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History prof earns national recognition for podcast

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dr. Averill Earls

The merits of podcasting certainly aren’t lost on Dr. Averill Earls, assistant professor of history at Mercyhurst University, who has used the popular storytelling platform both in her history classroom as well as her own historical research. Her skillful handling of the broadly accessible format has earned her more than a few fans.

Just this summer, Earls and a team of professional historians earned an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) for their podcast episodes on Buffalo and greater New York history. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 72nd year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

The award for Earls, a resident of Buffalo, and her colleagues follows their creation of Dig: A History Podcast. Their goal, she said, was to bring high-quality historical research to a broad audience of listeners.

“With history, in particular, there is a big market for podcasts,” Earls said. “It allows us to bridge the gap between rigorous historical research and a broad public audience. That's why my colleagues and I started our podcast in 2015, and why I incorporate podcasting into my own teaching in a variety of ways, whether I have students listen to casts or they create their own.”

From the Victorian rural cemetery movement to the role of Buffalo in the War of 1812, local and state history is the focus of nearly one-fifth of the more than 50 episodes the podcasting team has produced to date. The remainder covers topics as wide ranging as Roger Casement in Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, the travels of Spanish Conquistador Cabeza de Vaca, and black soldiers during the American Civil War.

From inception to date, the Dig podcast has more than 60,000 downloads by listeners in more than 100 countries and across the U.S. New episodes will be released starting in September.

Earls and her Mercyhurst students also earned a local following last spring with their class project, “Hurstories,” a podcast on the history of western Pennsylvania, including shipbuilding in the Erie Harbor, smuggling around Lake Erie, even tales of Mercyhurst hauntings. Their work was featured in an Erie-Times News story earlier in the year.

“It's a brave new digital world out there, and we can use these tools to make history accessible and enjoyable in the classroom and on morning commutes,” Earls said.