Matthew Gabriele over at Modern Medieval has produced a set of podcasts on medieval texts available at iTunes. Each of the podcasts is short, mostly between 3-4 minutes long, and act as a brief introduction to the texts.
For the scholar who already knows a bit about these texts, they aren't much help. For example, there wasn't a single thing about Beowulf that I didn't know pretty much off the top of my head. On the other hand, what I knew about Baha ad'Din could have been printed in 76 point font on a postage stamp, so I found the podcast on Baha ad'Din's The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin to be lacking ... I found myself wanting much more.
Gabriele isn't aiming at guys like me, though -- these are aimed at students in his classes, and in that way, the podcasts are extremely useful. Students rarely read the introductory material in the books we assign, but I suspect listening to a 4-minute podcast with a few droll comments is the kind of assignment a student might just do.
Aside from the gee-whiz element and easy convenience that might just coax students to learn this introductory material before class, I suspect the podcasts have another important element that could encourage participation in class: The names of all these figures are pronounced. Very often, I think, students are intimidated to participate in class because of uncertainty about the way the names of the characters are pronounced. How do you say Sulpicius Severus? Eusebius? Sergius? Fulcher? Ibn al'Qalanisi? His podcast on Beowulf even has an anecdote about overhearing a conversation in which a man doesn't know how to pronounce Beowulf's name even after having seen the Zemeckis film the night before! I wonder if Prof. Gabriele is finding that his students are speaking with greater confidence about these texts; perhaps we'll get a full report at the end of the semester.
What about the non-scholar, non-student? For you, these podcasts might be ideal little nuggets. We're all busy people, and can't read everything. Just a few minutes listening to a podcast on a particular medieval text might be enough to tell you whether you want to read that text yourself, or whether you'd rather skip it. After all, as Chaucer reminds us, "The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne," so you've got to use your time in the best way; Gabriele's podcasts help you do just that.
So, in short, Gabriele's podcasts: Nothing new for scholars, essential introductions for students, and bite-sized tastes for the rest of us. On Tuesday in Brit Lit I, when we start on Beowulf, I plan to direct them to his Beowulf podcast.
In closing, let me also direct you to another of Chaucer's comments, that might just as well have been applied to Prof. Gabriele.