This summer the Washington Post will release Constitutional, a new podcast about how the US Constitution has been shaped throughout history. It’s a follow-up to Presidential, a show that explores the character and legacy of each of the American presidents and has gained more than 9 million listens since it launched in January 2016.
“[Constitutional] has some of the same heartbeat as Presidential in that it’s an exploration of American history, but with an eye towards helping people better understand and contextualize the world around them today today,” says host and creator Lillian Cunningham. “The podcast is focused on exploring the great debates and influential figures who have shaped the constitution over time.”
These figures include people at all levels of power, from presidents and original framers such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to ordinary citizens who subsequently shaped the document, including suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The goal is to help listeners gain a richer understanding of the Constitution and a better grasp of the context surrounding current debates.
“[Presidential] was able to be both engaging and escapist at the same time. I think last year, in a presidential election that was so intense, listeners wanted to engage and wanted to be informed but also had a bit of news fatigue,” Cunningham says. “A podcast about American history provided this way for them to feel like they were better informing themselves and yet could kind of escape the news of the moment. I think Constitutional will do the same thing. It’s a way to better engage with the world around you, but the way you do it is by escaping into the past.”
The weekly episodes will be told like a story, telling the tale of big fights over citizenship, race, justice, love, liberty, taxes and freedom of expression. Guests will include biographers, constitutional law experts, historians, and modern figures who are involved in ongoing debates such as activists and citizen leaders. As Presidential drew to a close, Cunningham asked listeners what topic they wanted her to explore in the next podcast. A topic that kept resurfacing was the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
“There was so much appetite for the blend of history and politics and culture that the Presidential podcast had,” Cunningham says. “In my mind it fits into the broader mission of the Post in that there is an element of public service to it…it’s engaging and informative and adds context in the news environment. In that way, it fits with our public service streak.”
Constitutional is still being created and will be released sometime this summer, hopefully “earlier rather than later,” according to Cunningham. She says many families tuned in to Presidential, and she hopes the new offering will also appeal to all ages.
“Part of the premise of Presidential, as with Constitutional, is that I am not an expert on these topics, so it’s a genuine, authentic inquiry on my part to learn more about the subject,” says Cunningham. “That seemed to resonate with listeners, that they weren’t being talked down to or preached to, that they could just come along on the journey with me.”