I love podcasts. It takes me about 40 minutes door-to-door to get from home to school or work–the perfect amount of time to get lost in a short story.
While most of my listening habits are unrelated to history (I work on history things all day–this lady needs a break sometimes!)–I make an exception from time to time. One of my regular exceptions is a podcast on French history and culture called “The Land of Desire.”
Like many small podcasts, this one is a one-woman show, researched, written and produced by Diana Stegall. Diana is an independent researcher based in San Francisco who works in the nonprofit sector by day, and produces this podcast by night. Her passion for the subject shines through in her 20 minute episodes, covering a wide variety of quirky moments in French history.
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Diana creates an atmospheric listening experience, opening with a lively French tune edited with static to evoke a radio or record-playing–old-timey without referencing a specific period. She then greets the listeners by saying, “Bienvenue and welcome to the Land of Desire, a podcast about the weird, wacky, and wonderful stories about French history.” This introduction mimics the tone of the podcast itself–Diana speaks French well, and peppers in words and phrases without making it difficult for the non French-speaking portion of the audience to understand.
Over the course of each episode, Diana uses plenty of descriptive details to tell lively stories about historical figures and events. She creates characters with personality, puts the listener in the frame of mind to be able to imagine vivid historical scenes, and keeps interesting stories moving along at a quick pace. She has an expressive voice and uses evocative music to elevate each story.
She makes good use of social media, keeping twitter, instagram, tumblr, and a blog updated with links to the latest episodes alongside bright graphics and a brief description. Her online presence is simple, streamlined, and effective–it drives the audience to the content. Her twitter feed is the most interactive, as she responds to listeners and gives a little bit of supplemental content.
One critique I have is minor: the podcast does not come out on a regular schedule. However, the reality is that as a passion project that isn’t a primary source of income, episodes get done when they get done. Another minor critique, with such a well-maintained website and social media presence, I would love to see links to additional reading or sources. Although she cites them in the podcast, it would be easier to go to a written list than to scroll through each episode looking for the name of each author. There is potential for more supplemental content on her social media pages.
Diana Stegall’s work is a good model to follow for public historians getting into podcasting. She does good scholarship, thoroughly researching each episode, without the storytelling ever feeling bogged down by jargon or name-dropping. By keeping each episode around twenty minutes, she keeps the pacing quick without feeling rushed. And she finds interesting stories about art, culture, and food (among other topics) that appeal to broad audiences.
Each installment of the Land of Desire is truly an escape to another time and place, and whets the appetite so that the listener is left wanting to know more. As we in Chicago are getting closer to winter, I like being able to dream of la France d’autre temps, at least while I take the train to school.