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Coffee and Circuses: a podcast with a difference

Written by David Walsh |

Dr. David Walsh (University of Kent) shares some thoughts on his podcast series, ‘Coffee and Circuses’, which was recently supported by an ICS Public Engagement Grant.

Like many people, I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the last few years listening to podcasts. Whether learning something new from shows like In Our Time or reliving my childhood by listening to discussions on 90s pro-wrestling, tuning in on the way to work or whilst cooking dinner, they’ve become a regular fixture in my daily routine. I’m not alone this, with an average 5.9 million adults listening to podcasts on a weekly basis in 2018, with the biggest growth among people aged 18-24.

Having clocked up many hours of listening to podcasts, I began to ponder what it would be like to produce my own. It seemed to me that there were many podcasts out there discussing figures and events from the ancient world, which is great, but I’ve often thought it would be interesting to focus on the people who work on this stuff: the archaeologists, lecturers, curators, tour-guides, authors etc. I mean, having a Roman building or inscription is all well and good, but you need someone to find, interpret, publish, and then do something creative with it. One of the things that has often struck me about this field is that it is full of interesting people who have their own stories to tell, but you don’t always get a sense of their personalities from reading their books or journal articles. So I figured that a podcast could be a way of communicating this in an accessible fashion. What drew them to ancient history or archaeology? How does their work intersect with their other interests? What do they feel about how the subject has developed? Where do they think it will go in future? 

I also hoped that in some minor way it might break down some barriers, as I think misconceptions still abound that a career studying the ancient world is permitted only for a small, privileged group. And when I talk about those who might have these misconceptions, I don’t just mean people outside of the field, but students (and prospective students) of the subject too. As much as lecturers can try to inject personality into their teaching, they’re often limited on time and/or dealing with large groups, so for many students their lecturer or other professionals can feel like distant figures. Listening to a lecturer (or archaeologist, curator, author etc.) talk about their background, missteps and aspirations can demonstrate to students, and people more widely, that the subject is accessible to a broad range of people (or at least it’s moving in the right direction). 

The first thirty ‘Coffee and Circuses’ guests!


One of my favourite episodes thus far was with Miller Power at TRAC 2019, where he discussed his trans-identity, and addressed this theme in both the archaeological record and the academic world. I could have record myself giving my thoughts on this and putting them out to the world, but how can what I have to say compare to someone who has lived it? Miller’s observations give a fresh perspective, and I can’t see how that’s anything but a good thing for study of the Roman world. Similarly, the most recent episode recorded with Mai Musié, recorded at the FIEC/CA conference, highlights that the ancient world wasn’t just the Greek or Roman societies living in isolation, but rather they were part of wider networks that included communities in India, China and Sub-Saharan Africa. Approaching the subject with this in mind opens up all kind of possibilities, not just for research, but for people from an array of backgrounds and experiences to make a contribution to it. 

I also hope that hearing how Ellen Swift studied pharmacy for a year before switching to archaeology, or how it wasn’t until long after university that Caroline Lawrence found success as a writer, or how Alex Davies thinks returning to academia as mature student is one the best decisions she’s made, highlights that whatever stage you’re at, it’s never too late to pursue your interest. It’s even never too late to start a podcast…

If you want to the listen to the podcast, you can check it out at iTunesSpotify, or Audioboom. You can also contact the show at and follow David on Twitter @d_j_walsh.

by David Walsh