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Portraits of Hannah, Siobhan and Stacey

Scholarly Podcasting with Pride

By Amplify Network Date: June 07, 2024 Tags: Blog

Wilfrid Laurier University Press · Scholarly Podcasting with Pride


[Phone rings to leave a message. We hear someone blow a paper party horn]

Stacey Copeland  0:08 

Oh, hi, it’s Stacey Copeland, co-director of Amplify Podcast Network here. And I heard we’re celebrating a pretty special year this year, so I’ve put a little something together.

[answering machine beeps]

To celebrate the press’s 50-year anniversary, we return to the very beginning of Amplify Podcast Network, through a conversation recorded with our founding directors, Hannah McGregor and Siobhan McMenemy. From the Secret Feminist Agenda peer review experiments to our multi-year Amplify project, WLUP has become a leading voice for scholarly podcasting in the publishing community. The press team has been integral to building our open educational resource, A Guide to Academic Podcasting, as well as navigating accessibility best practices for digital publishing and exploring the opportunities and challenges in making peer-reviewed scholarly podcasting a reality. 

In the following audio excerpts we join Hannah and Siobhan in looking back at how Amplify got its start. The year was 2016. And the two got talking in the exhibition hall at the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences annual congress held in Calgary, Alberta. Hannah will pick up the story from here.

[music transition]

Hannah McGregor  1:35 

I’ve never really thought of it before, but it was such a perfect moment because we were both starting new jobs. And we had both just made moves from perhaps slightly more traditional environments with more traditional understandings of research into these, like, maybe slightly smaller, slightly scrappier places where there was more of a sense of, like, the possibility for play.

Siobhan McMenemy  2:02 

Yeah, I think that’s right. And I think as individual professionals, we were suddenly aware that we had a greater latitude for experimenting. And so that worked in the favour of first working on Secret Feminist Agenda, and then subsequently, over the course of a few years, deciding we wanted to go even bigger.

Hannah McGregor  2:22 

Yeah! And it was very, like, we had no clear sense of what shape the project would take. Like when we originally wrote the SSHRC proposal, I think I was going to do a podcast about, like, fan studies—we had no specific idea about the podcast itself. We just kind of had this general sense that, like, Podcasts, huh? Yeah. That's a thing!

Siobhan McMenemy  2:46 

You know, one of the real pleasures for me in working with you generally over these two projects, but earlier with Secret Feminist Agenda, is that you at least understood the freedom that we had to continue to experiment and to, in some ways, ask more questions than we were going to really concretely answer. And that was very liberating for me, because I had never done any sort of research project as such. It was a very exciting conversation, and to subsequently then begin doing a little more concrete work to formalize what it was we wanted to do together.

Stacey Copeland  3:22 

You mentioned Secret Feminist Agenda. And for those who know about the project already, Amplify really started as a smaller project case study with Secret Feminist Agenda. So were you already thinking about Amplify at that point, when you started working on the peer review process for Secret Feminist Agenda? Or did that come later in that experience?

Siobhan McMenemy  3:42 

From my perspective, it was very focused initially. And then, once we got into the more experimental stages of peer review, as opposed to just sort of figuring out what the podcast would be, and then going through the process of arguing with one another as to whether Secret Feminist Agenda was going to be appropriate—the hands-on work of determining how to peer review, what to ask in peer review all of those very practical questions that I was supposed to be figuring out and that Hannah was very actively participating in as well—those were the moments where I thought, There’s no way I’m going to get to a concrete answer, even after what turned into three iterations of experimentation. Realizing that was also helpful, not it not only in terms of relieving me of the stress, feeling like I had to have a clear answer at the end of this process, but also in terms of imagining a next bigger step that would allow me to hone the best practices, if you will, of the peer review component.

Hannah McGregor  4:49 

I like that framing. I hadn’t really thought of it explicitly like that. I mean, it was an Insight Development Grant, which is—the whole premise of those grants is that you raise a proposition and then see if it works. There were so many points when it was like, Okay, is this a good idea? Well, we have no idea. But we’re experimenting, like this is just an experimental process. So, you know, Siobhan talked me into using Secret Feminist Agendaas our test case. And I think if I had been attached to the idea that this is going to be the thing that proves that scholarly podcasting works, I would have been like, nope. But it was just like, Yeah, let’s, let’s just play. That sense of experimentation always had a like, we’ll get to iterate this again, we don’t have to figure out everything now. We’re answering some questions, we will get to do this a few more times and keep figuring stuff out.

Siobhan McMenemy  5:44 

In fact, what we realized, or what I sort of knew from the beginning as a press person, taking on some responsibility for rationalizing this in a sentence and looking beyond the scope of this particular experiment, in order to convince a community of academics, administrators, grant agencies, and colleagues at university presses that forms of digital scholarship need peer review, can benefit from peer review, and should be published within our imprint like any other form of publishable scholarship. So, in thinking about all that, I realized that first set of questions that we used for the first season of Secret Feminist Agenda had to have what I called at the time “inside baseball” questions. Yeah, questions that irritated the heck out of the reviewers and probably, probably you too, Hannah. [laughter]

Hannah McGregor  6:37 

No, I love meta questions.

Siobhan McMenemy  6:38 

Well, I do too. But it was really not just because of that. But because I was imagining taking the responses of the reviewers, because we knew they were also going to be public, and saying, I defy you to tell me this isn’t rigorous, I defy you to tell me this doesn’t indicate a meaningful engagement with a scholarly work. To ask certain of those inside baseball questions was important so that, on the record, there would be evidence of people in the fields related to this undertaking saying, Yes, of course, this is vital. Of course, the forum requires its own approach, but it’s still scholarship. That peer review, it began to make me think about all of the work I still needed to do. Between, you know, the conversations you and I were having, Hannah, about the limits you wanted to put on that particular podcast—you know, how long will we continue this, this undertaking of peer review for it—and then also, just professionally, what I felt I needed still to accomplish to sort of figure out a sensible way of peer reviewing scholarly podcasts, I was going to need more opportunities than just this one. And so there are many reasons why we began to then talk about another grant and another research project. But the excitement and the opportunity to keep experimenting with the peer review and to apply to other series some of the lessons I learned working with Hannah’s podcast was really, really instrumental.

Hannah McGregor  8:18 

I wrote down something I was thinking, Stacey, as you were talking about how we come from really different directions into this work. I was like, Yeah, we do. We have really different professional backgrounds. We have different kinds of training, we have different, really different jobs. But at the heart of it, we are both big gay shit-disturbers. [laughter] And I think that that is like an ethic that is at the heart of this project—it’s just kind of like a political orientation towards the status quo that does not assume that it is fine or good as it is. Like, that is, like, a basic premise. I think of the way we both do our work is like, Oh, why would I assume that the way things are now is fine? Why would I assume that the way things have been done is the way they ought to be done? Why would I in any way trust that the way that institutions are currently organized is good, or fosters the kinds of things I want to create in the world? Just a no, it’s just a no, just a kind of general no to everything, followed by a, But what if?

Stacey Copeland  9:28 

Ooh, yes. Bringing it back to being at Congress, Calgary 2016, in the little Book Expo, you have this casual conversation that turns into now, many years later, this project, the Amplify Podcast Network. Honestly, the conversation around podcasting and scholarship has really grown a ton. Where are you hoping we can take the podcast network in the next few years to really grow this conversation and see what happens next for podcasting as scholarship?

Hannah McGregor  10:01 

I’m really interested in questions of sustainability. That is really, really what interests me is that sort of these one off experiments, we can figure out how to fund them and how to make them possible, because they work within the structure of a grant that you can be like, Okay, we’re gonna have, you know, two years to do this, three years to do this, we’ll do this little experiment, we’ll do another little experiment. But that question of like, How do we just make it so that podcasts are just a thing that a press can be publishing.

Siobhan McMenemy  10:34 

What I think will happen is that presses will experiment with our methods will find that they need to break them, rewrite them, rework them, and they may abandon the podcast because it’s not easy to turn into a cookie-cutter production process. What we’re working on with Amplify right now with all, you know, the tool for creating metadata and preserving, that’s really exciting, because that’s where I think the work we’re putting in now is going to go out into the world and last beyond perhaps any given individual podcaster. I mean, I’m not in disagreement with what Hannah has said about the sort of financial sustainability and the sort of means of keeping going but at the same time, I’m also thinking it’s going to have a life of its own as a result of our work.

Stacey Copeland  11:28 

You can check out more of this conversation and our entire Amplified audio blog series at I'm Stacey Copeland, and on behalf of Amplify Podcast Network, I’d like to offer a big congratulations to the press on its 50th anniversary. I cannot wait to see what the next 50 years bring, pushing the boundaries of scholarly publishing with Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

[paper party horn]


Listen to the full episode of Amplified with Siobhan and Hannah here:


Audio Notes:

Music - Pxl Cray by Blue Dot Studios

SFX - Phone Ringing by elliot.klein

Answering machine beeps and clicks by TRP

Party horn by vewiu