The Briscoe Center proudly presents “American Rhapsody,” a new podcast that focuses on those who have witnessed the nation’s history firsthand, creating archives in the process, and those who use those collections and others at the center to tell the American story.
“We’re going to focus on those who were ‘in the room where it happened,’ so to speak—those who took notes and photographs, kept their receipts and letters, and who have since placed material at the Briscoe Center,” said Don Carleton, the Briscoe Center’s executive director and host of American Rhapsody. “In addition, we’ll talk to historians, journalists and other researchers who use the center’s collections in their own projects.”
The series begins with a seven-minute introduction that walks listeners through the concept behind the podcast. Episode 2 focuses on archives at the center that document the Spanish flu in Texas while Episode 3 discusses the papers of Wayne Barrett, who in 1979 became the first investigative journalist to take Donald Trump seriously. Listeners can visit the American Rhapsody landing page hereor tune in through Spotify, Stitcher or iTunes. Future episodes will cover a range of topics and collections including slavery in Texas, women’s suffrage, civil rights photojournalism, antiwar activism, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“There are plenty of great history podcasts being produced. What sets American Rhapsody apart is its focus on the Briscoe Center’s collections: those who created them, what they saw and recorded, and why they subsequently placed them at the center, as well as those who utilize these collections in their research and projects,” said Carleton. “All the people we interview share a commitment to using historical evidence in order to discern what actually happened in the past—not what we want to have happened, or would like to remember, but what actually happened.”
The name American Rhapsody was chosen to convey the sense of beauty, chaos and unity that characterizes the nation’s past. Musically speaking, a rhapsody is an irregular composition of epic proportions, a song that manages to remain one movement despite its many twists, turns and improvisations. Perhaps the best-known example of a rhapsody is Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, written and first recorded in 1924. Sections of the composition are used throughout the center’s podcast.
“There are a lot of metaphors for history, and ‘rhapsody’ is the one we’re going for here at the center. American history is many things, but it is most certainly a rhapsody—irregular, improvised, episodic and often disjointed, but ultimately one movement,” said Carleton.
The Briscoe Center for American History is a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin. Its archival collections include over 17 miles of manuscripts, 5,000 newspaper titles, 35,000 maps, over 60,000 sound recordings, 200,000 books and 7 million photographs. In addition to inspiring the research of historians, journalists and documentarians, the center produces its own projects as well—books, exhibits, online repositories and digital humanities initiatives.