Podcast allows history professor to reach global audience

Jan 18, 2018
Kelly McFall

Professor of History Kelly McFall, Ph.D., has been a familiar face on the Newman campus for nearly 13 years.

He is well-known in the community as an expert on Holocaust history and is often called upon by members of the media for comments on the subject.

Since 2013, McFall has hosted a podcast titled “The Extraordinarily Sexy New Books in Genocide Studies.” The podcast is part of a broader network called “New Books Network.” His podcast can be found online or by searching “New Books in Genocide Studies” on iTunes.

McFall said he’s been a longtime listener of the New Books Network. At one point in his career, when he was looking for a way to learn more about genocide studies and becoming increasingly more interested in teaching it, he found that hosting his own podcast could be a way to learn more and stay immersed in the topic.

“There are 10 or 12 active channels within this network about new books in history, and in my podcast, I interview people who study mass violence,” explained McFall. “On average, I do 15 to 20 per year. And because it’s my channel, I get to pick really cool people to interview.”

McFall said, “The idea is to allow authors to share their ideas with a broad audience. I’ve done about 75 interviews on topics ranging from the Holocaust to Rwanda to Cambodia. I’ve interviewed psychologists who are trying to understand how ordinary people can do this kind of evil. I’ve interviewed anthropologists and sociologists.

“It’s a wide range of people from every inhabited continent. And I know I have listeners from every inhabited continent. And the idea is for these to be long form — this is not NPR where you get your stuff cut up into soundbites. This is a chance for somebody to talk for 45 minutes or an hour, and really explain his or her ideas in a way that’s going to make sense.”

His first episode was an interview with a New York Times journalist.

“I looked on Amazon for books about genocide and found a book authored by a journalist for the New York Times. We had a good conversation and that started the podcast.”

McFall during a recent “Europe by Rail” trip.

McFall said the podcast is a great way to add content to his coursework and expose students to experts in the field that they wouldn’t normally have access to.

“The people I interview usually write scholarly books hundreds of pages long that I can’t necessarily assign in a course — but I can assign a 45-minute podcast in a way that gets the summary of their ideas to students.”

He added that he also uses it to talk about the future of history.

“There’s an assumption among certain people that history is not a practical degree — and that’s just not true. So I tell them, ‘If you want to be a professor at a college, that’s not as easy. But the education that you get at Newman can be used in a variety of different niches, where you can make a really fulfilling, lucrative career for yourself.’ So it’s a chance for me to talk about the need for people to think about their life after Newman from the perspective of acquiring skills.

“They’re not here to get a major — that’s just a label. They’re here to acquire skills that they can market, to make themselves marketable in a variety of ways to a variety of employers. So that in the end, they can do something that gives their life meaning.”

Teaching history is something McFall is passionate about, and he wants his students to know that history is not a daunting topic.

“I start my class by telling stories because students are intensely concerned about history, maybe that’s because they’ve had a bad experience in high school. And part of my job is to reassure them that they can do well in this. And I do that by telling stories.”

McFall has been teaching for nearly 23 years. When he began, he didn’t think he’d end up in Wichita permanently. He started with a one-year stint at Wichita State University to cover for a professor on sabbatical. But then he ended up staying.

“God wanted me to stay here. Academic jobs are few and far between, and that I got one at Bethany and then here. That would not be me, that would be God.”

Along with teaching and hosting his podcast, McFall continues to serve as a board member of the Reacting to the Past Consortium Board and leads students on the “Europe by Rail” trip every other year.