Help me start a History of Virginia podcast

Recently I’ve become addicted to podcasts. I listen to them when I walk to and from work, when I’m cooking dinner, on the way to the bar, on the way to church — everywhere. The podcasts of Mike Duncan and Robin Pearson in particular –“History of Rome” and “History of Byzantium” — have been really enjoyable.

Now I want to try my own hand at it, with a podcast about the history of Virginia. Having gotten more confident doing radio over the past year, thanks to guest hosting gigs on the Mike Church Show, I think I can pull something like this off.

I still have much of the reading material from undergraduate history courses at W&M and Colonial Williamsburg saved as PDFs that I can dust off, and already have 30 or so books on various parts of Virginia history that I’ve begun collecting. However, this is quickly becoming expensive, and before I can begin I need to fill in the gaps, and especially gather more material pertaining to the Seventeenth Century.

So, I’d like to ask for your help. I’ve put together an Amazon wish list of books I’d like to have, all covering the colonial period (if all goes well, we’ll continue from there). If you sort the list by priority you will see that I’ve put those on Jamestown and the Seventeenth Century first, for obvious reasons. There’s also the Hornbook of Virginia History, a reference book that contains population figures, lists of who holds what office, and other information that will help guide my research and writing.

In terms of how the show will work, I will try to maintain a coherent narrative as much as possible, but I am committed to a couple of things: One, to have more interviews than is typical for this kind of podcast — having worked at Colonial Williamsburg’s public affairs office and corresponded with several colonial historians, it would be criminal of me not to highlight their work in their own words. And second, to not be afraid to focus on personal stories and other digressions that may or may not make good one-off episodes (think, for you podcast listeners, more Dan Carlin and less Mike Duncan).

There are several reasons why I think a more digressive approach is called for. First of all, Virginia is not an empire. In Augustus’ day, the Roman Empire contained more than 50 million people. Virginia wouldn’t pass a half-million until around the time the Declaration of Independence was signed. It’s a more human-scale story, in time and space, and less suited to grand narratives.

Second, Virginia is blessed with a long line of chroniclers with close connections to it, and they often approach their subject with palpable affection, first among them Samuel Kercheval, a correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote about the early settlement of the Shenendoah. I say “chroniclers,” because many were not academic historians. Many were newspapermen, like the legendary Virginius Dabney, who edited the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 33 years, or his one-time assistant Parke Rouse, Jr, who went on to run the publishing division of Colonial Williamsburg in 1953, or Virginian Pilot columnist Guy Friddell, author of the amusing ’60s tourist-baiting tract, What is it about Virginia? While this is probably not unique to Virginia, as an editor I’m fascinated by the way the state’s mythology and self-conception have so often been shaped by stately journalists with an unusual curiosity about history.

Other writers had different careers entirely, like the Jacobite nostalgist Edgar Erskine Hume, a highly-decorated Army officer and Chief Surgeon during the Korean War. While not neglecting current scholarship — there’s plenty on the list — I think all these people are worth getting into, along with homegrown mid-century academic historians like Philip Alexander Bruce and Raymond Dingledine.

These folks are all on the Amazon wish list, their works are largely out of print but not too expensive. With your help, I’ll be able to post the first episode in a couple of months.

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