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Hometown Boring: an interview with HistoryHun

If you’re a fan of podcasts, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a new one on the scene. In fact, if you’re chronically online like myself, you might have already seen its trailer on TikTok and Instagram Reels. Hometown Boring, funded by BBC Sounds Audio Lab, is brought to you by Lippy alumna Anouska, A.K.A. HistoryHun. HistoryHun is a persona that developed from Anouska’s article about the history of vibrators published in our 2020 print edition, ‘Euphoria’. The series explores hidden histories from towns that are frequently stereotyped as boring. Anouska is on a mission to prove that these are simply misjudgements, and that no hometown is boring. Having inhaled the series in the week of its release, I had the pleasure of chatting to Anouska about the making of the series over Zoom. I started by asking Anouska how the show came about.

“There are kind of two sides to it: I wanted to do history in a fun, relatable, light-hearted pop culture kind of way. Then I came up with this idea of doing histories from sort of unexpected places, or places that have a poor reputation. I’m from Milton Keynes, so I want to take ownership for being from my hometown. We say it’s a bit shit. But by telling interesting things about it, I can make it something that’s not boring. Well, that’s not my opinion, because I don’t think history’s boring, but some people do. I wanted to try and prove that wrong as well.”

Born out of the idea to reclaim the so-called ‘boring hometown’, as well as to revitalise history podcasts for a younger audience, Hometown Boring consists of six episodes which each explore the history of a different town that is commonly perceived as boring. I was curious about how Anouska decided on her focuses.

“I went for places that either I know have a reputation of being boring – so Slough was one – or ones I looked up. I wanted to do a Scottish place and as I was looking it up I found – they don’t really do them anymore – but in the noughties, I found there were a lot of ‘shit town indexes’ or polls about, like, ‘where’s the worst place’ or whatever, which led to the Cumbernauld episode, in Scotland. I was either looking for places that had that [boring] reputation, or I wanted to talk about a specific type of history from a different perspective. So, with Chepstow, the history came first. When we started it with, like, 12 different towns or stories that I came up with, it was more a case of whittling them down rather than looking for new ones.

“Ever since I got interested in history, I wanted to talk about marginalised stories. History can be such a tool for people in power to build up their power. I like the idea that nations are all based on history. I wanted to do the opposite history of that. Leeds’s History department, for example, is great at profiling marginalised stories and I wanted to carry that on in my series, and kind of do it a bit on the sly. When you listen, you realise that those [alternative histories] are topics that I cover a lot, but I wanted to sneak them in so that people didn’t really realise [what I was trying to do] until they listened to all of it. I think that’s always in anything that I create, that sort of spotlight [on marginalised stories], just because I think it’s really important. All of the other Audio Lab projects do the same in different ways. So it’s nice that their scheme makes sure that keeps happening.”

The first episode visits Ormskirk in West Lancashire, exploring its local history of gingerbread men and links with the British Empire. When chatting with local historians, Anouska received varying responses to her attempts to link the town to Britain’s colonial history, and Anouska herself admits to feeling nervous about breaching the topic with the locals.

“A driving force for being a local historian is to be proud of your town and emphasise that being part of an empire isn’t something to be proud of. So I knew that was going to be sticky. And [Ormskirk] was also the first trip I did to any of the towns. By the end of summer, I was a lot more like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to ask these tricky questions.’ But that was the first place I went to.”

Despite some general discomfort from a few interviewees about their town’s potential links to Empire, overall, Anouska’s participants were markedly enthusiastic about their town. I was curious to know whether podcast listeners have responded with the same enthusiasm.

“In the TikTok comments on one of the [trailers] for the podcast, there are so many people who are like, ‘do mine!’. Or they’ll tag their friends who are from one of the towns [shown in the podcast trailer] and they say, ‘oh my God, she’s going to come here!’. People are very vocal about how they feel about their hometown. It’s so difficult because I think Gen Z podcast fans are often into some slightly different types of podcasts, like weekly, chatty, celeb ones. So it’s a bit of a difficult audience to crack into.

“Someone messaged me on Instagram and said, ‘I don’t really like podcasts, but I really liked yours. I hope you make some more.’ And that’s all I wanted from making it. If there’s not thousands and thousands and thousands of listeners, that’s okay. I just wanted a few people to be happy that I made something about their hometown and to relate to it, because they’re younger, rather than the traditional older history podcast audiences.”

Given the number of comments requesting different towns, I finally got around to asking the question I’ve been dying to know the answer to: will there be a second season?

“Oh, I think so. One day. I just started a new job, but I would love to make more Hometown Boring episodes in the future. I think the form takes a while to get down. So now that that exists, it would be great to be able to add that to other places. I don’t want this to be the end of it. I’d love to do it all around the country, then in a few years go to another country and do it there. I think that’s what’s quite nice: the universal love people have for their hometowns that are seen as boring or rubbish for very different reasons.”

Anouska was keen to emphasise her gratitude to Audio Lab for the opportunity to make Hometown Boring, urging any and all students with an interest in podcasting to keep an eye out for future Audio Lab programmes, and to consider pitching their own projects.

Words: Sophie Fennelly, she/her

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