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New podcast from Bowling Green sheds light on historical eclipses

A graphic shows the moon surrounded by splashes of color, with "Eclipsing History" overlaid on top of it.
BGSU students created the project to highlight the impact of eclipses throughout time.

Next week, thousands will gather across Ohio as a solar eclipse passes through. A couple moments of total darkness will fall on towns like Dayton, Cleveland, Toledo and Bowling Green – where a team of Bowling Green State University students and professors have created "Eclipsing History", a podcast exploring the history of the rare astronomical wonder.

Students spent months interviewing historians and compiling research in order to explain the cultural and spiritual meaning of eclipses throughout time. The five episode podcast also delves into how the last eclipse to come through Ohio, more than two centuries ago, changed the course of native history in the state.

History professor Amílcar Challú, who co-led the project, said in past centuries, eclipses weren’t an occasion for watch parties or celebrations. The moments of mid-day total darkness could be unexpected and terrifying.

“It's that moment of chaos: you don't know what to do, what's going on,” he said. “So that's why I think eclipses are so meaningful, so powerful.”

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

On their historical significance

“What makes history interesting is when it makes you ask questions about yourself and your environment and the moment you are living [in]. And eclipses are so poignant and so packed with cultural meanings, political meanings. I mean, we thought, ‘Okay, let's explore, over time, what was the experience of going through an eclipse?’ Because right now we associate that with, say, a watch party or chasing an eclipse or being very prepared about it. But we know that in the past it was very different. So we thought it was an interesting story to learn on its own and also to learn more about ourselves.”

On the power of eclipses

“Eclipses are like a sudden interruption of the order. And particularly think about the societies that depend on farming. What makes agriculture possible is the sun. And the fact that suddenly you don't have sun for three minutes and you don't know how long it's going to take and things like that, that has a monumental impact on your livelihood and your emotions. And it also predisposes people to think differently about their whole situation. So they are pregnant with meaning.”

“Rulers and ruling classes are also very much willing to use [an eclipse] as an opportunity to assert their legitimacy to power. They have been using that knowledge that an eclipse is coming also as a way of saying, ‘Hey, we are on top of things. We know what's going to happen’…And that would be the so-called Tecumseh Eclipse [in] 1806. The prophet, by announcing that there was going to be an eclipse and the eclipse happening, that gave a lot of credibility to his message.”

On the emotional impact

“The power of eclipses are quite different right now. We know when they are going to happen exactly. That knowledge is very much widespread. Still, they are quite an emotional moment. And the more that we do these celebrations, watch parties, it reinforces community relations. It builds community. It strengthens community. It gives you a sense that we are in this all together. And I think that [shows the] meaning of eclipses has not gone away.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.