The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Maryville College professor’s podcast highlights how the present is weirder than the past

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“Historical research brings all kinds of insight into who we are in the present day as a species.”

MARYVILLE — Ever wonder how human society and culture blossomed into what it is today?

In his new podcast, “You Are a Weirdo,” historian and Maryville College professor Doug Sofer aims to help people learn just how far we’ve come as a species by embracing how the “strangeness” of the present day would be considered even more vastly weird by the historical standards of the past.

“Real history is a process of interpretation — of understanding the past based on evidence” Sofer said. “Good history is equally immersive; it gets you out of your skin.”

So far, Sofer has immersed his audience in interpreting and understanding topics ranging from why tea is considered a distinctly British beverage, despite being grown in Asia, to why jokes have a short shelf life depending on the decade they are told.

Regardless of each episode’s topic, Sofer finds history to be “the study of human possibilities.” Sofer wants people to learn “that real, legit historical research brings all kinds of insight into who we are in the present day as a species.”

He’s a college professor, but Sofer’s delivery doesn’t come off as listening to a lecture. His style can be easily embraced by listeners of any age that wish to be enlightened on why their current day actions would be considered “weird” from a past perspective. The way he produces each episode feels like listening to an episode of “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” Each episode offers historic and scientific understanding through a blend of nerdy humor and academic wit.  

Sofer’s knowledge and delivery comes from two decades of teaching history. In producing each episode, he draws on input he receives from his mentors, colleagues, and students. He earned his doctorate from the University of Texas in Austin, and took an environmental history class with “The Columbian Exchange” and “Ecological Imperialism” author, Alfred W. Crosby. Having studied under Crosby, Sofer finds “the way that present-day humans interact with the natural world is extremely weird. It’s a radical, major break from how past people would get life’s necessities.”  As such, he plans to produce episodes on environmental history as well.

“You Are a Weirdo” started out as a 75,000-word draft of a book that Sofer plans on publishing. His podcast was conceived as a way to build a platform to help jumpstart a following to ensure his book can become a possibility. Sofer knows that the publishing process “might take a while” but he is patient and is “happy to see this podcast as an end itself too.” Currently, it is strictly a solo endeavor. Sofer is excited to see where this journey takes him.


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