Jason Camlot and the SpokenWeb

By Amplify Network Date: March 22, 2022 Tags: Podcasting

Amplified is an audio blog series taking us behind the scenes at the Amplify Podcast Network to explore the different ways our team is reimagining the sound of scholarship. This month we go behind the scenes with Amplify collaborator and director of SpokenWeb Dr. Jason Camlot to talk about the ways that engaging in sonic scholarship has transformed his relationship to research and the academic world.


Stacey Copeland: [00:00:00] Welcome to Amplified. A podcast about the sounds of scholarship from our team here at the Amplify podcast network. I’m your host, Stacey Copeland. One of my favourite things about working on big projects like Amplify that span across institutions and geographies is all of the people you get to meet along the way. Amplify is, of course, a network in itself, but it’s also part of a larger community of researchers, creators and thinkers sharing ideas and bringing together diverse sets of expertise to reimagine scholarly publication and practice. In the months to come, I’ll be joined by key thinkers from across this wider community to showcase some of the voices and projects at the forefront of the academic podcast and alternative publishing worlds. Today, we go behind the scenes of a scholarly podcast, changing the way we think about and engage with literary archives. I sit down with Amplify collaborator and director of SpokenWeb Jason Camlot to talk about their collaborative work on the SpokenWeb Podcast. SpokenWeb is an interdisciplinary research partnership of literary scholars, digital humanists, librarians, sound artists, poets, archivists all focused on the history of literary sound recordings and their digital preservation and presentation. And at the heart of this partnership is the creative and sonically rich playground of the spoken web podcast stories about how literature sounds. If you’ve made it this far into our Amplified audio blog series, you may already be familiar with the Amplify-SpokenWeb Connexion, whether it’s through our co-director Hannah McGregor’s role as podcast host and task force lead, or through my former gig as supervising producer of the show’s first two seasons. Needless to say, the SpokenWeb Podcast has played an invaluable role in shaping the sound of scholarship for our amplified community and across the humanities and social sciences. So here is SpokenWeb director Jason Camlot on the ways that engaging in sonic scholarship has transformed his relationship to research and the academic world.

Jason Camlot: [00:02:37] Hi, I’m Jason Camlot. I’m a professor in the Department of English at Concordia University, a research chair in literature and sound studies, and the director and principal investigator of the SpokenWeb, which is a SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council] partnership and research network that collaborates on the development, cataloguing, analysis, and research around collections of audiovisual materials that document literary activities in Canada. So I met Hannah McGregor through her role as a co-applicant in the SpokenWeb network. SpokenWeb research activities have been going on for over a decade, in fact. We’ve been working…,we started small with a single, well a single collection of hundreds of hours of recordings of a poetry series. But really, from the very beginning, the research in SpokenWeb has been concerned with, not only sort of the nature and contents of the materials we were examining, but the implications of working with sound for methods of doing literary history. So we’re really interested in sort of rather than working on literature through the page, which is sort of the bread and butter of literary studies, thinking about what it meant to work with sound and what it does to literary studies to actually study it through sonic materials and media.

And so when we as a group started working on developing a vision for SpokenWeb as a national and international network in fact, that involves a whole bunch of different kinds of projects, ranging from development of metadata schema for these kinds of collections, the development of systems and graphic user interfaces for engagement with these kinds of collections once they’ve been digitised, the development of oral history protocols for studying these collections by talking to people who are actually involved in the events, the events that they document, exploring methods of teaching with sound in the literature classroom, and other humanities disciplines classrooms thinking about rights management for the kinds of materials that we’re engaged with… ‘Knowledge Mobilisation’ as SSHRC calls it, or ways of getting sort of the findings from all of these areas out to a research network and to the public was really at the forefront of our thinking. We wanted not only to be exploring these questions, but to find interesting and innovative ways to share them as they’re unfolding, share the discoveries and the activities and the failures and everything as they’re unfolding. And because we’re working with archives that are primarily comprised of sound recording, we felt that a podcast series, even though I didn’t really know much about podcasts or what a podcast series was, it seemed to me like hmm, a podcast would probably be the best way to get the word out about this kind of thing, because if you read about it, you can’t really listen to the materials we’re working with. But if you listen to a podcast, we could actually include the audible content that is at the centre of all of our research activities. So that was the main reason from a very naive and ignorant starting point thinking like, oh, podcast series!,  like, you know, it might have been like radio show. And probably that’s what I first thought. Like, we should have a radio show, you know, except like, I don’t know how to get a radio show, but I was aware through colleagues, some of my academic colleagues, who are really working with podcasting as a medium of exploring really intense theoretical, complex research questions. And so it seemed like, oh, well, maybe that is the sonic format that would best suit the kinds of explorations that we were interested in doing in SpokenWeb. 

Stacey Copeland: [00:06:21] You’re now into – coming to the end of what, season three?

Jason Camlot: [00:06:27] Yeah, we’re like 3.6 or 3.7 right now, so. Yeah, that’s right.

Stacey Copeland: [00:06:33] As the project has evolved over its seasons, how has it maybe informed your own relationship to the SpokenWeb network at large because you not all PIs on projects, not all leads on projects are so involved in all of the aspects of what happens in such large funded projects like SpokenWeb, but you really have had a very personal hand in the podcast and creating a lot of the episodes, especially in the first season. So I’m curious to hear, you know, how has producing podcasts for SpokenWeb changed or influenced your own approach to the research?

Jason Camlot: [00:07:11] Yeah, that’s such a great question. So I’ve made seven full length podcasts so far as a member of the Podcast Task Force and of the SpokenWeb Research Network. I’d never made a podcast before the first year of the SpokenWeb podcast series, that first episode was me learning in a sense, a little bit the grammar, the language, the rhetoric of podcasting and finding ways in which it was familiar to me. So it’s not as though I hadn’t worked with sound before. I’ve done a lot of research on sound. I’ve also done a lot of music-making and stuff, and so I’d worked with different kinds of digital technologies for working with sound…

Stacey Copeland: [00:07:50] Making the music for the SpokenWeb podcast.

Jason Camlot: [00:07:52] Yeah, making the music. So I think it’s had an incredibly important role in shaping my understanding of what I can contribute as a director of a research network. It’s actually, in many ways, been the kind of sounding board for me of what ideas we might as a collective be interested in exploring, what new avenues we might be interested in exploring. And also in finding sort of ways of sharing parts of ourselves that maybe one doesn’t normally share in sort of research environments, right? So you mentioned the music side of things like early on, we needed some sounds to go with podcasts, right? And I was like, I love making sounds. I don’t actually have a lot of time to do that anymore. But suddenly here was a reason for me to go back to doing something I love doing and then to share it with some of my academic colleagues. So these are serious colleagues like who I have very serious scholarly conversations with. And yet, you know, I’m sharing like beats and like, you know, weird synths and stuff with them. And it’s like, I think that has created new possibilities for relating to my colleagues. You know, I wouldn’t underestimate the value and importance of that or how I’ve I don’t know, I guess, worked in relation to everyone because we were about a hundred people, if you count students and researchers and librarians and experts in all different kinds of areas….

Jason Camlot: [00:09:16] And so I think in a way, the allowance for creativity in my participation in the podcast project has really spilled over into my involvement in all of the other projects. It’s had an affective impact, I think, on the way I just engage with the network. That’s made it really fun for me and hopefully has also invited other people to just make themselves a little more vulnerable and try things out or share parts of themselves that they wouldn’t have otherwise or whatever because it’s all relevant. In fact, it’s all extremely relevant to the way and the way we explore questions and what questions we feel are important to explore. So the more we can really bring ourselves to the table, I guess, you know, and like put ourselves out there, I think the more interesting and meaningful our research activities are going to be. But also, I think it’s allowing us to articulate actually what we’re doing methodologically like, you know, because maybe we started out as a, you know, we thought we were a literature research grant, you know? But I think it’s really allowed us to realise how much we are a sound studies research grant, which ultimately means nothing because sound studies is everything right? You know. So it allows us to make connections and links between different disciplinary fields to really realise how much we could potentially incorporate into the kind of work that we’re doing. 

Stacey Copeland: [00:10:37] Mm hmm. Yeah. And I mean, I think you see that reflected back in the kinds of episodes that SpokenWeb has put out in the podcast, you know, ranging from language of drums and communication to some of your episodes more on the histories of sound technologies. And then, of course, we have very in-depth discussions and histories of particular authors and poets that are found in the archives themselves, so it is quite wide ranging. I really loved the way you were talking about basically leading by example by bringing some of the vulnerability and embodiment that I was actually just talking to Brenna Clarke Gray about in our last episode. So it’s a great kind of tie there, but bringing some of your own complexity as a human outside of just being a professor and a scholar into your work and how that leading by example can really encourage other people to do the same thing in their work. And I think that is one of the strengths of SpokenWeb as a network, but also SpokenWeb the podcast in that that first season was a lot of leading by example of you and Hannah and some of the other leads in the task force, encouraging others to engage, and saying, Look, we can do this fun thing. SpokenWeb podcast as a bit of a sandbox. And then subsequent seasons, really encouraging graduate students and other folks that maybe haven’t done podcasts before to come out and try their hand. Now that you are a few seasons in with the SpokenWeb podcast, what are you hoping to see it kind of form into over its next season, perhaps?

Jason Camlot: [00:12:11] First of all, in relation to what you just said, it’s true. The first season it was a few of us, I think, who were really putting a lot of effort into making episodes. And you personally helped it along as well. But there was…, I had so much excitement for certain colleagues who started making podcasts in the second season who were just sort of observing and listening,just sort of like sussing it out, but not quite jumping in yet. It’s sort of like, you know, having one of your grad students give a paper at a conference and you being there watching them. But it was different. It was way more exciting in some ways because you’re really seeing them enjoy the pleasures of discovery of the potential of this medium for really thinking and for exploring ideas through sound. I haven’t had a sense of excitement and happiness for other colleagues’ work in that way in a long time. So one of the things that I hope will continue to build is just that: that more and more people will find their voices in podcast production through the SpokenWeb Podcast series. And as you said, it is a kind of a sandbox. There’s no set format for any single episode, and I think that has been one of the wonderful things, personally, about about the the series that really, it’s allowing individual scholars and students to find how they, for their own ideas, can best express them in this medium and not have to conform to a particular predetermined format. And so, yeah, I hope to just hear more really strange and experimental approaches to making podcasts in relation to the ideas that my colleagues –student and faculty colleagues – are most interested in exploring.

Jason Camlot: [00:13:54] I’m also really interested in continuing to frame certain topics that seemed initially maybe like they were outside the scope or, you know, of our mandate, which was really, you know, the original idea was, “Oh, well, our archives are filled with soundsm this would be a great way to bring those sounds into kind of critical contexts through audio essays and things like that.” But to have podcasts on, you know, oral stories surrounding bison migration or, you know, like you said, talking drums, African practices of communicating with drums. First of all, understanding and finding narratives that allow us to understand that those episodes are within our scope and are very much part of the kinds of questions and method pushing that we’re involved in in SpokenWeb by thinking about how sound is actually getting us to think about literature, narrative, communication differently. But then also how the way those episodes ask questions and think about sound and communication can feed back into our understanding of the literary materials that we’re engaged with. I think that’s really starting to happen in the series, and I just I think we’re just really beginning to see the potential outcomes and impact of that kind of dialectic, you know, that’s occurring in the series. And so I think we’re just going to continue with that for a while and see where it takes us because it’s already gotten weird, but I think it’s going to get weirder, you know, so it’s great.

Stacey Copeland: [00:15:23] The experience of producing scholarly podcasts can be a big learning curve. But as Jason has shared through his work with the SpokenWeb podcast team, it can also bring a re-orientation, sense of exploration, and renewed community building to the research experience. An extra special shout out and thank you to the team behind the SpokenWeb podcast, including Jason Camlot, Judith Burr, Kelly Cubbon, Katherine McLeod, Hannah McGregor and everyone at SpokenWeb. We’re also interested in hearing from other folks engaged with scholarly podcasting and alternative modes of academic publishing. If you have comments or additional thoughts on our conversation today or any of our Amplify initiatives, please do reach out. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks for listening to Amplified, behind the scenes of scholarly podcasting coming to you each month from our team here at Amplify Podcast Network.

Guest Bio

Jason Camlot’s critical works include Phonopoetics: The Making of Early Literary Recordings (Stanford 2019), Style and the Nineteenth-Century British Critic (Routledge 2008), and the co-edited collections, CanLit Across Media: Unarchiving the Literary Event (with Katherine McLeod, McGill Queen’s UP, 2019) and Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century (Véhicule 2007). He is also the author of four collections of poetry, Attention All Typewriters, The Animal Library, The Debaucher, and What the World Said. He is the principal investigator and director of The SpokenWeb <www.spokenweb.ca>, a SSHRC-funded partnership that focuses on the history of literary sound recordings and the digital preservation and presentation of collections of literary audio. Jason is Professor of English and Research Chair in Literature and Sound Studies at Concordia University in Montreal.

Additional Links

Written and produced by: Stacey Copeland