Friday, June 21, 2024

Early American History Comes to Life in Ben Franklin’s World

WILLIAMSBURG — Ben Franklin’s World, a history podcast based out of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios, explores “historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.”

The podcast, which began in 2014, was created and hosted by historian Liz Covart as a hobby and outlet for telling her stories. At the time, her real goal was to research and write books.

Growing up in New England, and spending many years in Boston before moving to Williamsburg, Covart said it is difficult not to have a connection to early American history.

“I grew up loving history,” said Covart. “What I love the most about history is that it is complicated but also these are the stories of people that actually happened. When you finish a novel, you wonder what happened but, with history, you can just go find the end of their story.”

As an undergrad, working for the Boston National Historic Park as a Seasonal Ranger, Covart “fell in love working on the front line connecting people with the history through interpretation.”

Showcasing the period between 1450 and 1830, the show’s name came about as a nod to Covart’s ties to Boston and the famous American.

“Ben Franklin was born in 1706 and died in 1790, so he lived almost the entirety of the 18th century, which is our bread and butter,” explained Covart, “But, also the world that created him, the colonial period. He was very inspired by the Puritans and his family migrated to Boston for religious beliefs. And, then the world he helped inspire.”

Covart credits her podcast style with the experience she gained working with the Park Service. Talking to visitors gave her an “innate sense” of how to present and explain material to make history more accessible.

“I wanted my show to be a little different and I thought if I work hard for two years I might find a thousand people who are as interested in early America as I was — in this nerdy way — and my podcast took off within three months,” stated Covart.

In 2021, Covart was approached by Colonial Williamsburg (CW), where she and Ben Franklin’s World moved. In 2023, she helped establish and lead Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios, which focuses on creating digital content through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation with the goal of creating the world’s largest virtual museum about early American history.

Last year, Ben Franklin’s World surpassed 12 million downloads.

“I have always been a fan of showing, ‘how do we know what we know?’ Which is really part of professional history; we always have to cite things and that is something that fits in well with CW because we really do strive to show all of our visitors, virtual or in person, ‘how do we know what we know?'” Covart continued, “Everything we put out into the world is as historically accurate as possible.”

Liv Covart (photo: Ben Franklin’s World webpage)

“I try very hard not to tell people what to think, not to editorialize, because I would rather have people think more historically and just be aware of the information rather than turning them off because I have a certain viewpoint.”

While Ben Franklin’s World covers history, the episodes are not chronological and each one stands on its own, allowing listeners to “bop along” as Covart says, “dipping into topics that interest you.”

“I want people to think more historically. I want them to better understand early America because I think it explains who we are as American people today,” said Covart.

Covart is particularly proud of Episodes 290 and 291: The World of the Wampanoag and also recommends episode 150: Woody Holton, Abigail Adams: Revolutionary Speculator for new listeners.

But listeners can find their own favorite among the current 383 episodes available.

“I don’t have a book published because I got so into podcasting and running it as a full-time job. My career just took this interesting path and it’s had a big impact. I try not to think about it too much because it feels overwhelming. But, we were the first history show to interview historians on a regular basis and niche down into the early American field. I remember early listeners writing in saying ‘What are you doing? You’ve niched down so far,'” said Covart, who happily reminds those naysayers that they, “don’t understand how history works, I will never run out of topics!”

Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios is working on a new, limited project that will focus on the Revolution from West to East. No release date has been announced yet.

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