Her, in your ear
Women make up barely a third of most best-podcast lists. Don’t miss out. Here are some riveting casts by women on food, science, history, birding and more
Why a column about women podcasters? Because most coverage of podcasts leaves them out almost entirely. On best-cast roundups, women make up barely a third of the entries. Actively seeking them out is worse — most lists of podcasts by women are focused on fashion, relationships, motherhood or various kinds of agony-aunt advice. Plug into these shows below to find out how women tell it differently.
Every two weeks, Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley put together an episode that starts out about food, but ends up weaving in science and history. How come a lemon is related to a grapefruit? What did now-extinct plants taste like? Both hosts draw excellent lines from their guests, taking food journalism a notch above the usual chef-and-menu chatter. Episodes go back to September 2014, so there’s plenty to listen to.
Alie Ward’s premise is simple. Find academic disciplines that end with ‘ology’, bring in specialists, and ask them how they do what they do. The result — an archive of close to 150 passionate people revealing the world’s complexities and our attempts to understand them — is available on her website, alieward.com. Yes, penguinology is a legitimate stream, and an expert knows why penguins give pebble gifts. Four experts joined in to explain virology last month. There’s even an episode on genealogy — including why the word is an ‘alogy’ and not an ‘ology’.
The UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of the Birds has its own chirpy podcast, on rspb.org.uk.
Host Jane Markham has the kind of tone that sounds trustworthy and interested, even when she’s asking questions to orinthologists, birdwatchers, ecologists and those who track winged migration. There’s music too, songbird tunes, caw studies and much, much clucking over climate change.
THE LAST ARCHIVE
Historian Jill Lepore — she teaches at Harvard and writes in the New Yorker — explores how truth is shaped by societies, and how we end up ‘knowing’ the things we do. Each episode starts with a mystery, and opens with a re-enactment. From there, it blows up to cover the history of knowledge, the lifecycle of a fact, and what we consider evidence. Fitting for a time when far too many people don’t even believe the pandemic is real.
No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but futurist Rose Eveleth knows more than most. Her job covers material that doesn’t make it to your company’s quarterly projections. The podcast uses existing science and real-world developments to imagine futures in which humans might be able to see in the dark, when satellites might track crime, or we may beat death by continuing as simulations. Through it all, Eveleth talks superfast, almost like she’s racing towards tomorrow.
At just 12 episodes, Rukmini Callimachi’s account of the rise of the Islamic State is riveting, disturbing and complex. Callimachi, who covers terrorism for The New York Times, has none of the bravado or hero complex typical of war journalists. In the podcast available on radiopublic.com, she explains the conditions that allowed ISIS to flourish, weaves in heartbreaking interviews with victims, defectors and community leaders, and offers nuances to the good-Muslim-bad-Muslim binary that dominates so much reportage worldwide.
Yes, there are podcasts by women focused on fashion, motherhood and agony-aunt advice. But there are others discussing ISIS, philosophy, future worlds and the nature of truth.