This past semester, I tasked students with creating a podcast based on their historical research. Students were to choose just one family from the University of Virginia’s digital archive, Valley of the Shadow. Recently, someone asked me, “How’d it go?” and this simple question prodded me to get out this blog.

Overall, the podcast project on the Civil War met our goals. Students learned how to construct history; how to pile through hordes of primary materials; how to work, sift, and extract only the essentials from those documents; how to analyze individual letters and diary entries, and then synthesize them into a whole; but most important, they learned how mere individuals were swept up by a war that lay entirely outside their reasonable efforts to control. In other words, the Civil War ceased to be some abstract, amorphous textbook entry. Instead, due to sweet letters, worried diary entries, census data, and more – the Civil War became something personal, sometimes horrible, and most times sad. Also, the Civil War was something that happened to Americans, whether they be Confederates or Yankees. They discovered love trysts, the loss of crops to armies, bravery or foolery, the burning of towns, the toll of disease, and the want of hunger in civilians.

I placed milestones throughout the semester, tasks that students had to meet along the way to prevent any last minute rush toward mediocrity. I need to add one more: the ability to edit audio. Perhaps some tutorials in “Garage Band” or “Audacity” would be cool, though I’m not sure how that would work. If there were a weakness in the project, technical editing would be it.

Nonetheless, here are some of projects: