When Dexter Thomas Jr. began brainstorming ideas for If Everybody Knew, a new podcast from the Princeton Humanities Council, he thought a lot about the best way to capture interesting conversations and make them accessible to a broad audience. His own research, in the niche area of Japanese hip-hop culture, led him to consider how the world would be different if more people knew about topics often confined to academia — so he decided to ask.
“I think that’s what most scholars are doing: They’re working on something or researching something that could potentially change the world,” said Thomas, who is a postdoctoral research associate in the Humanities Council and an Emerging Voices Fellow through the American Council of Learned Societies. “Let’s imagine, what does that actually look like?”
In the first episode, which was released in December, Thomas focused on the little-known musical Shuffle Along, the first major all-Black Broadway show that debuted in 1921 and ran for 504 performances. The resulting 46-minute episode is an interesting exploration of the history of the musical and features experts who talk about why it largely disappeared from public discussion and what it would mean if more people were aware of it.
With each episode, Thomas’ goal is to make the podcast something anyone can understand. Productions by elite institutions often have an inside-baseball element, Thomas said, and that doesn’t work if the goal is to reach a broader audience. “I want everybody who listens to this to feel like they are part of a conversation,” he said.
Behind the scenes, Thomas produces each podcast with his laptop from his Los Angeles apartment (due to COVID). He’s particular about sound, so he ships microphones for guests to use when recording and includes return labels for mailing them back. He even writes the music for the podcast.
One of the most difficult aspects of pulling each episode together is the amount of research it takes to become well-informed about each topic. “You spend a lot of time basically giving a crash course on something. It’s tough,” Thomas said. He knew little about Broadway and even less about Shuffle Along before working on the episode.
But it’s paid off. Many people across the spectrum, from those who knew nothing to experts, have told Thomas they learned something new from that episode. “That’s really gratifying,” he said.
A Princeton Playlist
In addition to If Everybody Knew (bit.ly/IEK-pod), there are at least a dozen podcasts hosted by Princeton departments, faculty, staff, and students. Below, read about some notable examples from the campus and beyond.
Daybreak (bit.ly/Daybreak-pod) This daily review of campus news launched in February 2020 — the month before COVID-19 sent students home — and has endured as a consistent presence in The Daily Princetonian’s stable of podcasts.
Irregular Warfare Podcast (bit.ly/IW-pod) Co-founded in 2020 by active-duty U.S. Army officers and SPIA students Kyle Atwell and Nick Lopez *20, this biweekly series brings together scholars, policymakers, and military experts to discuss issues ranging from insurgency to cyberwarfare.
Madison’s Notes (bit.ly/Madison-pod) The James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions posts biweekly interviews about politics, philosophy, religion, and history, hosted by Nino Scalia, the program’s communications coordinator.
PAWcast (bit.ly/pawcast) Now in its fifth year, the Princeton Alumni Weekly’s monthly Q&A series highlights alumni authors and other newsmakers in conversation with digital editor Elisabeth H. Daugherty.
Politics and Polls (bit.ly/PoliticsAndPolls) Professors Julian Zelizer (politics and public affairs) and Sam Wang (molecular biology and neuroscience) caught the podcasting bug early and have spoken with a bevy of notable guests, including CNN host Don Lemon and public-health expert Dr. Leana Wen.
The Ivy League Hoops Hour (apple.co/3t2LwVf) Former men’s basketball coach Sydney Johnson ’97 and co-host Lawrence Schuler ’07 *12 launched their podcast as the Ivies returned to the court for the 2021–22 season.
To suggest other podcasts to highlight, email firstname.lastname@example.org.