names from places we've never lived and languages we don't speak - though in spite of all that, most of the corrections we get on the show boil down to not saying things the way locals do.
We've also discussed our process on the show in Listener Mail: FAQ Edition and Six More Impossible Episodes. Top
Do you have a reading list/recommended book list/Goodreads account?
No, but we list all the books we've used in our research in the show notes in our blog. (As handy as a Goodreads account sounds, we're barely keeping up with the social media accounts we already maintain, so Goodreads would most likely become a sad, neglected graveyard with only a couple of books in it.) Top
Can I come in for a studio tour?
While it's touching to know that folks are interested, we have a tiny staff and a studio that's usually back-to-back with recordings, so we're not able to offer studio tours. Top
I'm a teacher. My students are going to start recording their own podcasts. Can you listen to them/give feedback on them/promote them/publish them on your site?
First up: It's great that teachers are using podcasts in the classroom - both listening to them, and having students create them. That's awesome. Unfortunately, we just don't have the capacity to give these kinds of projects the kind of thoughtful attention they deserve. Top
I'm a student. Can I interview you/can you help me with my podcast for my assignment?
We're honored to be asked, but our schedules don't usually allow us to help students with school projects. Top
I don't like that you use trigger warnings on your show. History is full of trauma. Shouldn't you just let it stand on its own?
In a word: No.
Our podcast, while educational, is really for fun. People listen to it because they enjoy it, and it really, really sucks to be suddenly traumatized by unexpectedly horrifying details in something you are listening to for fun. On top of that, we constantly hear from parents and teachers about how they listen to our show with their students or their young children, and we are more than happy to do those folks the courtesy of a heads-up when an episode might not be suitable for younger or more vulnerable listeners.
Sometimes, it's obvious from the title that we're going to get into really dark territory, and we don't spend a lot of time repeating what should be apparent based on words like "circus fire," "battle" or "serial killer." But in other episodes, like Thomas Day's Quest for the Perfect Wife, the potentially troubling content (in this case, torture and abuse) isn't evident from the title. In those cases, we spend a sentence or two giving folks a heads up. It's a gut call, and there will certainly be times when we might warn when we didn't need to, or not warn about something that does actually traumatize people in the audience. However, it should surprise no one who has listened to our show for a while that empathy is a core value of this podcast, and our decision to warn listeners about potentially upsetting content is motivated by empathy.
If you are bothered because an episode we said could be upsetting did not upset you, the warning wasn't for you. So don't worry about it.
Do you have internships?
Job postings are on the HowStuffWorks job listings page. However, if we were to have an intern, it would probably be a position related to the HowStuffWorks website in general, not one devoted just to our podcast. Top
Can I volunteer to transcribe your episodes/translate your podcast/research for you/etc.?
This is a really generous offer, but it's not typically one we can accept. We're currently part of a publicly-traded, for-profit, private sector company, which means that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, we can't use volunteer labor, and we don't solicit free work from people. (If you listen to our show, you're probably also not surprised that we like the idea of treating people fairly in regards to their labor.) Top
Where can I find transcripts of your episodes?
For the episodes that have them, they're on our website, on the same page as the podcast episode itself. Top
Why isn't [episode] included in the [subject] tag?
Tagging didn't exist for our show until our website was launched in the spring of 2014, and adding tags to old episodes is a totally manual process. Thanks to a generous gift of a tag list complied by listener Sacha (thank you, Sacha), we finally added tags to all of the back catalog in December 2016. Even so, creating the tags was a manual process, so it's possible that something was overlooked. Top
Can you come to [my city/my local convention]?
We started getting this question a lot after our first live show in New York. While we'd love to go everywhere, all our appearances so far have been at the invitation of the host convention or venue. If you'd like us to do a show in your area, talk to the organizers at conventions that might have overlap with our podcast, or with the programming staff at libraries, museums and the like near you, and suggest our show as a guest. We haven't yet gotten to a point of going on a stand-alone tour like the guys at Stuff You Should Know have done, although it's not impossible. If we do get to that point, I'm sure we'll take some steps to figure out which cities make the most sense to visit before planning a tour.
Regardless of when or if that happens, one of our requirements for all our live appearances is that we be able to record live podcasts and include them as episodes of our show. There are typically parts of the show that are not published (so part of the show is for just the folks who came out to watch it), but the body of the live episode itself, barring unforeseen difficulties, will be an episode of the podcast, too. Top
Could you make a timeline of all your episodes?
This is such a great idea! People ask for this a lot, and they're often imagining some kind of interactive, clickable timeline that shows all the episodes in relation to one another, and lets you jump to, say, everything we have on the Renaissance. This is much easier said than done, though. There are about 800 episodes of the show in our archive, and they aren't tagged or identified in a way to indicate when they take place. (Tagging didn't exist for our show at all until our website was launched in the spring of 2014, so many of the hundreds of episodes that already existed at that point have no tags at all.)
Occasionally, a kindhearted listener will embark on a project to try to make a chronology out of our show, and they quickly run into another big stumbling block ... what do we do with episodes that span decades (or centuries)? Does "A Brief History of Colors," which spans most of human history, get filed into every year of human history? What about "5 Shipwreck Stories," which talks about five different shipwrecks that happened in five different years? So, long story short, we could probably only make a timeline of all our episodes if we first paid someone to comprehensively index all our past episodes. But, if we had the budget to pay someone to do some work for us, we'd probably use it on something that's much higher priority than timeline creation ... like transcribing all past and current episodes. (Most of the episodes are now tagged by century, though.)
(Folks don't usually ask if we can put all our episodes on a map ... but that question would get the same answer.) Top
Why don't you just ask Twitter how to pronounce all these names?
I saved the longest answer for last. We do get a lot of help with pronunciations, especially when a whole episode has a lot of proper names from a language we don't speak. For example, for our podcast on Sei Shonagon, a fluent Japanese speaker gave us phonetic pronunciations for every Japanese word in the script. For our podcast on Crown Prince Sado, a native Korean speaker gave us pronunciations for all the names. For our series on China under Chairman Mao, we relied on a university resource written for English speakers, specifically about important Chinese names and places from that period of time. For our podcast on the Treaty of Waitangi we sought out videos about New Zealand history, all of which were filmed and produced in New Zealand. Our pronunciations in our episode on Abelard and Heloise were all from my college course on medieval literature, which was taught by a professor who was a medievalist with a PhD in the subject.
The result: People wrote in to correct our pronunciations for every one of these episodes ... as well as most of our other episodes. Regardless of what steps we take, or how much care we take with those steps, we still can't pronounce every word of every language as though we were native speakers of that language. We've even gotten a plethora of corrections for words like "Heloise," "Saskatchewan" and "Newfoundland," after saying them the way we were literally taught in school.
It's one of the most frustrating things about working on the show.
We also look up a lot of words that, based on their spelling, could be pronounced in a number of different ways. Our first choice on such questions is a reputable dictionary with audio pronunciations. If that fails, we turn to Forvo ... although Forvo has steered us completely, totally wrong in a spectacularly embarrassing way on one occasion that people are still writing in about even though it happened in 2015 (and we made multiple, public corrections about it).
What we don't do is ask on Facebook or Twitter for people to give us pronunciations for English words and names that appear obvious from their spelling. As examples, Mackinac Island, Michigan, is pronounced "Mack-i-naw"; Peabody, Massachusetts, is pronounced "Pea-b'dy" (but Peabody College at Vanderbilt isn't, even though they are named after the same person); Amherst College, Massachusetts, is pronounced without the "h," but UMASS-Amherst is pronounced with the "h," at least by some people, but not by others who wrote in to correct us about our correction to that correction.
We don't ask about names like this on social media for several reasons. A big one is that most of these names have a spelling that looks intuitive, so we wouldn't know to ask. It would be like looking up the pronunciation of the word "the" (although multiple have written to us to correct how we pronounce the word "the," too).
Another is that every community on Earth has weird, counterintuitive pronunciations that throw people who aren't from the area for a loop. Our headquarters are on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia, which locals pronounce approximately as "Ponts duh LEE-on." I grew up near the ruins of a Moravian settlement called Bethabara, which is pronounced "beth-A-bra," not "BETH-a-bar-a." (A nearby road and neighborhood are also pronounced "Byoona Vissta" by most locals, even though they are spelled Buena Vista.) These local and regional pronunciations serve to distinguish who's from around there with who isn't ... and, to be candid, we're just not from around there.
A third is that a lot of the corrections we get about how to pronounce things contradict one another, regardless of whether the spelling of the name is intuitive or not. We received three "correct" pronunciations for Nenana, Alaska, for example, and eleven for Cixi (a name we will readily admit we didn't ultimately do a great job with, thanks in part to having found two completely different "correct" pronunciations ahead of time, and it being our first attempt at any tonal language on the show). Every time we mention Newfoundland, we get different email from a different listener with a different video illustrating a different correct way to say it. There are multiple pronunciations of the word "Appalachian," each of them considered to be correct by people living in one part of the range (and considered deeply - and even offensively - incorrect by people living in other parts of the range).
And the last reason is that people on the Internet can be real jerks. If we asked, "How do you say this name?" on Facebook or Twitter, we wouldn't have an effective way to separate the real answers from honest people from the ones that were just trolling us. And given how strange and counterintuitive a lot of local and regional pronunciations are, falling for a trollish answer would be a real risk.
TL;DR: Given how constantly our pronunciation is corrected after consulting resources whose legitimacy we can verify, asking the Internet at large would probably yield more pronunciation corrections (and the resulting frustration), not less. Top