Date September 13, 2023
Media Contact

Podcasts at Brown explore a range of topics, engage listeners through informative conversations

Brown community members offer expertise and insights into a wide array of subjects, from climate change and international economies to pop culture and religion, through more than two dozen podcasts.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In 2017, as podcasts continued their march toward widespread adoption, Brown professor Mark Blyth saw the potential to harness the format to share perspectives on political news in an accessible way — and even with a dose of humor.

With that in mind, Blyth, a political economist and professor at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, teamed up with colleague Carrie Nordlund, an adjunct lecturer in international and public affairs, to launch “Mark and Carrie.”

Six years and many dozens of episodes later, they have offered their insights and analysis on a wide range of topics, from TikTok bans and the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News, to the war in Ukraine and the U.S. debt ceiling.

“Since Providence is a little off-the-path of bigger cities like New York and Boston, we looked for a way to draw people to the great work being done here at Brown,” Blyth said. “We want listeners to feel like they’re in the conversation with us.”

Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “podcast mania” really took off as people spent less time with other people and sought out content and connection, Blyth said. To this day, listeners continue to engage with episodes both new and old, he said.

“Podcasting is the sensible part of the internet in that it allows people to produce content on niche topics without being too overbearing,” said Blyth, who also hosts the “Rhodes Center Podcast” as director of the William R. Rhodes Center for International Economics and Finance at Brown.

These two podcasts are among more than two dozen podcasts generated by members of the Brown community.

“Possibly:” Exploring the science behind environmental solutions

What’s the most efficient way to boil a cup of water? What’s more sustainable: buying seltzer at the store or making soda water at home?

These are the types of questions — both large and small — explored by the creators of Possibly,” a four-minute weekly podcast that airs on The Public’s Radio and was launched in 2017 by Associate Provost for Sustainability Stephen Porder and producer and host Megan Hall, an adjunct lecturer in environment and society at Brown.

“The public gets so much information on how to ‘save the planet’ that can oftentimes be contradictory,” Hall said. “We wanted to create a podcast that shared practical information.”

Based on the expertise of faculty and students at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, “Possibly” episodes typically start with a question that a team of student reporters from Brown investigates. During the spring semesters, Hall teaches a seminar-style class that teaches students podcasting skills.

“During the class, students are assigned to create a podcast that will become a ‘Possibly’ episode, so we get a lot of students wanting to join the podcast after that,” Hall said.

One of the most popular episodes to date tackled the environmental impact of dishwashing machines, as opposed to handwashing dishes.

“I was at a party and someone came up to me saying how impactful that episode was to their dishwasher-buying decision,” Hall said.

Hall’s favorite episode was one recorded with Kate Schapira, a senior lecturer in English at Brown, who leads a climate anxiety workshop. Schapira spoke about the climate anxiety booth she set up in Providence and how it has helped people work through their own emotions surrounding climate change.

“I went through the process of debriefing my climate anxiety with her — and felt armed with solutions to approach problems as well,” Hall said. 

Looking ahead, “Possibly” is exploring episodes that interview policymakers.

“We’re hoping listeners feel empowered after listening to our podcast rather than overwhelmed or scared about the future with climate change,” Hall said.

“Meeting Street:” Contextualizing topics in the humanities

Before starting the “Meeting Street” podcast, Brown professor Amanda Anderson had no previous podcasting experience. The director of the Cogut Institute for the Humanities at Brown, she started the podcast in 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

“It was very clear to me that we would need some alternative forms of programming when there wasn’t going to be in-person activity for a while,” said Anderson, a professor of humanities and English.

The podcast is designed to communicate the work being done in the humanities and demonstrate how that work relates to societal challenges, like artificial intelligence and climate change. In the face of a growing narrative

about declining interest in the humanities, Anderson knew the podcast would help demonstrate the impact of the work being done in humanities disciplines.

The podcast has proven to be an ideal platform to speak to experts about their work in a conversational way and illuminate different perspectives, Anderson said. Some of the most popular episodes have been about humanities in the time of COVID-19 and an episode on a Brown course titled The Psychology and Philosophy of Happiness, featuring an interview with Brown professors Joachim Krueger and Bernard Reginster.

Anderson said that while some humanities podcasts are focused on literary arts or history, “Meeting Street” examines work being done in humanities more broadly and connects it to social and cultural concerns.

“Podcasting has been a really useful model for bringing awareness to the work being done within a field and sharing that with a wide array of listeners,” Anderson said. 

“Trending Globally:” Bridging research, policy and politics to address global challenges

Launched at the Watson Institute in 2016, “Trending Globally” shares the work of Brown scholars and researchers to educate the public about international and political affairs.

Producer and host Dan Richards and his guests strive to make the podcast enjoyable for listeners who may not have prior knowledge about international affairs and public policy, whether they are speaking about a coup in Niger, presidential elections in Turkey or global cybersecurity.

“We have so many great experts at Watson and at Brown who can shed light on these topics and add more context for greater understanding,” Richards said.

One of the most popular episodes was on Brexit and its impact on the European and United Kingdom economies. Another episode on artificial intelligence was a listener favorite.

“Podcasts are such a great format for diving deep into an issue but presenting it in a way that is conversational and casual,” Richards said.  

“Trending Globally” has a team of five people who help record, produce and promote the show. In addition to being available on any podcast app, the show also airs bi-weekly on WBRU, a streaming radio station operated with deep involvement by Brown students and alumni.