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.
In June, we learned that the NSA has been collecting data on millions of American’s phone calls, and tapping into data gathered by tech companies like Google and Yahoo. The revelations set off another round of debate over the scope of personal privacy in a democratic republic like ours, and the means by which the government “keeps tabs” on citizens. So in this episode, the American History Guys explore the changing ways we’ve collected information on each other – and when it crosses from something necessary, into something invasive. From early attempts to determine people's credit rating to the accumulation of data about Americans' "racial purity," the Guys and their guests look at how, and why, Americans have kept tabs on each other, and consider how earlier generations balanced the need-to-know with expectations of privacy. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on data collection and surveillance, check out BackStory’s website at: backstoryradio.org/shows/keeping-tabs/
100 years ago this week, the thermometer in Death Valley, California, hit the highest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the world: 134°F. This year, it’s edging closer to that mark than at any time since. And with superstorms, massive wildfires, and deadly tornadoes in recent months, people are asking is this the new normal? But how did people respond to extreme weather in the past? In this week's episode, the American History Guys explore “historic” weather in historic time: how we’ve tried to predict it, control it, make sense of it. And what it says about us. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of weather-related resources, check out our website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/weathering-the-storm-rebroadcast/
America is a pet-owning nation. Over 60% of households, in fact, possess some sort of furry or feathered friend, and we spend over $50 billion a year looking after them. But domestic animals have long been woven into the fabric of American life, even if we weren't always treating them like members of the family. So in this episode, the American History Guys take a deep-dive into the history of human-animal interaction, and try to figure out how our lives have been shaped by the animals whose lives we control. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of domestic animals-related resources, check out our website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/pet-friendly-2/
150 years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg – the bloodiest of the Civil War – was about to be fought. Thousands would lose their lives in that battle, northerners and southerners, joining the hundreds of thousands who had already laid down their lives in the course of the war. But why were so many prepared to take up arms in the first place? When most southerners were not slaveholders, and most northerners were not abolitionists, how had a war infused with the question of slavery even begun? In this second part of our special series on the Civil War, the American History Guys and their guests examine the inner conflicts and mixed motivations of most Americans, as they contemplated war against each other. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of Civil War-related resources, check out our website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/civil-war-150th-why-they-fought-rebroadcast/
Part I of BackStory's special series on the Civil War. In this episode, the American History Guys focus on the dramatic six months between Abraham Lincoln’s election and the outbreak of war, and consider why, for most Americans at the time, disunion seemed anything but inevitable. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of Civil War-related resources, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/civil-war-150-part-1-rebroadcast/
The Mississippi River is central to the American landscape and imagination. And for centuries, it has served as a battlefield in which our most complicated social and economic struggles have played out. So in this episode, the American History Guys set out to explore the Mississippi’s mighty imprint on our national life. From technological tales and political intrigues, to the personal stories of those caught up in the river’s thrall, they discover the crucial role the river has played in the American story – how access to its waters has both united and divided the country, and how it has always proved resistant to our full control. For guest information, resources, and more, see this episode on our website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/that-lawless-stream/
In 1931, Herbert Hoover called the idea of owning one’s own home “a sentiment deep in the heart of our race and of American life.” But the idea and the reality haven’t always been in sync. For many Americans, putting a roof over their heads has involved struggle and sacrifice – and often to make rent rather than mortgage payments. So in this episode of BackStory, the American History Guys explore the little house at the heart of the American Dream. If home ownership is such a central part of American identity, why have so many generations of Americans struggled to achieve it? Was there ever a “Golden Age” of home ownership, anyway? For guest information, resources, and more, check out our website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/home-bittersweet-home-3/
The American Psychiatric Association just released the 5th version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) – a manual that says as much about how we view the mind today, as it does about particular mental conditions. Indeed, latest estimates suggest that more than 50% of Americans will suffer from a "mental disorder" at some point in their lifetime, making the once "abnormal" - well, normal. So in this episode of BackStory, the American History Guys look back over the history of mental illness in America - exploring how the diagnostic line between mental health and "madness" has shifted over time, and how we’ve treated those on both sides of it. We’ll hear how the desire of slaves to escape bondage was once interpreted as a psychological disorder, how a woman’s sleepwalking landed her in the state asylum, and how perspectives on depression altered in the 1970s. Plus, the Guys walk us through a mid-20th century quiz that promised to identify a new kind of mental “disorder” - our susceptibility to fascism. For guest information, resources, and more, check out our website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/states-of-mind/
This is a country awash in monuments. They adorn traffic circles, street corners and, of course, the National Mall. In this special Memorial Day episode of BackStory, the American History Guys explore the idea of national remembrance. What or whom have Americans chosen to memorialize? And what do these choices say about us? Check out our website for more: http://backstoryradio.org/
Can genes be patented? Are downloaders inhibiting musical creativity – or enhancing it? This week’s BackStory explores how Americans have viewed “intellectual property" over time. What exactly is intellectual property? And what are protections for these kinds of rights supposed to achieve? The American History Guys look to the past for answers. Check out more from this episode at our website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=8484
To mark the one year anniversary of the rebirth of BackStory as a weekly program, the History Guys set out to explore the earliest stages of life in America. They begin with a few of the basic assumptions we have about birth in America today, and spend the hour exploring how those assumptions came into being. How is it that hospital doctors moved in on what had been midwife’s exclusive territory? Why did Puritans think their newborns were damned from the outset? When did courts start ruling that fetuses had legal rights? Why have generations of Americans resisted the notion of birthright citizenship? For more information on the guests featured in this episode, as well as further reading and resources related to the topic, visit: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=8409
The declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq was famously premature. But have America's other wars had neat or definitive endings? In this episode, BackStory looks at prominent conflicts of the last three centuries, and explores what it takes to end a war -- both in legal terms, and in the popular imagination. For more information on the guests featured in this episode, as well as further reading and resources related to the topic, visit: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=8310
With recent events in Boston highlighting the horrors of domestic terrorism, we're re-broadcasting this episode of BackStory, which originally aired last fall. On September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street as workers took their lunch break. The explosion killed 38 people and injured hundreds. The targets? What we'd call today "the one percent" -- the powerful financiers who ran J.P. Morgan & Co. The Wall Street attack remained the deadliest terrorist bombing in the U.S. until Oklahoma City in 1995. But at the time, people saw it as just one more bombing in a long string of anarchist attacks -- what historian Beverly Gage calls America's "First Age of Terror." In this hour of BackStory, the History Guys talk with Gage about the origins of domestic terrorism in the United States, and explore the question of what kinds of people and movements have been identified as "terrorists." Along the way, they trace the relationship between terror and the state, consider lynching as a form of terrorism, and take a look at an unfinished Jack London novel, in which the author grapples with that ultimate question: is terrorism ever justified?
With immigration reform in the headlines this week, BackStory takes a look at the flip side of the Ellis Island story: emigration. This week, we bring you the stories of Americans who have left the country in search of a better life elsewhere. From the loyalists who fled revolutionary America, to the free blacks who sailed to Liberia in search of liberty (and a spot at the top of the racial hierarchy), we ask which groups have chosen to leave America, and what ideas and values they've taken with them. We meet a stowaway teenager who found the American Dream in the black artistic communities of 1930s Europe. And finally, a group of cotton farmers who moved to Uzbekistan in search of jobs -- and the chance to build a communist state. For more information on the guests featured in this episode, as well as further reading and fun resources related to the topic, visit: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=8177
On this episode, the History Guys look at the long and turbulent history of taxation in America. How have we decided what to tax? From the Stamp Act of 1765 to the current-day Tea Party Movement, how have our attitudes about taxation changed? Do we think differently about taxes in times of war and national crisis? What was the tariff, anyway, and why did it matter? For more information on the guests featured in this episode, as well as further reading and fun resources related to the topic, visit: http://backstoryradio.org/paying-up-a-hi…on-rebroadcast/