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From smuggling to ghost yarns, podcasts recount history

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Smuggling, shipbuilding, ghost sightings – these are just a sampling of the many historic themes that students in Mercyhurst University’s Digital History: Storytelling Class have chosen to share through the popular genre of podcasts.

Students in Visiting Assistant Professor Dr. Averill Earls’ class completed their research projects on the history of western Pennsylvania in February, then wrote, edited and recorded episodes for a podcast series they call “Hurstories.”

The students’ work is being released on Hurstories every Monday and Wednesday for the rest of the spring semester. Of those already available through iTunes and GooglePlay, you can learn about Mercyhurst and its assorted hauntings, shipbuilding in the Erie harbor, Erie County & the Civil War, building the Erie Canal, and smuggling around Lake Erie.

Following the unprecedented success of the true-crime podcast, “Serial,” people have rushed to get into the podcast-making market. Certainly, it is a broadly accessible format, Earls said.

“In our modern world, students need digital literacy to be competitive in the job market,” she continued. “With history, in particular, there is a big market for podcasts. In this format, we can bring the stories of our community to people all over the world.”

Also, podcast production gives the student an opportunity to "do" history with an end game that is more far-reaching than a research paper. “It's something new and fun and challenging, and the final project is a collaborative exploration of Erie and Mercyhurst history,” she said.

Mercyhurst junior Andrew Gebauer of St. Mary's said he gained valuable experience from working on the project. “With technology and ways of communicating information constantly changing, podcasting was an effective way to present information for all audiences,” he said. “Specifically, communicating history through podcasting provides audiences with a way of understanding history by listening to the story conveyed in the podcast.”

For Sydney Van Leeuwen, a public history major with a minor in documentary filmmaking, the podcast project was the perfect fit. "From this project in particular, I learned that research is very important," she said. "Without spending several hours looking up the ghost stories we reported on, poring over books and interviewing various people, watching videos online and taking notes, we would not have had enough substance to talk about. It's one thing to have stories and rumors be the topic of a conversation; hard-core facts are much more powerful."