Summary: BackStory is a weekly public podcast hosted by U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly and Joanne Freeman. We're based in Charlottesville, Va. at Virginia Humanities. There’s the history you had to learn, and the history you want to learn - that’s where BackStory comes in. Each week BackStory takes a topic that people are talking about and explores it through the lens of American history. Through stories, interviews, and conversations with our listeners, BackStory makes history engaging and fun.
Six of this year’s nine nominees for Best Picture at the Oscars are films based in history. That may seem like a lot, but for the past 40 years, the majority of Best Picture winners have had an historical bent. On this episode we ask what makes history such a popular subject for American filmmakers. From the early days of film — when people thought movies would replace textbooks in the classroom — to the Cold War — when the government and Hollywood thought they could control behavior through film — the History Guys look at the impact of history on celluloid culture, and at how movies have made and remade history. They also debate the merits of current Oscar nominees (Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Django Unchained) and consider the ways those movies reflect contemporary thinking about history. For more information on the guests featured in this episode and further reading on the topic, visit http://backstoryradio.org/real-to-reel-history-at-the-movies/ [FULL EPISODE]
Cleanliness is next to godliness, we say, and Americans have long associated good hygiene with moral and spiritual purity. On this episode, we dig into the changing ways we've defined what it is to be clean. We'll meet an 18th-century Pennsylvania woman who didn't immerse herself in water for 28 years, and ask how Americans like her kept clean without getting wet. We'll also hear about the campaign to clean up New York City in the mid-19th century, and question the extent to which germ theory really revolutionized sanitary practices. And we'll consider a dark chapter in the history of cleanliness, when social reformers in the early 20th-century set out to "sanitize" America's racial profile. For more information on the guests featured in this episode and further reading on the topic, visit http://backstoryradio.org/rinse-and-repeat-cleanliness-in-america/ Listen to individual episode segments here: soundcloud.com/backstory/sets/rinse-and-repeat-cleanliness [FULL EPISODE]
In this episode, the History Guys explore three centuries of pre-marital intimacy. Did economic considerations used to play a greater role in coupling? In what ways have dating practices challenged class & racial boundaries? Has the idea of “romance” itself morphed over time? Visit our website for additional reading, listener comments, and background on the featured guests: www.backstoryradio.org/love-me-did-a-history-of-courtship-rebroadcast Listen to individual episode segments here: soundcloud.com/backstory/sets/love-me-did-a-history-of [FULL EPISODE]
America’s use of targeted drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere raise questions about what is—and is not—an appropriate means of waging war. In this episode, the American History Guys look at how previous generations have answered these sorts of questions. They explore the shockingly violent battle tactics of Europeans in comparison to original Indian ways of war. And, at a time when many fear that chemical weapons may be deployed in Syria, the History Guys consider what made the use of chemical weapons taboo in the first place. Visit our site for more in-depth resources about today's topic and background on the people we interviewed: backstoryradio.org/rules-of-engagement-ethics-in-warfare/ Listen to individual episode segments here: soundcloud.com/backstory/sets/rules-of-engagement-ethics-in [FULL EPISODE]
In the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, Americans of all political stripes are wrestling with one big question: who should, and shouldn’t, have access to guns? So in this hour of BackStory, that’s the question we’ll be pushing back through the centuries. On this episode, the History Guys look at the changing ways Americans have regulated gun ownership, and at what those weapons have meant to different segments of society. They consider the importance of the militia to the drafting of the Second Amendment, and explore the central role of the state in arming citizens. They also pay a visit to a 21st century version of the armories of the past: a gun show. Visit our website for additional reading, listener comments, and background on the featured guests: backstoryradio.org/straight-shot-guns-in-america-rebroadcast/ Listen to individual episode segments here: soundcloud.com/backstory/sets/straight-shot-guns-in-america [FULL EPISODE]
[Full Episode] As the rest of Washington looks forward to the next four years, BackStory is looking back — at the last 224 years of presidential transitions. On today’s show, the History Guys focus in on several of the most high-stakes presidential inaugurations, and ask what these moments tell us about the social and political forces at work around them. Visit our website for additional reading, listener comments, and background on the featured guests: backstoryradio.org/four-more-years Listen to individual episode segments here: https://soundcloud.com/backstory/sets/four-more-years-individual
As the rest of Washington looks forward to the next four years, BackStory is looking back — at the last 224 years of presidential transitions. On today’s show, the History Guys focus in on several of the most high-stakes presidential inaugurations, and ask what these moments tell us about the social and political forces at [...]
[FULL EPISODE] In December, recreational marijuana use became legal in Washington and Colorado. But back in the early 20th century, both states were among the first to ban the drug. If that seems like a radical change, well – it’s hardly the first time a drug has undergone a major image overhaul in America. This week, we trace the changing face of drugs – and drug users – in the U.S. Visit our website for additional reading, listener comments, and background on the featured guests: backstoryradio.org/all-hopped-up-drugs-in-america-2/ Listen to individual episode segments here: soundcloud.com/backstory/sets/all-hopped-up-drugs-in-america
In December, recreational marijuana use became legal in Washington and Colorado. But back in the early 20th century, both states were among the first to ban the drug. If that seems like a radical change, well – it’s hardly the first time a drug has undergone a major image overhaul in America. This week, we trace the [...]
We look at the narratives surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation and try to unpack its legacy. How can we best understand emancipation - as a moral imperative, a military necessity, a political strategy, or all of the above?
In May of 2012, we re-launched BackStory as a weekly program. In this special year-end episode, we listen back to some of our favorite moments from the show since then. Do you have a favorite BackStory segment that wasn’t included in this show? Let us know below, and we’ll provide links so that others can [...]
The History Guys trace the evolution of Christmas in America from a public festival of rowdy excess to a child-centered celebration of church and family.
[FULL EPISODE] In this episode, the History Guys look at past predictions of the end of the world. From a failed 1840s prophecy that lead people to jump from trees, to the doomsday devices of the 1960s - we've got all the historical knowledge you'll need to survive the end of time. For more on the history of apocalyptic thinking in America, visit our website: backstoryradio.org/apocalypse-now-then-a-history-of-end-times-2/ Listen to individual episode segments here: soundcloud.com/backstory/sets/apocalypse-now-and-then-a
12/21/12 marks the end of the "Mayan Long Count" calendar, and has triggered a round of prophesies about the end of the world. And so we figured we'd take the opportunity to look back on all the good times we've had... worrying about end-times.
For many Americans, the post office has become largely a conduit for bills and junk mail. But for more than 200 years, it played a central role in American life. In this episode, we explore the rise—and fall—of the USPS.