by Alex Mika ’21 (CLAS)
On September 15, Anna Mae Duane, associate professor of English; Victoria Ford Smith, associate professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies; and Katharine Capshaw, professor of English and associate dean for DEI, released the first episode of The Children’s Table, their new children’s literature and studies podcast. The following is an interview between the three women and Alex Mika, a University of Connecticut graduate from the Class of 2021 and former employee of the university’s English Department. They discuss the inspiration behind the project, some of the topics that will be covered in the first season, and the unique opportunities that podcasts present when talking about one’s research and interests.
AM: How did the idea for a podcast come about?
AMD: In some ways, it was related to the pandemic. I missed Kate and Victoria, and I wanted to come up with a project that would put us in conversation. We all work on stories about children ranging from the eighteenth to the twentieth, mid-twentieth centuries. We all wrestle with how those stories work and how tenacious those stories are; we still often imagine children as innocent, as helpless, as passive when they show up in literature. I think this project is trying to unpack those layers: to examine and critique the idea that children just reflect what adults want to see, and to study the remarkable children in stories who disrupt this idea. In other words, we’d like to take a second look at how we think about the areas we study.
KC: All three of us are in childhood studies or children’s literature because we believe that stories should have a life outside of the book itself. Doing a podcast is a way for us to translate the discoveries that we make as scholars to a larger audience. We think [these discoveries] are interesting, and they also help us think through the questions that Anna Mae just put forth about how children can shape history and can be artists. I think that the form of the podcast was intriguing to us because it allows us to bridge what we do in our studies with how we would love the world to think about childhood and its possibilities.
VFS: One of the things I love about this, too, is that we can talk about these exciting or unusual stories about children, which I know would be interesting to people outside of the college classroom, such as Anna Mae talking about prohibition education curriculums resembling the D.A.R.E. programs of today. I like a weird anecdote, and we usually include a couple as we raise these questions about the institutions that currently manage people, like schools or families, or other critical topics like race, class, gender, and sexuality.
AM: What is your target audience?
KC: Anyone who has an interest in childhood subjects. We have a network of scholars that we know out in the world, but we’re really looking for parents, families, young people, just a wide range of folks who are interested in questions about childhood, because as Anna Mae and Victoria were saying, childhood doesn’t always get interrogated or thought through in other spaces. This is an opportunity to think about why a school is set up the way it is, why structures around childhood are naturalized in the way that they are.
VFS: We’ve also been thinking about incorporating the voices of children, their parents, their teachers, and to provide a space for those people’s voices in the podcast. We’re still in the early stages, but we definitely have moments where we would like to hear their perspectives and firsthand accounts.
AM: How are the episodes formatted?
KC: The episodes are typically divided into three acts, with the three of us talking through each of those three moments. In the future, I would love to dedicate one of those sections to young people’s voices. We also have plans to interview scholars who are working in childhood studies; we have a long list of people we’d love to hear from on specific topics.
AMD: This conversational format grew out of what would happen when we went out to dinner. We’re all friends, and we’d wind up telling each other weird stories from whatever we were researching and then ask: “What do we do with this?” It’s always a lot of fun unpacking these discoveries together and talking through the ideas with Victoria and Kate.
VFS: It’s been interesting trying to find the right rhythm. One of the things that I know we were all looking forward to is that conversational approach. It’s not a scholarly article. At the same time, I am not as practiced at the podcast format as writing such articles, and so at first, we were scripting things pretty tightly. Now, I think we’ve gotten a better sense of when to pause and talk more freely about things.
AM: What have been some of the challenges or surprises in this process?
KC: The technical hardware and programs certainly have a learning curve, but we’re working on the project with Greenhouse Studios, which has just been great.
AMD: Found on the University of Connecticut campus, Greenhouse Studios collaborated with us on both the technical aspects of the podcast and the outreach strategies for its release. According to their website, Greenhouse Studios is dedicated to ‘Scholarly Communications Design at the University of Connecticut” and works to forge “diverse and democratic collaborations that build humanities scholarship in new formats to engage new audiences.”
KC: That’s all to say that those at Greenhouse Studios, specifically Associate Professor of Digital Media and Design Tom Scheinfeldt and design technologist Carly Wanner-Hyde, have helped us figure out the logistics of how to do a podcast and have advised us on what does and doesn’t work. The entire Greenhouse team has really been so generous.
VFS: I also think that one of the things I found challenging, but exciting, is how every time we think of an episode or season we want to work on, we have to ask, “How do we make the relevance of these issues apparent to people who don’t do what we do?” Finding ways to make those stories seem vibrant to any listener has been a fun challenge.
KC: It’s a little bit like teaching. You have to excavate the points that are most relevant and urgent for the audience. As scholars, we do deep dives on these particular topics and find every detail extraordinarily fascinating, but we have to remember to demonstrate how these details relate to moments that are present in the audience members’ own lives and experiences.
AM: If it’s not a secret, what are some of the topics that you’re hoping to cover?
AMD: The first season is about school. For example, how do kids trade with each other? Why do they do it? Where did this begin? Then, we think about grades. There are also pieces on discipline, recess, and play, and we’re trying to take cues from what’s happening around us as well.
AM: What is the release schedule like?
KC: We’re hoping to release the first season in the fall, with the start of the school year. There are six episodes in this first season, and as we develop it, we hope to release around two seasons a year and really cover a wide range of topics. It’s a really nice opportunity to think outside our usual boundaries and think about material culture, music, and other historical events. We’re trying to be as broad and capacious as possible.
AM: What inspired the name for the podcast?
KC: Well, when you’re at a wedding, the most fun is at the children’s table.
AMD: That’s where you get to throw the food around and do all the fun stuff. And that’s where the best conversations are usually held.
AM: Where will it be available?
VFS: It’s going to be available wherever you get your podcasts! The podcast will be out on September 15. Please check out thechildrenstablepodcast.com to learn more and listen.
Thank you to Alex Mika for completing this interview last year, as well as for being a wonderful student assistant when creating last year’s newsletters for the English department.