Its the final instalment of my week-long feature to celebrate International Podcast Month! We round up this feature by talking to the lovely Tessa from Works Not Cited Podcast, a podcast where she shares the stories of women’s history and material culture that didn’t make it into her thesis.
After graduating (virtually, of course) from William & Mary this past May with a degree in history and theatre, I found myself set loose and a little lost. My summer fellowship had been cancelled due to COVID, leaving me with no set plans. My life had previously been consumed with researching and writing my history honors thesis, in which I explored the political activity of women in New York and Philadelphia in the 1790s, as approached through their use of physical spaces. Even though it seemed like I’d stressed over the project every minute of that whole year, I was missing researching women’s history, engaging with material culture, and sharing that information with others. As I began to contemplate what I wanted to do with my newfound summer time and started on my job search (collections related opportunities, where are you?), I decided to look for different ways to start engaging digitally with the history community. I settled on podcasting, having tried it out the previous summer when starting my thesis research.
Out of this came Works Not Cited podcast, (a name lovingly coined by my mother when I was running low on catchy title ideas), which I’ve been running for about three months now! In episodes that run around 15-20 minutes. I talk about whatever historical person, object, or event catches my attention that week. Originally, I limited myself with the very broad requirement that I’d try to discuss narratives that didn’t relate to my thesis; basically, everything that I’d wanted to talk about for a year but had put off because my thesis was my life. However, I’ve realized that my interests are always going to be pulling me in a women’s history/material culture direction, so most of the episodes lean on those subjects. I’ve even introduced Open House episodes where I analyze a historic space; these locations have ranged from Disney hotels to 19th century tenements.
One of my favorite episodes of Works Not Cited podcast to research, write, and record was on Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, known as Jo, who married Theo van Gogh and secured Vincent van Gogh’s artistic legacy. Her life was absolutely fascinating; her parents’ fifth child, she grew up in a very close (and musical) family, she was an avid reader and a teacher, and she spent her later life advocating for working women’s education and co-founded the Amsterdam Social-Democratic Women’s Propaganda Club. She was a busy woman! In 1887, three days after they first met, Theo van Gogh proposed; Jo wrote that the situation “would sound improbable in a novel.” Though she initially refused the proposal, they eventually married, and Jo described their marriage as “a long, beautiful, wonderful dream, the most beautiful one can dream.” Unfortunately, Theo died not long after, following his brother Vincent’s death. Grieving and financially struggling, Jo dedicated the rest of her life to raising her son and advocating for Vincent’s art; she wrote in 1891, “I have had my happiness, now duty remains.”
Jo van Gogh Bonger, image from the Van Gogh Museum
While I found the events of her life fascinating, what I loved most about this episode was reading Jo’s words. She kept four diaries throughout her life, which thankfully have survived and been transcribed through the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Reading her diaries was like watching her grow up, privy to all her self-doubt, her worries about the future, and her determination to be better. It was incredibly relatable, matching the thoughts that have been swirling around in my brain since graduation. “Another day lived for nothing; oh, how dreadful it is that I can’t change myself, what am I to do?” She wrote on April 3rd, 1880. Reeling from social anxiety when abroad in England, she complained on August 6th, 1883, “why cannot I make myself amusing and interesting to the people?” When she returned to her diary after Theo’s death, she looked down on “the sentimental outpourings I wrote down as a young girl- what a lot of nonsense I often proclaimed,” reminding me of re-reading stories and diaries I’d written in years before. It was a special episode to research, as it’s not often that a woman’s thoughts are recorded and preserved in such a full manner. It was an amazing opportunity to share women’s words with my audience; that’s part of why I loved my thesis so much, and has become one of my favorite parts of podcasting. Reading the diaries was also an incredibly cathartic moment, reminding me that while I have been struggling with anxiety and self-doubt over this summer, I’m not alone in my feelings; people in the past have had the same thoughts for years and years.
Podcasting was not something that I expected going into this summer, but it has quickly become the activity that keeps me going every week! I’ve absolutely loved recording Works Not Cited (despite moving recording spaces, dealing with outside noise, the usual), discovering stories, and sharing history through this medium. While I am particularly fond of research, and I have the podcast to thank for exposing me to a variety of historical figures (Mabel Ping-Hua Lee! Marie Gordon!), one of my favorite parts of podcasting has been connecting with the lovely history community on social media! It’s been wonderful to meet other history lovers and podcasters virtually, and I look forward to what I can learn from their content every week, especially in the time of COVID. We’ll see where this takes me next, but for the meantime, I am very very happy to be sharing a little history with all of you every Thursday!
Take a listen to Works Not Cited on