Let me tell you a secret. I’m Edmonton’s Historian Laureate, but I’m not an expert about all things “local history.” What I am is curious and not afraid to ask questions. With my new podcast Let’s Find Out, I’m trying to turn that into a public good.
If you follow this blog, you already know that the Edmonton Heritage Council launched an excellent local history series this year – the ECAMP Podcast. The producers behind that podcast have been finding great stories about local history. Who knew our city’s trash history was so fascinating? So when I started brainstorming about the podcast I wanted to make as Historian Laureate, I didn’t want to retread that ground.
Instead, I started thinking about what my niche is in the city.
Essentially, I think it’s my job to nurture Edmontonians’ little flames of passion for local history. To encourage the nerds who love looking at old pictures of the city (I’m one of them) and help other people discover how cool it is to learn about our past. So I started thinking about what tools I have to do that.
I know lots of people with stories to tell – like birders, history professors, activists, artists. I like taking adventures into spaces I’m nervous about entering, like big political conventions, research labs, and quiet reading rooms in archives. I make radio. And I basically listen to podcasts every minute that I’m travelling or doing chores.
Then I thought about a really intriguing project I’d heard of in Chicago: Curious City. The public radio station there, WBEZ, started the project to demystify journalism a bit, and get more folks participating in it. Locals ask questions they’ve always wondered about the city, and journalists try to find out the answer with them. It reminded me of the new podcast Mystery Show, whose host helps people find answers to questions about Britney Spears’ reading habits and bespoke belt buckles. Neither of these have an explicit history angle, but I loved the general idea.
Because too many of us think we’re not qualified to ask big questions about the world around us. We’re nervous about asking the wrong questions. We think because we barely passed Social Studies in school, history’s “not really our thing.” We’re not white-haired professors. No offense, you wonderful white-haired professors out there.
So I created Let’s Find Out: a podcast where I take Edmontonians’ questions about local history, and we find out the answers together. It’s not a brand new idea, but it is a need I can help fill.
By taking listeners inside archives with me, and walking them around historic homes, and modelling what to do when you find a dozen maps that all contradict each other, I’m trying to show that the process of finding out can be fun. It can lead you to really unexpected places. And you can do it, too.
Since launching the podcast a couple days ago, I’ve already received lots of emails about things people have always wondered about our city’s past. Please keep it coming. Because you’ve got questions. Someone out there has the answers. So let’s find out.