Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Making Of

Listener Alexander asked for some feedback for his upcoming Persian history podcast.  I thought TAW listeners might be interested in the information as well:

How long did it take you to write the first episode/ how long does it take you to write a typical episode now that you're in full swing?

It’s hard to recall the timing on Episode 1, but I can certainly tell you how long it takes nowadays. The first step is finding a few good reference books (or other materials) and perusing them.  The time needed for that can vary pretty widely.  After I’ve reviewed the materials, the next (and main) step involves around 8 – 12 hours of solid writing.  Then I usually let the draft episode “sit” for a few days, then come back to it once or twice more to fine-tune things a bit.  When you add in researching pronunciations, etc., I’d say 12 – 16 hours of work per episode is pretty ballpark, and 20 isn’t unusual.  Which is why I decided to go with a 2-week schedule.  Since I have a “regular job,” this is all evenings and weekends for me.

How do you sort out contradictory accounts? I want to get my facts straight, but I'm beginning to realize there are always going to be 10 people with 11 different versions of the story.

Even using primary sources, this can be a tough one.  I do my best to cross-check important (or dubious!) facts across multiple accounts; then you can have some reassurance you’re relating the most solid version of the story.  Where differing accounts can’t be reconciled, I try to relate what’s considered the most plausible, well-documented and/or commonly accepted version, but also mention that there are other possible versions.  I recall doing this with, for example, both the death of Croesus and with Cyrus’ capture of Babylon. 

How forgiving, on a scale from 1 to Assyrian (1 being very forgiving and Assyrian being "display my skin at a dinner party") are the listeners about mistakes?

Since I’ve rarely been called out on any mistakes, and I’m pretty sure I must’ve made a few along the way, I can only assume TAW listeners are VERY forgiving!  Oh, except they do get annoyed when you don’t pronounce the K in “Knossos.”

What did your outlines/drafts look like for each episode? Was there a general formula?

In my experience, six single-spaced pages comes out to around 30 minutes of podcast, which is typically around the length I’m shooting for.  My usual approach is to intentionally over-write a bit, then come back and edit out the less important chunks (“trim the fat”) and still end up at around 30 minutes.  Other than that, the only “formula” I had for the original series was trying to discuss around three different civilizations per episode.  But formulas can also be a double-edged sword.  I’d mainly concentrate on finding your own voice, and letting your genuine passion for the material shine through.

Is there anything technical that you didn't know going in that would be useful for me?

I try to keep my logistics as simple as possible since, although I AM and engineer, I am NOT a technophile.  I use Audacity to record my audio files (using a Yeti Blue USB microphone) and convert them to MP3’s, then use FileZilla to transfer them to my file hosting website.  I’ve only had one major technical issue I can think of (knock on wood!): If you use Google Feedburner to burn your podcast feeds, by default it only keeps the most recent 25 posts active.  That means, for example, that when I posted my 26th blog post, Episode 1 was no longer appearing in iTunes (my 27th post knocked out Episode 2, etc.).  Luckily, a listener told me how to change the number of active posts in Feedburner from the default 25 to any number (mine’s currently set for 99), which fixed the problem.  Oh, and in an unrelated (but still technical) vein, investing some time in learning how to edit your audio files will reduce your stress when you keep “blowing that one line” in your podcast script.  Take it from me - good editing can cover a multitude of sins.

Hope this information is useful.  Now go make history!
Scott C.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Episode R9 - The Flood

“Surpassing all kings, powerful and tall
beyond all others, violent, splendid,
a wild bull of a man, unvanquished leader,
hero in the front lines, beloved of his soldiers –
fortress they called him, protector of the people,
raging flood that destroys all defenses…” – the Epic of Gilgamesh 

George Smith’s 1872 discovery of the Mesopotamian Flood tablet won him widespread acclaim.  Four years later, his ill-timed expedition to Nineveh would end in tragedy.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Episode R8 - The Thousand Year Gap

“Whilst fully recognizing his enterprise, devotion, and energy in carrying out these excavations, I cannot but express the regret that Dr. Schliemann should have allowed the ‘enthusiasm,’ which, as he himself admits, ‘borders on fanaticism,’ to make it so paramount an object with him to discover the Troy described by Homer, as to induce him either to suppress or to pervert every fact brought to light that could not be reconciled with the Iliad.” – Frank Calvert, 1875

Despite numerous returns to Hisarlik, Heinrich Schliemann was unable to establish the layer holding Homer’s Troy.  It was only near the end of his life, with the aid of Wilhelm Dorpfeld, that his quest was finally rewarded.  In the meantime, Schliemann’s excavations at Mycenae and Tiryns had shed new light on the wealth and power of Late Bronze Age Greece.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Episode R7 - The Man Who Sold Troy

“Who will persuade me, when I reclined upon a mighty tomb, that it did not contain a hero? – its very magnitude proved this.  Men do not labour over the ignoble and petty dead – and why should not the dead be Homer’s dead?”  - George Gordon, Lord Byron, 1810

Three millennia after its fall, British archaeologist Frank Calvert used clues from Homer, and his own deep knowledge of the region, to establish the most likely site of ancient Troy.  Unable to finance the excavation, he was compelled to partner with wealthy enthusiast Heinrich Schliemann.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Episode R6 - The Heroic Age

“I should weary the reader, were I to describe, step by step, the progress of the work, and the discoveries gradually made in various part of the great mound.  The labours of one day resembled those of the preceding; but it would be difficult to convey to others an idea of the excitement which was produced by the constant discovery of objects of the highest interest.”  - Austen Henry Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains

While Layard resumed his Assyrian excavations, and Rawlinson continued to decipher Akkadian, both efforts began to shed light on the even older civilization of ancient Sumer.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Episode R5 - Behistun Hat-Trick

“The Major constantly and indefatigably employed himself, from daylight to dark, revising, restoring and adding to his former materials.  This was a work of great irksomeness and labour in the confined space he was compelled to stand in, with his body in close proximity to the heated rock and under a broiling September sun.” – Felix Jones, 1844

After the debacle of the First Anglo-Afghan War, Henry Creswicke Rawlinson made two more excursions to Behistun.  His attempts to copy the remaining inscriptions nearly cost him his life.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Episode R4 - Dwelling of the Lions

“What can all this mean?  Who built this structure?  In what century did he live?  To what nation did he belong?  Are these walls telling me their tales of joy and woe?  Is this beautiful cuneiformed character a language?  I know not.  I can read their glory and their victories in their figures, but their story, their age, their blood, is to me a mystery.  Their remains mark the fall of a glorious and a brilliant past, but of a past known not to a living man." – Paul-Emile Botta

The excavations of Botta and Layard brought the majesty of ancient Assyria into the modern world.