General Feedback on Draft Scripts

I am about halfway through the draft scripts.  I’m pleased with our first attempt at this type of writing, but a few trends have become clear.

1. Read your writing aloud at least once and revise it before you record it.  Everyone’s prose is clunky the first and second draft and you will need to do several revisions.  Make at least one revision based on the sound of the prose spoken aloud (which will be the eventual form it takes).

2. Get more specific and detailed to give a sense of the human drama, individual agency, and contingency in our situations.  In some cases, discussion of the experience of a situation will make it more compelling — the setting, for example.  In other cases, knowing more about the individuals who are making the decisions and taking the actions within an organization is the key.  In some cases, the context is key.  I’ve said before, this should not read like a term paper that we deliver aloud.  This is an audio story — it’s a different type of writing and we are going to have to go over it a few times to get it right.

3. Keep your segments short and your audio varied.  Just about everyone is going to have to revise and edit to keep things moving.

4. Get your interviews done as soon as possible and get your transcripts done so you can fill those [interview here] gaps in your script.

5.  Also, data.  I want numbers.  How many people?  How many votes?  How did the people translate into votes? No generalizations — give me data!

5a. On the data: no election stands alone or can be interpreted on its own.  If we are making claims about a statewide election, we need to compare our race with other statewide races or previous/later races for the same office.  Was it a larger margin of victory?  Smaller?  Make sure you tell us.

Style Sheet v. 1.0


Please let me know in the comments if you have questions or would like issues resolved, and I can add to this as necessary.


The tone should generally be professional and exploratory, not scholarly or pedantic. No jokes. You are making an argument and telling a story with a viewpoint, but you should maintain some basic neutrality and respectfulness — the neutrality of someone still trying to learn about a topic and explain it to an audience.

Make sure any voice you bring in is clear to the audience. Anyone who speaks in the podcast episode (interview or archival tape) should be identified.

Ambient voices or historical clips should be identified. Do not assume your audience will recognize a voice, even Barack Obama. You need to do a little bit of basic exposition and should assume your audience doesn’t know much coming in.

When you introduce audio from a scholar the first time, make sure to use their full name and institution. If they have a book on the topic, note that, as well. For example, “I asked LaDale Winling, a historian at Virginia Tech who wrote the book Building the Ivory Tower, about campus planning.” If their work is articles or they have a teaching expertise, you don’t need to mention that specifically. Subsequent times you should strongly consider a simple re-introduction, such as “Here’s Winling again,” if the quotations are not continuous.

Introduce a participant differently. Explain why they are in the story (now or in the past). Scholars/experts have an authority that is easy to grasp. The importance of someone we identify as a participant is less clear and you need to gear up the audience a bit more.

Generally, keep things moving faster than you would initially expect. More varied sound, less extended quotes.

Freemark Resources

Tomorrow we will be joined by Samara Freemark, one of the producers for In the Dark, and formerly of Radio Diaries.  Here are some examples of her work before In the Dark.

Willie McGee and the Traveling Electric Chair

The Two Lives of Asa Carter

The Gospel Ranger

Samara has also asked about historians’ content management systems — when you have hundreds or thousands of documents on a project, how do you keep them straight and accessible?

Week 5 Blog Post

We have three readings on politics, all available on Canvas, and one on topic modeling for this week.

On politics, read V.O. Key’s section on Virginia in his classic study of Southern politics, Lassiter’s study of moderates and massive resistance in the wake of Brown vs. Board, and Skowronek’s introduction to the study of American Political Development.

For Thursday, we will have a discussion on Virginia politics.  Each of us should be able to explain our topic and contribute to our class’s broader, developing narrative about 20th century Virginia politics.  To that end, the first key question for this week’s blog post is for you to explain your findings and narrative in one paragraph.  1) Tell us your story thus far in one paragraph.  You should be growing familiar with some key figures in your narrative — VA governors, Congressional representatives, and state politicians and activists.  Include people in your story.

This is also a data-driven project.  Give us some data to help support your account — election results, public opinion polls, demographics, etc.  I will assume you have some exposure to data sources like the U.S. Census (published or digital), but perhaps not much.  For the Census, you can go to or  The Roper Center (available through the library) is one of the key academic aggregators of historical public opinion polling; ICPSR (through the library) has polling data; and Proquest Statistical Insight has some, as well.  Start browsing these to familiarize yourself with the interface and with the data sources, and make sure you are thinking about data all through the project — the data/mapping assignment is just an introduction.

We will also be reading Rob Nelson’s NYT piece on topic modeling, “Of Monsters, Men — and Topic Modeling.”  Data and digital analysis are not merely quantitative.  Natural language process is a related tool.  2) What exposure have you had to textual analysis of large corpora, and what would textual material would you like to see analyzed?

UPDATE: Let’s also remember 3) what have you been listening to, and what is your takeaway for the most recent week of reading or thinking about podcasts?



All have been assigned their basic topic for the podcast project.  The next step is beginning the research that will allow you to write the script and find the informants to interview.*  You should begin that now.

Several books that may be useful: V.O. Key’s Southern Politics in State and Nation, Ronald Heinemann’s Harry Bird of Virginia, Ronald Eller’s Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945.  In addition, there are a few pieces in our Canvas site.

You should develop a bibliography of some historical work, some poli sci work, and potentially some journalistic work, and discuss it with me prior to February 9th.

* In many cases, interviews require approval by the Institutional Review Board.  In this case, I have checked with the IRB and, because this is a more journalistic enterprise in a class, rather than a research-oriented oral history, it does not require IRB approval.