• An Oxford Historian

The Best Podcasts for Studying

If the first year of a PhD ( combined with a global pandemic) has taught me anything, it's the value of a good podcast. Late nights in the library, walking back and forth from obscure reading rooms, and entering thousands of mind-numbing names into a database are all made tolerable for me by podcasts. I've spoken before about the future of podcast and radio among students, and across all walks of life, the podcast industry continues to provide a never-ending supply of free, high-quality content. Here are my top podcast suggestions to keep you company in the long stretches that accompany life.



That's What I'm Tolkien About

Call it cliched for a Medievalist if you will, but I do love Tolkien. I've written about his important works before here and here, and they're a great part of the reason I study what I study. Each episode, one chapter of the books (and later the films) is discussed in depth with a guest. It's simultaneously a great listen for those who have read and enjoyed Tolkien's works for years, and those who are new to them. For long-established fans there's great pleasure in seeing something you greatly enjoy discovered for the first time by someone else. For those new to the texts, the podcast provides a handy guide for running through a set of daunting and complex novels.


Out to Lunch with Jay Rayner

I knew very little about Rayner until he himself started doing the podcast rounds, when I stumbled on his own one. The premise is simple - Rayner, a food critic of some serious note, interviews various members of the 'glitterati' over a meal at various high-end restaurants. Where this really shines through is Rayner's genuinely exceptional ability as an interviewer, and the episodes quickly develop into some quite deep and personal questions.


Off-Menu

By now an absolute classic of the British podcast scene, James Acaster and Ed Gamble's food podcast is a staple for a reason. Each guest is asked for their dream starter, main course, side, dessert and drink - from any time and any place. It's very good fun and laugh-out-loud funny, as you'd expect from two of the country's best stand-up comedians


Seven Pillars with Alan Davies

I have a deep love for Jonathan Creek - it remains my favourite TV show of all time, no questions asked. Despite a great around cast, that's largely the result of Davies himself, and that charm carries through here. Each episode a guest is asked to name the seven pillars of their life - important music, food, events etc. Again, as with RHLSTP, the enjoyment here stems from seeing comedians within a remarkably human light.


No Such Thing as a Fish

The long-running podcast from the QI elves, this podcast really established the 'amusing facts' format that so dominates the field at the moment. Each week four meticulously researched (amusingly titled) facts are discussed, and even a brief listen through their SEVEN year catalogue will have you reciting endless trivia down the pub for years. Their yearly live-shows are also extremely good fun, and I'd highly recommend them.


Abroad in Japan

Although I'd pride myself with being relatively well-read, I know nothing about Japan. Nothing about the history, the culture, the language. Nothing. So it's really nice to be immersed in a subject from complete scratch. Chris Broad, a British expat living in Japan, and ex-radio DJ (and self-described Japan-ophile) Pete Donaldson recount us with their experiences of travelling and working across the country. What's really impressive here is a genuine sensitivity - they're not gawping at the shiny lights, manga and swords in a kind of fetishistic light, they're genuinely exploring cultural differences and Japan's benefits and flaws.


RHLSTP

Richard Herring is a very clever man (I'm sure he'd tell you that himself) and his interview podcast, live in front of an audience, is a very strong recommendation. Primarily, it's an incredibly good laugh, and Herring is a very VERY funny comedian. But my real interest here comes from the unique insights that Herring teases out for us, the comedy lay-people, about the inside workings of the comedy work. Here is a performer who has had it all - a strong start in TV, followed by it all going a bit wrong, and then a return to cult (fringe?) status. A veteran of the world of making us laugh, Herring is able to tease out of his guests a genuine side we ordinarily don't see, especially with comedians.

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