By: Hayley Brazier and Heidi Kaufman
Today on the blog we are showcasing the digital scholarship of a new professor at UO, Dr. Jo Weaver, who joined the International Studies department as an assistant professor in 2018. Before coming to Oregon, Dr. Weaver taught at the University of Alabama, and while there she began a collaboration with two other professors, Erik L. Peterson (historian of science) and Jim Bindon (biological anthropologist). Their collaboration resulted in Speaking of Race, a transdisciplinary podcast on race that interrogates “our species’ centuries-long debates over how to define biological and behavioral difference, and why it continues to matter today.” Now working at universities on different sides of the country, Weaver and her co-hosts have continued to record podcasts remotely. They are garnering a lot of attention for their transformative work in a number of different fields.
During each podcast, Speaking of Race probes topics related to these questions: “How did race become such a flash point in modern society, and why does it remain contentious in our genomic age?” These are the same kinds of questions that Weaver, Peterson, and Bindon have examined with students in their own classrooms, and they took note of the revolutionary effect it had on the students’ thinking. “We all loved teaching this material because, more than any other topic we taught, it changed people’s worldviews,” says Weaver. “Over the course of a single semester, our students from would go from believing race is a natural biological category, to understanding on a very deep level that race is a historical and cultural construction.”
The three scholars realized that podcasting was a great way to reach a broader audience outside of students enrolled at the University. Weaver notes that “Given our individual orientations toward social justice in everything we teach, creating an open access platform for this material just made sense.” Transferring their discussions with students into an open-access podcast was a brilliant way of disseminating important information, free of charge. Increasingly, listeners turn to podcasts to learn about music, literature, politics, and race while cleaning the house, walking down the street, or driving to the store. Podcasting brings subjects previously confined to desks or classrooms into other spaces. At the same time, the ease of creating a podcast has led to further blending of subjects and spaces. Many faculty find that podcasting offers a great way to engage in enriched conversations in classrooms and public outreach, or to shift their students toward the public as they produce audio essays.
While Weaver, Peterson, and Bindon originally created the podcast to benefit a wider public, the podcast series has also enriched their own scholarship. Weaver explains, “The project has also led us to new speaking opportunities, new publication opportunities, and other venues in which to talk about the material,” adding, “In December, I got to give the Holiday Lecture to the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences in Washington, DC, where I drew directly on the research the three of us have done about the history of caste and race in India. And right now, we are coauthoring a book chapter and an article. So it’s very generative.”
The researching, recording, and editing of the podcast does come with its challenges, however. Because thousands of miles now separate Weaver from her collaborators at the University of Alabama, they cannot record from the same room. Using a program called Zencastr, they now record their podcast from their respective offices, on three separate audio tracks.. Once recorded, they take turns editing the podcast using Adobe Audition before publishing the final version to SoundCloud. Once it’s published, the podcast attracts a broad array of listeners, including “students, scholars, and educated lay audiences with interests in race and racial inequality.” While it is difficult to track the exact number of people who follow Speaking of Race, they know the number of listeners tuning into each podcast reaches the thousands.
How does the broader academic field feel about podcasting as a form of digital scholarship? According to Weaver, “There’s still a lot of skepticism in academic circles about whether or not podcasts should ‘count’ as real scholarship.” The responsibility, she notes, resides with the scholars producing this work to make sure each podcast’s content is as rigorously researched and presented as more traditional forms of scholarship. It is to be determined if, in the future, universities will recognize this type of digital work as the important scholarship it is, but for now it’s “a labor of love.” All of this hard work is paying off, though. Recently, they had the opportunity to interview NPR’s Gene Demby, who co-hosts the popular podcast Code Switch. And the Speaking of Race team has no plans on slowing down. “At the moment,” writes Weaver, “we have a future episode list of about 20 ideas, so I imagine we’ll be going strong for some time to come. Tell your friends!”
Thank you to Professor Jo Weaver for helping with this blog post. You can find Speaking of Race on their website (http://speakingofrace.ua.edu/), Stitcher, iTunes, and Google Play. You can also follow them on Facebook (@SORpodcast), Twitter (@SpeakingOfRace), and Instagram (@speakingofrace).