Each episode urges you to tune into a world of intriguing and puzzling events through weird yet suspenseful theme music that feels straight out of The Twilight Zone.
The radio drama uses audio to study the strange facets of knowledge throughout America’s history
By Jonathan Pabico, Senior Columnist
If you’re seeking to immerse yourself into something other than movies or TV shows, look no further than Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s history podcast, The Last Archive. The two seasons of audio content see Lepore examining how forces, from racial politics to conspiracy theories, defined America’s history of knowledge, truth, facts, and doubt that still affects today’s times. Weaving through the nooks and crannies of every episode, Lepore’s series will make you love learning and inspire you to look at history with a newer lens.
The podcast is designed to sound like a 1930s radio drama that mixes multiple media sources with re-enacted scenes recorded by actors Lepore calls her “Foolproof Players”. Lepore chose this audio style to show her love for radio shows, such as Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air, and the classic sci-fi TV series, The Twilight Zone. Working with an incredible production team, Lepore also scoured many archives to assemble the most diverse collection of cassette tapes, old sound effects, and other materials for her podcast.
Lepore is a brilliant storyteller that knows how to utilize the limits of her medium to craft a narrative you can only experience with your ears. Her style choice to design The Last Archive as a 1930s radio drama makes it stand out among the massive wave of podcast series already out there. She pushes how creative she can be with podcasting to inform her audience in a really refreshing way.
Each episode urges you to tune into a world of intriguing and puzzling events through weird yet suspenseful theme music that feels straight out of The Twilight Zone. Lepore’s fascination with America’s absurd past is made abundantly clear as she pieces together some of the strangest stories from the country’s history.
The narrations are skillfully paced and backed by incredibly in-depth research, rivalling a documentary. Lepore’s insight is enjoyable to listen to through her youthful curiosity that will inspire you to stay keen on every detail.
What also draws you into each episode are the chills you feel from whatever story Lepore pulls from America’s confusing times. The podcast expertly edits Lepore’s concise dialogue with archive audio, sound effects, musical scoring, and impressive re-enactments. These recordings shine an unapologetic light on how shockingly easy it is for beliefs to easily shape human thought in dark or odd ways over the centuries. I haven’t heard a podcast this inventive with its sound design since the Blockbuster series about famous film directors.
A unique part of the podcast is that its website even offers teachers useful guides on how to include The Last Archive in their schools and classes. This adds so much more avenues to Lepore’s work since her project has the potential to be a fun educational tool for kids.
Jill Lepore’s smart direction keeps you hooked so much that by the time you realize it, the episode is over, and your inner detective is just begging you to click the next entry. If you’re more interested in podcasts involving interviews between the host and celebrity guests, you won’t find that here. However, if you’re eager to learn about history while cozying up to an avant-garde audio series, then The Last Archive is perfect for you.