Guest Contributor: Kevin M. Mercer on BBC Witness History

When I originally thought of creating a website that would make assigning podcasts easier, it was a different world. Podcasting a few years ago still felt young. At that point I could put a finger on every series relevant to my field of US history. Now, the amount of series there are, let alone relevant episodes, is overwhelming! Which is where you come in…

Over the past year I’ve received several awesome suggestions to include on this site. Please continue to check them out and connect with the scholars who suggested them. Turns out, many of us are #teachingwithpodcasts! Please continue to send me your recommendations for podcast episodes or series that you use in the classroom, as well as what strategies you use when assignment podcasts.


bbc witness history

Contributor: Kevin Mitchell Mercer, Adjunct Professor of History at University of Central Florida

Twitter: @KevinIsHistory

Podcast Recommendation: BBC Witness

Categories: Oral History, BBC, European History, US History, Medicine, Vietnam War, LEGO, Teaching, Ancient History, Series

Kevin Mitchell Mercer: “I’ve been using the BBC Witness podcasts for a few semesters now with a lot of success. I assign 5 podcast summary/ responses and grade them on both the summary but also their own reactions to the podcast. Why did you choose it, what did you get out of it, can you make connections to the class lectures, has it changed your perspective on anything. I assign these in General Education Program classes, mostly with first-year students from a variety of backgrounds and majors.

“For non-history majors who think of the class as a requirement to get through, [the assignment] seems to open up ideas that everything has a history.”

Kevin Mitchell Mercer

These are open-ended assignments that allow students to explore topics that fit their own interests and careers. Many engineers, for example, will find the podcast on LEGO. Nursing students have often done topics about medicine or nursing practices. I believe it shows students that everything has a history. I’ve also had some powerful moments, for example, a Vietnamese-American student whose family never talked about the Vietnam War or why the left the country did all five of their podcasts on Vietnam War topics and expressed an interest to know more about the war.”

BBC Witness History Collections
One thing helpful about BBC’s Witness History website is that they have organized collections of their episodes around a range of historical topics. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2HD4HmbL3Dxnkvv5nJSDmCj/witness-history-collections

Assignment Idea: Mercer was kind enough to attach the assignment guide he created for his students in American History II, Western Civ II, and World Civ II courses. The assignment encourages students to use the BBC podcast website as a digital archive of oral history interviews. Students are encouraged to peruse the topics and choose 5 brief podcasts of interest to summarize. One question, in particular, asks students to give their gut reactions and personalize the experience for them: “What struck you as interesting or unique about the event or the person? Do you personally connect to the speaker, the event, or the topic?” Mercer wants to push students to contemplate “the personal role people have in history.”

Kera Lovell: I would have to echo Mercer’s suggestion here. BBC has a wide range of podcast series that could be a good fit for your classroom. Here is a list of just their history podcasts, although they publish many more in a variety of categories, from politics to nature. Several of their series focus on brief episodes structured around oral history interviews or conversations with leading historians. One series/episode I’ve used when teaching transnational US history is from the series A History of the World in 100 Objects (see my post here). Another BBC series that might be of interest to faculty is You’re Dead to Me – a good beginner series for students completely unfamiliar with a concept or time period. Additionally, Mercer suggests BBC’s In Our Time for classes with early/ancient history focus. In short, I would argue that if you are looking for a podcast that offers a wide variety of topics, you will probably find a relevant episode on a BBC series. Their coverage is epic.

If you have a series or episode suggestion you’d like to share, contact us on the home page!

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