BackStory show

BackStory

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.

Podcasts:

 On the Clock: A (Brief) History of Time [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:00

It's fall back once again, and so to celebrate that extra hour, we're dedicating ours to an exploration of time itself. In this episode of BackStory, we look at the changing ways Americans have experienced the 24-hour day - from pre-industrial times right on up through today's era of time-shifted media. Along with their guests, Peter, Ed, and Brian examine the role of economic forces in shaping our relationship with the clock – like the powerful Gilded Age railroad officials who got together in 1883 and carved the continental U.S. into five time zones, introducing Americans to the idea of “standard time.” And they explore how people have experienced the rhythm of night and day — and why the advent of electric lighting changed that rhythm forever. And finally, they ask, is unlimited time always a good thing? A loving look at basketball’s iconic “shot-clock” offers answers. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, take a look at BackStory’s website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11329

 Splintered Parties: A History of Political Factions | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

The recent government shutdown highlighted the intense conflict between political parties today, but it also showed how critical conflict within them can be too. With Tea Party Republicans squaring off against some within their own party, the shutdown offered a reminder of the powerful role that party factions can play, and have often played in American history. Disagreements within parties have shifted the terms of debate, forced new agendas onto the political stage, even birthed new parties altogether. So in this episode of BackStory, Peter, Ed, and Brian peer inside our political parties and explore some of the influential factions that have left a mark on the American political landscape – from the Radical Republicans after the Civil War, to the Dixiecrats after World War II. Plus, they look back to the early Republic and a time before the formation of party organizations, when “faction” was the only game in town. For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on party factions in American history, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11300

 American Spirit: A History of the Supernatural [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:53

Halloween – despite its solemn Celtic roots – has become a safe way for Americans to transgress social norms and toy with the idea of ghosts in a family-friendly fashion. But for some, spirits from another plane have always been a very real part of life on this plane. So this episode of BackStory delves deeper into Americans' ongoing fascination with the supernatural, and explores why witches, spirits, and ghosts have haunted our history. Why were colonists so fearful of New England “witches”? How is it that progressive social reformers found a home in the Spiritualist movement of the 19th century? Why do new media technologies always conjure up talk of the undead? Brian, Ed, and Peter look for answers... For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, check out BackStory's website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/american-spirit/

 1492: Columbus in American Memory | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

Columbus Day is here again – bringing both celebrations and denunciations of the man whose name the holiday bears. And it's not just the holiday: Christopher Columbus' name has been worked into numerous cities across the United States, the names of ships and universities – even a space shuttle. And from an early age, schoolchildren learn about the voyages of the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María and the man who "discovered" the American continent. But many Americans have also questioned Columbus’ legacy - should we venerate a man who symbolizes European colonization, and began the decimation of native American populations that would continue for centuries? So on this episode of BackStory, Peter, Ed, and Brian explore the controversial Columbian legacy, diving into current debates, and looking back on how earlier generations have understood America's purported discoverer. When and why did Americans begin to revere the Italian explorer? Who has seized on his legacy, and who has contested it? For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring Columbus in American memory, check out BackStory's website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/1492-columbus/

 Rinse and Repeat: Cleanliness in America [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:54

"Cleanliness is next to godliness," we say, and Americans have long associated good hygiene with moral and spiritual purity. But we haven't always thought of what it is to be "clean" in quite the same ways. So in this episode of BackStory, we dig into the changing ways Americans have defined cleanliness. 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 on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on the history of American cleanliness, check out BackStory's website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/rinse-and-repeat/

 Green Acres: A History of Farming in America | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:52

With the fate of the mighty “Farm Bill” still unclear, we take a look at how farmers became such powerful players in American politics, and American life. In the 18th Century, Thomas Jefferson saw farmers as ideal citizens, whose agricultural lifestyle would uphold a virtuous republic. Just 2% of Americans live on farms today, however, yet the republic persists – however virtuous – and farmers still loom large in the national consciousness. In this episode, Peter, Brian, and Ed consider why the ideal of the self-sufficient, independent American farmer is still so powerful – even as the reality has changed dramatically – and who has invoked that ideal over time. From railroad companies to anti-imperialists, the image of the “yeoman farmer” has served many different ends over the years, and served to anchor one of the most successful government lobbies in history. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on farmers and farming in America, take a look at BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/green-acres-2/

 City Upon a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:00

In his recent address to the nation urging a military strike in Syria, President Obama appealed to "American exceptionalism” to make the case. American ideals were on the line in Syria, he argued, and the United States had a special responsibility to act. But that claim didn't sit well with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, as he made clear in a New York Times op-ed. All countries had distinctive qualities, Putin said, and encouraging Americans to see themselves as more special and unique was “extremely dangerous." So how did an argument about Syria and international diplomacy become one about American identity? And what is “American exceptionalism” anyway? From the Puritan vision of a “city upon a hill” to the 19th century concept of manifest destiny; Woodrow Wilson’s early 20th Century vision of the United States as a model for the world, and Ronald Reagan’s invocation of the Puritans in the 1980s, the notion of “exceptionalism” has run through American history. In this episode of BackStory, the Guys go behind the rhetoric of exceptionalism to unpack its history and meaning. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on American Exceptionalism, check out BackStory’s website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/city-upon-a-hill/

 Responsibility to Protect? A History of Humanitarian Intervention | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

With President Obama making the case for military action against Syria, BackStory takes on the history of humanitarian intervention. In 1898, President McKinley called for war with Spain to liberate Cuba from the “barbarities, bloodshed, starvation, and horrible miseries now existing there” – offering the kind of humanitarian rhetoric that has come up time and time again in American history, justifying numerous interventions around the world – from Haiti in 1915 to Libya in 2011. But where does the idea of humanitarian obligation originate? When and why has the US felt justified to intervene in other nations’ affairs? And how have these interventions shaped Americans’ attitudes toward the world — and the world’s attitudes toward us? These are the questions that Brian, Ed, and Peter explore in this episode, looking to history to help us make sense of America’s international role, and understand the deep roots of current debates over Syria. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on the subject of humanitarian intervention, check out BackStory's website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/responsibility-to-protect/

 Degrees of Freedom: Higher Education in America | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:00

In recent weeks, President Obama has proposed sweeping changes to the way government helps to finance students’ higher education, and an unprecedented system of collegiate rankings – all in the name of greater access and better value for the “consumer.” But others object to a consumerist mentality in the realm of higher education, and the application of “business” models to its institutions. So in this episode of BackStory, Peter, Ed, and Brian take on the history of higher ed – exploring earlier battles over the nature and purpose of the collegiate enterprise, and what they mean today. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources related to higher education, take a look at BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/degrees-of-freedom-2/

 Rules of Engagement: Ethics in Warfare [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:54

The news of a likely chemical weapons attack in Syria is a horrifying reminder that combatants don’t always “play by the rules” of war. But other kinds of military action have been the subject of concern in recent years. America’s use of targeted drone strikes across the Middle East, for example, have also raised 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 Native American ways of war. And with Syria at the forefront of international concern, they consider what made the use of chemical weapons taboo in the first place. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for a range of resources looking at the rules of war, check out BackStory’s website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/rules-of-engagement/

 Fierce Urgency of Now: The 1963 March on Washington | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:52

August 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous speech in front of the Lincoln memorial in Washington, D.C., when, at the close of the March on Washington, he spoke of his dream for racial harmony and economic equality in the United States. In this special episode of BackStory, Peter, Ed, and Brian place that march, and King's speech, in a broader, and deeper historical perspective. We look to the roots of the march in the radical labor politics of the 1940s, and even further back to the Emancipation Proclamation – the 100th anniversary year of which the march was timed to coincide with. With guests who helped organize or attended the march, they’ll consider the anxieties felt by many in Washington in the days leading up to it, and get personal perspectives on the events and impact of the day. And they’ll reflect on that impact in the long-run. Have we achieved the marchers’ aims for “jobs and freedom,” or has the economic part faded from view? What impact has Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech had on race relations in the United States? Is King’s plea for action in the “fierce urgency of now” as necessary today as it was 50 years ago? For more on the guests and stories in this episode, and for an array of resources related to the March on Washington, take a look at BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/the-fierce-urgency-of-now-2/

 All Hopped Up: Drugs in America [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:51

At the beginning of August, Illinois legalized medical marijuana, becoming the 20th state to do so. And less than a year ago, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. 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. So in this episode of BackStory, we’re examining those shifts, tracing the changing face of drugs – and drug users – in the United States. We start in the 19th century, when opium and cocaine were perfectly legal, and heroin was touted as a cure for morphine addiction, and trace the story of their criminalization – or in the case of pot, decriminalization. And we bring the story right on up through the 1970s, when Vietnam vets and suburban housewives triggered two very different drug panics. Along the way, Brian, Ed, and Peter explore the influence of the medical establishment, as well as the role of popular culture, in shaping American attitudes about drugs. For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, check out BackStory's website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/all-hopped-up/

 Starry-Eyed: A History of the Heavens | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:38

Americans have had an ongoing fascination with the skies above us, so in this episode of BackStory, we’re taking on space. How have people made sense of meteors, eclipses, and the stars? What has made us want to travel among them, to go to the moon, to Mars, or beyond? And how do things change for those of us here on earth when we do? Peter, Ed, and Brian will be looking up, and looking back. We've got the story of a New England day in 1780 when the sun did not rise, and a midwestern evening a century later when meat fell from the skies. That’s right, meat. Plus, Peter, Ed, and Brian learn about the powerful impact of first photograph of the earth taken from space, and talk with the astronaut who took it. And they hear from a few Americans who signed up for a trip to the moon in the 1960s…and are still waiting to get there. For more on the guests and stories featured on this episode, check out BackStory's website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/starry-eyed-heavens/

 Young Americans: A History of Childhood | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:00

Children always represent the future, but what role have they played in the past? What has shaped the way we view and treat children today? In this episode of BackStory, Peter, Brian, and Ed explore how children’s role in society has undergone profound changes over the past 300 years – from common laborers occupying the same working space as adults, to the apples of their parents’ eye, sentimentalized and protected in separate spaces. And they discover how, over the course of the long 19th century, childhood itself was redefined as an age of innocence, a life stage characterized by play, learning, and limited responsibility. Discussing everything from the disdain of foreign observers’ for the unruly children of early America, to the original “Toddlers and Tiaras” of the mid-19th Century, Ed, Peter, and Brian probe what each tells us about the nature of American childhood over time. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on children in American history, check out BackStory’s website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/young-americans/

 Beach Bodies: A History of the American Physique [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:03

It’s summer, the beach is calling, and so is the dreaded swimsuit! Americans are constantly bombarded by images of physical perfection, especially at this time of year. If it’s enough to make you want to run for cover, then BackStory is here to offer some comfort – exploring the ideal of the perfect American body, and how it hasn’t always been what it is today. From the initial emergence of skinniness as a desirable trait for middle-class men, to the 19th-century science of “nasology”—which held that the shape of a person’s nose was the key to understanding their character—hosts Brian Balogh, Peter Onuf, and Ed Ayers get to grips with a range of body history. Plus, they steel themselves for a look at the Cold War roots of that bane of schoolchildren everywhere—the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources related to body image and physique, check out BackStory’s website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/beach-bodies/

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