Expand your humanities knowledge with the BrainBox podcast from Oklahoma Humanities. In this Creator Conversation Q&A session host, Chris Carroll discusses the podcast for your noggin.

In your own words, what is the BrainBox podcast about?

We have a ton of brilliant, interesting humanities scholars in Oklahoma. A big part of the mission of the Oklahoma Humanities organization is to share these scholars’ insights with the general public.  We’ve been around since 1971, providing grants for local humanities projects, publishing a magazine, sponsoring reading and discussion programs around the state, hosting a humanities festival, and more.  In 2018 we decided a podcast would be a great way to share some of the state’s coolest humanities scholars’ ideas with anyone with internet access or a smartphone.  No tuition or event tickets are required!  So our podcast features fascinating scholars discussing how history, literature, ethics, philosophy, and other humanities fields can help inform our understanding of current events and the human experience.   

“We’re also trying to provide some deeper context to cultural touchstones, like our Game of Thrones episode, and our look at the history and impact of hip hop, and our discussion about how the 1960s are still with us in many ways a halfcentury later.”

Chris Carroll

Who is the podcast intended for?

It can be a challenge to define “the humanities” because it’s such a broad term.  It’s like an extra-large umbrella that covers history, literature, and philosophy, and also cultural anthropology, and art history, and law, and languages, and a few other fields as well.  What “the humanities” are really all about, though, is learning about the human experience.  Anyone who is interested in digging a little deeper into issues in the news, from the #MeToo movement to the powers of the presidency to criminal justice reform, will find a fun and informative discussion with a really smart expert.  We’re also trying to provide some deeper context to cultural touchstones, like our Game of Thrones episode, and our look at the history and impact of hip hop, and our discussion about how the 1960s are still with us in many ways a halfcentury later.  We’ve had some ongoing debates in the Oklahoma Humanities office about whether we like the term “lifelong learning” or not, but anyone who doesn’t consider him or herself already finished learning about the world and the human experience will hopefully find something interesting in the BrainBox.   

Why did you want start the podcast?

We had been talking for a while about ways to create a new type of program where some of the great scholars we work with all around the state could share their thoughts about current events and the relevance of the humanities.  As a nonprofit we of course have to be careful with our budget.  Our dreams of creating a program that could reach folks in every corner of the state to talk about these issues had to be balanced with the reality of budgets and funding and the challenges of finding an audience.  We consulted with some podcasting veterans and were fortunate to find a great producer, Richard Taplin at Blacken Studios, who helped us make this all happen.  Podcasting is such an open and accessible and democratic medium to start with, and we have access to so many interesting guests from the world of the humanities in Oklahoma.  It’s just been an incredibly fun and interesting project to tackle, and there is no way we will ever run out of topics for new episodes.   

What’s a good episode for first time listeners to check out?

We recently did an episode with Dr. Bob Blackburn, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.  Speaking with Dr. Blackburn is like having instant access to the most riveting and important stories from a living encyclopedia of Oklahoma history.  This episode focused on Dr. Blackburn’s concept of “Oklahoma’s DNA,” meaning the key factors that have created our state’s identity.  He talked about the dramatic divide between rural and urban Oklahoma that has existed since before statehood, and he described how migration patterns and settlers’ religious beliefs and even the accents they brought with them continue to impact the state’s identity.  He also gave probably the definitive answer to a question I know a lot of Oklahomans like to kick around:  Are we a southern state?  A western state?  A southwestern, midwestern, or plains state, or something else entirely?  

What have been some challenges and lessons learned in the production of your podcast?

Our guests are so knowledgable and passionate about their fields, which are areas they’ve devoted huge chunks of their lives to studying, that it is often a challenge to narrow episodes down to about an hour.  Usually when we’re finished I have several questions left that we didn’t have time for, so someday soon we might have to take the Hollywood route of doing sequels to our most popular episodes. One of my favorite episodes was a discussion with a philosophy professor, Toni Castillo from Rose State College, about how philosophy can be useful and relevant to everyday life, like when you’ve just been cut off in traffic or you’re having a family conflict.  We could have expanded that episode to, like, a 12-part series.  There is just so much to discuss there, and we barely touched on aspects of Asian and Native American philosophy, so that’s a topic I’d love to revisit in future episodes.

Any behind-the-scenes stories you wish to share?

I like to think that our producer, Richard, is also a fan of the show.  Even though he produces like 15 podcasts right now and is incredibly busy, we almost always end up sitting with the guest for a good long time after every episode, talking more about whatever topic the show was focused on.  Occasionally we also go down a semi-adjacent rabbit hole of Game of Thrones or Scandinavian heavy metal references.  It’s always great when we’re deep in a conversation after we’ve taken off our headphones and are starting to pack up our stuff, and then one of us realizes, “Wait, this is an awesome conversation – let’s press ‘record’ again before the guest leaves and figure out how to shove it into the episode!” 

What do you hope people will take away after listening to your podcast?

We’ve started creating an individual page on our website for each episode, with links to additional information about some of the topics we’ve discussed.  In our recent episode about the evolution of the powers of the American presidency, for example, our guest briefly mentioned an amazing fact about Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in the middle of the Civil War:  Over 70% of Union soldiers voted for him even though they knew that this could prolong the war in which they were on the front lines.  That’s how much they believed in the mission he defined for this country.  We posted a link to some interesting additional information about that fact, along with the electoral map from 1864 and some other items listeners could check out later. I hope listeners find a few notes like that in every episode that inspire them to read or find out more about the topics we’re exploring.  I hope listeners are also impressed and inspired by the depth of knowledge and talents that our guests bring, and by their ability to make history and philosophy and other humanities fields relevant to all of our lives.  

Anything else you want to say or let people know?

We hope the podcast starts conversations about topics like mass incarceration, or the #MeToo movement, or the powers of the presidency, and we encourage listeners to post their thoughts and send us feedback.  Our guests are always ready to engage with listeners’ questions after the episodes too, and we love to get suggestions and comments for future episodes, which listeners can email to [email protected]  I also hope people like our BrainBox logo, which was designed by the awesome Oklahoma City artist Matt Goad.  Matt won an international award from Creative Arts for his design, which we were really proud of!  He also came up with the tagline that I love to open and close every episode with:  “A podcast for your noggin.”

Get Early Access to New Videos and Bonus Content with Your Support!

Dennis Spielman

I'm Dennis Spielman, the Producer of Uncovering Oklahoma, which I started in 2009 as a way to show that Oklahoma isn't boring. As for about myself, I’m a creative person that writes imaginative stories. I also run The Show Starts Now Studios, which is my umbrella organization for all of my shows I create. Come join me on Patreon as I create content that adds adventure and wonder to peoples' lives. More about my stories and projects are at DennisSpielman.com