In this week’s post, Jolie interviews podcaster Daniel Clark, of The Great War Podcast. Podcasts are a great way to learn about history while you’re out and about, or while doing housework. Do you have a favourite podcast? Tell us in the comments!
As a boy, Daniel Clark would spend his time watching airshows and playing flight simulators with his friends. Still an aviation enthusiast, he attributes his love of history to those early years admiring the history of flight. Now, he’s the creator of The Great War Podcast, an ongoing show about the First World War that will delight history newcomers and weathered professors alike.
What makes someone jump into the world of podcasting? “I had no idea how to start,” Daniel admits. “I realized that it was a fast market and it didn’t seem that you needed a lot of experience in terms of technology or audio recording.” He had also been inspired by Mike Duncan’s History of Rome podcast, a now-complete behemoth of 179 episodes spanning thousands of years of history. Undoubtedly, his brief undergraduate experience in producing videos also helped him with technical work.
But what about the decidedly non-technical history analysis? “I had an honours diploma in history, so I used some of my training there to go through the archives and find really good sources.” He told me about how during his studies at McMaster University, he had discovered different ways of seeing WWI. Now, perspective is the name of the game for him – he describes the teaching of WWI as, “almost like a quick, dismissed event before going on to the Second World War.”
“I knew bits and pieces of the war beforehand, but what I know now about the war completely dwarfs what I knew before.” Daniel attributed most of his new knowledge to his better understanding of historical context. For many students, the context they receive is between the dusty covers of a textbook. “How did people think at the time? What was influencing their day-to-day lives? What were the governments like? Social life of the people?” Our conversation saw no shortage of Daniel’s advocacy for historical understanding. “The issues I have always seen with history, or poorly-written history, is that they tend to put modern perspectives on past events.” He raised the point that before 1914, the world was still ruled by empires and kingdoms, and that the idea of the nation is relatively modern. “Many studies pretend that it was not so different from, say, the 1950’s or 60’s…things change and they can change very quickly.”
One particular aspect of the war that surprised Daniel was the public’s opinion throughout the war. “The public supported the war one hundred percent. The soldiers that fought it didn’t view it the way we view it today.” After the Second World War, the Cold War, and numerous other conflicts around the world, modern society is much more jaded than the people of 1914 would have been. With our 21st-century eyes, we tend to view the actions of many historic military leaders as nearsighted, or even senseless at times. Daniel has an apt rebuttal: “They were grappling with developing technologies and they didn’t have twenty years of hindsight about what should or should not have happened. They were acting on the spot. That shattered the views that I had always been taught—that unless you’re Arthur Currie, you’re a stupid general.”
The exhaustive research required for The Great War Podcast also forced Daniel to explore non-Canadian perspectives to the war. “I saw the German perspective, the Austrian perspective…you realize that for any event, you need to give a well-rounded view.” Exploring other perspectives isn’t to diminish the Halifax Explosion or the Battle of Vimy Ridge, two notable Canadian examples Daniel raised, but rather to help students understand the other belligerents in the conflict.
Nearing the end of our interview, I asked Daniel how youth could get into history podcasting. “Cover the big events,” he said immediately, but changed his mind in moments: “More importantly, cover some of the big misconceptions.” As a prime example, he brought up popular conception of the war. “The main misconception is that [people] think the war was pointless, waste[ful], and ultimately futile, and that nothing bad has come out of the post-war belief that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair against Germany, leading to Hitler.” He himself had been a subscriber to the common belief, but after entering university, his research helped him overcome century-old pent-up myths. “It overlooks the twenty years in between the wars. What happened? The economics, populism…it glances over that.” He describes it as a convenient, but inaccurate, story to tell.
As a final question, I asked him for advice that he would give to young podcasters and historians. He implored rising historians to be unafraid of two things: writing something different, and using secondary sources. For podcasters? “Uh, I would ask them for their advice, actually.” It seems the secret to podcast success is to keep learning, even with four years and over 60 episodes under your belt.