The podcast has forever disrupted traditional radio and how people get information in general. Perusing iTunes leads one to the conclusion that there is a podcast for every conceivable genre, interest, or hobby. From knitting to the Austrian School Of Economics, you can find a podcast to explore any subject you’re interested in, and some of the top ones routinely bring in millions of listeners every month. With Hardcore History, Dan Carlin constructs massive, meticulously researched, 25+ hour opuses about topics in history from WWI to Genghis Khan. His podcasts provide a deep dive into a variety of fascinating topics from history.
Innovation & Tech Today: Can you briefly tell me about how you decide on a topic and how you research them?
Dan Carlin: I pick subjects that I have already researched earlier in my life. There isn’t time between shows for me to educate myself enough on a given topic of which I know nothing. So the pool of possible show subjects is constrained by the things that I have, at one time or another, been obsessed with. This is why I can’t satisfy the requests of listeners who might ask for a show on, say, 17th Century India. I have no doubt it is fascinating, but it would take me a year of research before I thought I could do even a halfway decent job of talking about it. We also try to vary the subject matter. If I spoke about a mid-20th century event in one show or series, I likely will steer clear of that time period in the next show.
I research the subjects by doing lots of reading! There’s always a ton of new information that’s come to light since I last delved into a subject, so I add that to whatever foundation I already possessed. It’s very time consuming and often people suggest that I get researchers to help with the workload. But since I get my ideas while doing the research, I can’t really hand off that responsibility to anyone else. It’s how I essentially come up with the construction/design of the show.
I&T Today: What do you think the advantages are, as a historian and storyteller, that podcasting provides?
Dan Carlin: I am not a historian, and that’s a point I continually stress. Many of the things I discuss (or the angles that I take) are too strange, conjectural or unusual for a respectable, sober academic to feel comfortable discussing. My amateur status allows me to play around with approaches that no one would even want their historians touching. But I feel that the huge amount of creative “white space” that podcasting offers opens up avenues and ways for us to explore ideas that might not really fit well into any other format. Certainly as a “storyteller” to be able to make an audio production rather than a text-based one allows me to use my voice to engage the listener in a way that text might not.
If I do my part well, hopefully that opens up more interest among listeners to explore the great academic histories available (and we offer links on our website to those works so listeners can buy them). I’d love to be the equivalent of an historical “gateway drug” generating interest for further study by the audience.
I&T Today: Are there any historical trends we may be currently seeing that you find particularly hopeful, any that greatly trouble you?
Dan Carlin: It is both fascinating and disturbing to see how the technology of the 21st century is affecting privacy. From governments and corporations down to you and I as individuals what was often veiled from public view can now be leaked, hacked, or just cataloged and added to a database to make all that we do potentially open to scrutiny or exposure. How will that affect society?
It’s definitely a double-edged sword in terms of whether this is a good or bad thing. Everything is a question of trade-offs of course, but it is difficult for us as we live through these trends in real-time to assess if we like where all this is heading (and also hard to determine if we have any meaningful control over this dynamic if we decided we didn’t). It’s a bit of a giant experiment with humans as the lab rats. We live in interesting times.
I&T Today: What is the best way for our readers to check out hardcore history?
Just type in “Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History” on iTunes or go to our website at www.dancarlin.com.