UMass Amherst Students Explore the ‘End of the World’ in New Massachusetts-Focused Podcast

Honors students look at Massachusetts’ past, present and future in podcast episodes examining Native history, nuclear war, the 2016 election and global climate change
Students Deepika Singh, Kekely Dansouh and Kathrine Esten in a recording booth
Students Deepika Singh, Kekely Dansouh and Kathrine Esten (l.-r.)

AMHERST, Mass. – While most college courses involve tests or papers, the final exam for students in a course on “The Politics of the End of the World” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Commonwealth Honors College involved researching, recording and releasing a podcast that explored major changes in Massachusetts history. The students’ podcasts have been published online and are now available for download and steaming via Spotify, Stitcher and at

“Today, politics in the United States and around the globe deals with big questions about climate change, artificial intelligence and other massive upheavals,” said Paul Musgrave, assistant professor of political science, who led the course. “It seemed like a good time for students to learn about how earlier generations have dealt with similar crises in the past. By having students work together to create a podcast, they also learned how to share what they’d learned with the wider world. It was inspiring to see students posing their own questions, doing their own research, and creating something new and excellent for the world.”

Students in the class participated in every part of the podcast-making process, from learning the proper methods for recording and familiarizing themselves with editing software to doing original research and conducting interviews. The podcast consists of four 20- to 25-minute episodes, each episode exploring a different part of Massachusetts history:

  • “The Ghosts of Ponkapoag” explores how the discovery of a set of bones in Canton in 1969 uncovered a forgotten story of a group of Christianized Natives – the “Praying Indians” – and their end amongst violent conflict in the 17th century. The episode features an original soundtrack composed by the students.
  • “The Millerites and Hillary Clinton” looks at how devoted followers react to the ends of their world. It highlights how progressives’ reaction to the 2016 election mirrored the reaction of devoted followers of the apocalyptic 1840s preacher William Miller, and features interviews with David F. Holland, John A. Bartlett Professor of New England Church History at Harvard Divinity School, and U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark.
  • “Fire and Ice: Massachusetts in the Cold War” recounts Massachusetts’ experience with the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war, featuring an audio tour of a Cold War nuclear bunker.
  • “There’s Something in the Water” describes how the town of Newburyport is reacting to global warming, and how the town is approaching the end of its world thanks to rising waters. The episode features an interview with Barry Connell, Newburyport’s city council president.

Students in the class reported that the project helped them learn about politics and Massachusetts history while also developing skills.

“Creating the podcast allowed our group members to bring their talents to light in a collaborative setting,” student Nate Reynolds, of Amherst, said. “We are all proud of the effort we put into the podcast and are excited that is now available to the public.”

“I am from southeastern Massachusetts, and while I was able to focus my podcast in that area, I also learned about historical events that spanned the state,” said Norfolk’s Abby McDonough, who worked on the episode “The Ghosts of Ponkapoag.”

“I really loved learning about this topic because it was so close to my hometown, but also because I had never heard of their entire society,” she said. “There are still some active Praying Indian groups in the area, and the Natick Historical Society has a few exhibits about the Christianization of Native Americans that occurred in the area in the 18th century. So, not only was I able to learn all about making a podcast, but I was also able to learn more about the tragically fascinating history of a society that existed so close to my hometown.”

“Spending an entire semester talking about the end of the world seems dark, and it is. Yet this class was the one I looked forward to each week,” student Kathrine Esten of Somerset, said. “Few of the topics were new to me – nuclear war, disease, climate change – but looking at the topics through a political lens pushed me to question the way that these subjects get discussed. The research I did on indigenous history in Massachusetts with the Praying Indians exposed the gaps I had concerning the history of my own state. As a result of this project and the class, I understand the existence of my world as a citizen of Massachusetts is only possible because of the end of another world.”