Dr. Chelsea Gardner, an archaeologist and Associate Professor of Ancient History in Acadia’s Department of History & Classics, is the co-host and producer of the popular podcast “Peopling the Past”. The podcast is one part of a larger project of the same name, which aims to lift up the voices of “Real People in the Ancient World and the Real People who Study Them.” She conceived of the idea for the project and accompanying podcast in the first year of the global pandemic, as isolated colleagues and scholars across the globe were unable to travel for research or fieldwork. Taking to social media, she asked if other academics would be interested in using short podcasts, which she planned to develop for her Acadia class on Greek Art and Archaeology, in their own courses. Her friends and former graduate school classmates from the University of British Columbia joined her in forming Peopling the Past, which now produces podcasts, videos, and blogs, and soon interested parties from across the globe were accessing the material.
Social history at its finest, Peopling the Past is tailored toward high school students, undergraduates, and anyone else seeking information about the ancient world or hoping to stay up to date with recent scholarship. Each episode features experts who describe their research on diverse topics like footwear at the Roman military fort of Vindolanda in Britain, or how waste from olive oil processing was used as a sustainable fuel source across the ancient Mediterranean.
The project has received considerable attention. Profiled in the Winter 2021 Bulletin of The Canadian Institute in Greece, Peopling the Past has received awards from the Society for Classic Studies’ “Ancient Worlds Modern Communities Initiative,” an honorable mention from the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute’s Emerging Open Scholarship Awards, and a grant from the National Geographic Society.
In 2020-2021, the podcast won the Women’s Classical Caucus Public Scholarship Award, which was a special recognition for Gardner. “I’ve been a member of the WCC for several years now and it truly is an incredible organization that works so hard to promote underrepresented groups and strives for equity in the fields of Classics and Mediterranean studies,” she explained, “to be recognized by this group in any way is wonderful and to receive the award was very special because the core of the Peopling the Past mission is to break down barriers between academia and the public by creating free, accessible, fun, appealing content that is available to everyone. Our project goals also align nicely with the WCC community, since we aim to highlight aspects of human history that are often omitted from more traditional popular media and curricula, and which are vital for fostering inclusive scholarship, teaching, and learning."
Overwhelmed by the interest in the podcast, Gardner plans to keep growing the content. While there are many challenges, including “funding, time, and access to resources,” she is pleased by the support that she has received both from her own department and the university. She not only has two Acadia RAs, Lauren Millett (History) and Cassy Palmer (Music), who worked on sound engineering and content editing for the most recent podcast season, but she was recently awarded a SSHRC Institutional Exchange Grant, which will help ensure there is ample content for their third season, which will focus on Women in the Ancient Mediterranean.