UW News

April 1, 2020

UW-created podcasts: ‘Crossing North’ by Scandinavian Studies — also College of Education, Information School’s Joe Janes, a discussion of soil health

UW News

With faculty and staff so challenged during the coronavirus shutdowns, podcasts are a way of remotely engaging with a department or school’s work. Also, it looks like we have the time.

Here’s a look at a few podcasts being produced University of Washington departments or people — and an appearance by a faculty member on the podcast “Undark.”

Crossing North

Logo for podcast "Crossng North," by UW Dept of Scandinavian StudiesThis podcast launched in January 2019 and is produced and hosted by Colin Gioia Connors with Kristian Næsby.

Connors is a lecturer, and Næsby a visiting lecturer of Danish, both in the Department of Scandinavian Studies. With 13 completed episodes, “Crossing North” is about Nordic and Baltic society and culture, and features interviews with authors, performers and leaders from Scandinavia and the Baltic, plus faculty from Scandinavian Studies and the Baltic Studies Program.

Episodes include “Myth & Fairytale in Frozen 2,” “The Nordic Languages of Middle Earth” and “The Bermuda Triangle of Music,” which asks: What does it mean to be a folk musician in a country with no folk instruments?

UW Notebook asked a few questions to catch up with this podcast’s journey so far.

What got this podcast started?

Colin G. Connors: There are so many incredible stories coming out of the Nordic and Baltic countries that can help us to better understand the world abroad and here at home. We have some amazing faculty in the Department of Scandinavian Studies, and we wanted to be able to share their research and what inspires them directly with the public.

The department serves a lot of different communities: Our focus is of course on the students in our classrooms, but we also serve the public interest as well. The department sees a lot of artists, ambassadors, and business leaders visiting from Scandinavia, so we wanted to share that direct connection with the public, and especially those in the Pacific Northwest with an interest in Scandinavia.

Other UW podcasts: In February UW Notebook profiled podcasts by UW Tacoma, architecture professor Vikram Prakash and doctoral students James Rosenthal and Charlie Kelly, “The Paper Boys.”
Read here.

The world is looking to the Scandinavian countries right now for inspiration on how to approach all sorts of issues, including climate change, affordable health care, effective education systems and gender equality in the workplace. We hope that the podcast is an entry point for a lot of people, and a place where listeners can hear what type of work is being done, right now, here and in Scandinavia.

How long does it take you to record and produce a single episode? 

C.C.: I probably spend between 40 and 50 hours per episode. Many people don’t realize all the skills and expertise required to make a quality podcast, but when you listen you know the difference. That’s why we put so much effort into research, editing, production value, and sound design.

We believe “Crossing North” is a reflection of the university, and we want it to reflect the world-class education one can receive in the Department of Scandinavian Studies.

Who is your audience? Is the podcast finding its audience?

C.C.: Honestly, the show is for anyone who enjoys learning. All the episodes touch on relevant issues in our world. There are lessons to be learned, both good and bad, from the Nordic and Baltic countries. Sometimes those lessons come from unexpected directions because of how distant those countries are from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, but the podcast also digs into some surprisingly deep connections that reveal how close we really are.

Colin Gioia Connors

Different audiences have found different ways of engaging with individual episodes. A good example a recent episode, #11, which was an interview with assistant professor Tim Frandy of Western Kentucky University about sustainability, green colonialism and Indigenous ecologies. For a lot of our listeners, this episode was the first time they were exposed to the idea of treaty rights and Indigenous sovereignty, especially in the Nordic countries, but for the Sámi-American community here in Seattle (the Sámi are the Indigenous people of Scandinavia), the episode was an affirmation of their identities and experiences.

That piece also spoke to larger conversations happening around the world and here in Washington about the rights of Indigenous peoples, so I know the episode was shared by different Indigenous advocacy groups as well. I think that’s the mark of a successful piece of work, that people are able to bring something to it and also take something new and meaningful away.

What is your favorite episode so far? Which might be the best for a newcomer to listen to first? 

C.C.: You can’t go wrong with starting at the beginning. Episode 1, “Werewolves on Campus,” is about the power of music and explores how Latvia’s folk songs helped its people to end the Soviet occupation. The episode has some great music and folk stories.

People might also enjoy episode 10, “Myth and Fairytale in ‘Frozen 2.'” I interviewed Marc Smith, Disney Animation’s director of story for “Frozen 2” and we talked about how their research trip to Finland, Norway, and Iceland inspired the film. The answer goes way beyond costume design, and our conversation was a once-in-a-lifetime peek behind the scenes at Disney Animation Studios.

How many downloads have you had so far?

C.C.: We have reached between 200 and 750 listeners with each episode. Listeners these days are more likely to binge a series than to tune in every month, so download numbers are less representative of overall appeal in podcasting than in traditional broadcasting.

With 13 episodes, “Crossing North” is still in its infant stage right now, so we are less concerned with numbers than with continuing to produce quality content, because we know that the more episodes we publish, the more likely we are to get new listeners.

For more information, contact Connors at colingc@uw.edu.

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Other ongoing UW podcasts:

Documents that Changed the World

Produced and hosted by Joe Janes, associate professor, Information School

Janes studies the cultural impact of documents and documentation and the future of libraries. The title phrase for his podcast came to him in 2012 and he has been producing occasional episodes ever since. In 2017, Janes published a book based on the series titled “Documents that Changed the Way We Live.” Topics across 54 episodes have included the Declaration of Independence’s deleted passage on slavery, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his nonexistent “list” of communist conspirators in government, an early map of cholera contamination and more. A recent, all-too-timely episode was about the articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Over 500,000 downloads. Read more at UW News. For more information, contact Janes at jwj@uw.edu.

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College of Education podcasts on coronavirus, early learning, climate change and more

Dustin Wunderlich, marketing and communications director for the college, produces podcasts with faculty members and students to discuss their research or publications.

He has produced podcasts about college sports, disability studies, climate science education, culturally sustaining pedagogies and education priorities in the Washington state Legislature, and other topics. Find all of the podcasts here. The college also has published a list of its top nine most popular podcasts of 2019.

A recent episode, released in mid-March, was an interview with Soojin Oh Park, UW assistant professor of education, about the coronavirus threatening to increase inequalities in early learning.

For more information, contact Wunderlich at dwunder@uw.edu.


Events and lectures as podcasts: Jackson School’s Ellison Center  

Some UW units are recording events and lectures and making them available in podcast form.

Among these is the Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies. Their most recent recording among dozens of such taped events, is about “Russian Grassroots Activism for the Environment and Beyond.”

For more information, write to reecas@uw.edu.


‘Don’t disturb the soil’: UW’s David Montgomery discusses ‘regenerative farming’ on ‘Undark’

David Montgomery, UW professor of earth and space sciences, was part of a discussion of soil health and “regenerative farming” on the podcast “Undark.” In each episode, the series explores a topic at the intersection of science and society. This episode was titled “A Reality Check on Regenerative Agriculture.”

David Montgomery

David Montgomery

The discussion in January with podcast host Lydia Chain and Seattle-based journalist Eilis O’Neill focused on how regenerative farming practices can improve the health of soil on farms. Scientists, policymakers and manufacturers, they noted, not only disagree on what regenerative farming can accomplish, they even disagree on its exact meaning.

Montgomery defined it with three central rules. First, he said, “Stop tilling, stop plowing. …When you plow a field, it’s highly disruptive. Think, you know, if only of what it does to the worms in the soil to plow them up.”

Second, he suggested farmers should always be growing something, to keep a living root in the soil. Finally, they should plant diverse crops, either in rotation or all at once.

“That combination is the recipe for building up soil organic matter, building up life in the soil,” Montgomery said.

His last book, on the same subject, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” was published in 2017.

For more information, contact Montgomery at bigdirt@uw.edu.

UW Notebook is a section of the UW News site dedicated to telling stories of the good work done by faculty and staff at the University of Washington. Read all posts here.