The UK National Archives holds 11 million records covering a thousand years of British history, but the impression of archives among the public is still piles of dusty documents. How do you radically shift that perception? With stories of course.
I worked with the National Archives to produce On the Record, a podcast mini-series that used familiar names and events as entry points for the public, stories to keep them on the edge of their seat, and exciting records to subtly demonstrate the power of archives to show us the truth behind “the stories you think you know.”
In this talk, I’ll explain how I trained the TNA staff in audio storytelling, how we together identified the perfect characters for our stories, and how I took biographies and facts and wove them into more complex narratives that are intended to make the audience cry, gasp, and rethink history. I’ll also show how, by focusing on the quality of the story, we were able to better highlight the value of the historical documents than if we had created a podcast about these documents.
This podcast series went beyond the half-steps towards story that most museum podcasts have taken and really foregrounded story as the most important element without sacrificing the core mission of the institution. It’s this radically story-focused approach that makes each episode so compelling for audiences at many levels of history-interest. It can serve a model for other institutions who may be inclined to take the “safe” route and make media about objects or facts instead of stories.