In the fourth of this year’s Professionalization Spotlights, Alexander Clayton, the History Department’s public engagement and orofessionalization coordinator, connected with Allie Goodman, graduate student and Reverb Effect producer, to discuss her work on the podcast and how it’s opened up new opportunities and directions for her scholarship. 

Alexander Clayton: Hi Allie! It’s great to get the chance to speak with you. To get us started, perhaps you could say a bit about yourself and your work here at Michigan.

Allie Goodman: Hi Alex! Very happy to chat. I’m a fourth-year PhD candidate. My work focuses on the history of law and childhood in the early twentieth century. I’m really trying to bring three fields into conversation: legal history, carceral history, and the history of childhood and youth. My interests in carceral history also motivated me to get involved in public-facing work, like the Documenting Criminalization and Confinement project early in grad school.

AC: What encouraged you to work on Reverb Effect and apply for the Gerald Saxon Brown Digital Skills Internship? Are there ways that your research brought you to public scholarship?

AG: The questions and policies that drive my work are unfortunately still really relevant today. We hear about the school-to-prison nexus, juvenile life without parole, and police violence against children and adolescents. Public discourse in the media and from politicians uses crisis language to insinuate that these things are new or appeared from the ether. And that crisis language tends to blame children for these issues. But we’re actually talking about complex legal systems, and the crisis language is a tactic to call for even more policing. These policies and problems have a long history, which is emblematic of a society that continues to choose carcerality. If we, as academics, hope to use our research to impact policy, we have to speak to an audience beyond the academy, and that means making our work comprehensible and meaningful to a broader audience. I was interested in doing my own podcast because podcasting is a really good medium for this kind of work. It’s about storytelling, so it forefronts the voices and narratives of impacted people. Then, as historians, we can contextualize and analyze in a way that can hopefully impact future policy. I thought the podcast was a good way to engage.

AC: Reverb Effect is now in its third season with 16 episodes in total. How do you feel the podcast is evolving? Were there any particular goals you had for your year as producer?

AG: In the first three seasons, we’ve established our presence and moved towards more faculty involvement. Now, I’m excited about adding additional formats, like historians in conversation or “in the field.” It’s an exciting way to make what we do comprehensible and transparent. The narrative format works so well, so I’m hoping that in my last few months as season producer and in the future, we can expand on that.

AC: Why would you recommend for others to do a podcast, or perhaps even look at your position as season producer? How can they pitch an episode and what are you looking for?

AG: Audience is key. A lot of episode producers, including myself, have turned old papers or articles into their podcast episode. This is great because the research, methodology, and theories are all present and sound in the original work. But then episode producers have to rewrite the work to reflect a more narrative format and a public audience. As historians, we sometimes signal using jargon, theory, or historiography, without describing the phenomena we’re actually talking about, because our audience—usually our professors or peers—are well-versed in the signs and know what they mean without explanation. When we write for a public audience, we can’t do that. We still have to embed the theory and historiography into the work, but in a way that’s descriptively helpful, and which drives the narrative forward. And on top of that, we have to contextualize and analyze the work in a way that’s transparent, authentic, and direct. Personally, this process helped me see holes in my own arguments so that I could more clearly articulate not only what I was doing, but why it mattered. This process made my academic work better and, more broadly, I feel that it made me a better historian. The best pitches I’ve seen have clearly articulated the narrative arc and the stakes of their interventions for a public audience. Anyone interested in pitching an episode can read more about that process here.

AC: And finally, what’s next? How have you benefited from Reverb Effect? Are there skills you have gained that you can take into your future career?

AG: As the Gerald Saxon Brown Digital Skills Intern, I wear many different hats. My most visible role is podcast host for Reverb Effect. But my main role is season producer, which carries two main jobs: project manager and digital producer. As a project manager, I solicit new pitches, manage multiple projects across multiple timelines at varying stages of completion, and parse, give, and receive feedback on pitches and scripts. As the digital producer, I run the sound booth, teach episode producers and voice actors how to record, work with episode producers to get the best sound quality, source music and sound effects, and mix and edit the recordings. In short, this year, I learned how to turn an idea into a fully produced podcast across multiple levels of management. And I had the chance to learn these skills because I’ve engaged in public-facing scholarship and departmental initiatives. I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to learn these skills, and I would love to continue using them to work on more podcasts, both in the near and distant future. This year, I’ve also learned what makes a compelling and clearly articulated argument. I’m excited to apply those skills to writing my dissertation in the coming months.