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.
As Washington prepares for the next four years, BackStory looks back at some of the more dramatic presidential transitions from the past. On this show, the Guys explore several high-stakes presidential inaugurations and learn what each one tells us about the social and political forces at work at the time. From George Washington’s trembling voice while taking the Oath of Office to the general apathy surround Lincoln’s second inauguration, we’ll remember why inaugurations really matter. p3v647s9
Health Nuts: A History of Nutritional Advice [rebroadcast] by BackStory with the American History Guys
As 2016 comes to a close, we’re turning back the clock and looking back on the history behind some of the year’s biggest headlines. From the partisan gridlock over President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and the Broadway hit Hamilton, to the nomination of Hillary Clinton and the partisan battle cry over “Political Correctness,” we replay some of our favorite backstory moments from 2016.
The movie "Hidden Figures" comes to theaters this month. The film looks at the lives of a group of African American women who worked for NASA as "human computers" - the brains behind the calculations necessary for human space flight. In this Short Take, Brian talked to Margot Lee Shetterly (the author of the book the movie is based on) about the work the women did on projects Mercury and Apollo and the impact they had on the 20th century.
On Dec. 24th, Jewish communities across the country begin celebrating Hanukkah. The annual holiday celebrates the victory of the Jews over the Greeks, and marks the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BC. Roughly 2% of the U.S. population is Jewish, but the influence of American Jews far outweighs their relatively small numbers. In this episode of BackStory, the Guys (along with guest host Joanne Freeman of Yale University) explore the history of Judaism in America.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? The holiday season is notorious for bringing out the beast in shoppers. On this episode of BackStory, the Guys plunge into the history of shopping in America—the glitz and glamour, the overflowing shelves, and the cheesy Muzak. They’ll consider the role that consumption played in the revolutionary politics of the colonies, look at the curious rash of shoplifting among well-heeled women in the country’s first department stores, and reveal the connection between the Wizard of Oz and window shopping.
From the persecution of Quakers in colonial Massachusetts, to 21st century battles over nativity scenes in public squares, the wall separating church and state is hardly set in stone. On this episode of BackStory, the History Guys explore the often blurry line between church and state in America - from Congress’ attempts to block the first Mormon Senator in the early 1900’s, to the federal government’s imprisonment of religious pacifists who refused to fight in the first world war.
On Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers refused to issue a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The water protectors, which includes members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other tribes (as well as climate activists), celebrated the decision. But the celebration was brief as the opposition realized that this might be just another battle won in an ongoing war that has spanned centuries. In this Short Take, Brian talks to Robert T. Anderson, a Professor of Law and Director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington, about the history of colonization and treaties between the government and indigenous people. (Image credit: Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.)
Nieman-Marcus’ 2016 Christmas Book, which was first published nearly a century ago as a 16-page leaflet, is 300 pages long. According to Advertising Age, catalogs remain an effective way to reach consumers all year round. This episode of BackStory tackles the tangled history of American advertising - from the nation’s first billboards to catchy radio and TV jingles. When did the industry come into being and how did advertising executives sell Americans on the idea of lunar exploration? We’ll answer these questions and more.
President-elect Donald Trump said the election was rigged because millions of non-citizens voted (although there is no evidence to support the claim), 2016 Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein has requested audits in multiple swing states with Wisconsin being the first to begin a recount, and Hillary Clinton's campaign is willing to go along with a recount despite that Clinton allies are, according to Politico, "irritated with Jill Stein." Even with all of the talk of tampering, the actual chances of voter fraud are very slim now. The past, however, is a different story. In this BackStory short take, the Guys take a look at the history of rigged elections. (Image credit: Voting Machine Bumpersticker by GalacticWanderlust via Flickr)
If a Pilgrim were to attend a contemporary Thanksgiving celebration, he or she would probably be stunned by our “traditional” foods. In this episode of BackStory, The Guys discuss Puritan foods with historian James McWilliams, and religion scholar Anne Blue Wills reveals the surprising, 19th century origins of our national holiday. We’ll also hear from legendary NFL quarterback Roger Staubach about what it was like to spend every turkey day on the football field.
In his recent book “Utopia for Realists,” Rutger Bregman advocates a 15-hour workweek, universal basic income, and open borders. Sounds like paradise to us! From the Oneida Community’s dream of open, or “complex marriage” to the rise and spectacular fall of Pullman’s model company town, the Guys look at why the idea of “utopianism” has such strong appeal to Americans.
With Donald Trump vowing to keep undocumented Mexicans out of the U.S. with a wall and Hillary Clinton promising the same immigrants a path to citizenship, immigration was a big issue in the 2016 presidential election. But what about the flip side – emigration? In this episode of BackStory, we ask who’s chosen to leave the U.S. and what parts of their American identities they took with them - from the free blacks who sailed to Liberia in search of true freedom to the Depression-era refugees who moved to the Soviet Union.
Early this morning, Donald J. Trump was declared president-elect and will become the 45th President of the United States. The victory came as a surprise to many and it feels like a rupture in American history. Just what should we make of this and how can we draw lessons from the past? In this BackStory short take, Brian and Ed look to add perspective to this historic event. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)
If the record TV viewership of the Clinton-Trump presidential debates is any guide, voter turnout for the November election could reach levels not seen since the Gilded Age. It’s easy to be nostalgic for the consistently high voter turnout in the late 19th century, until you consider all the people who weren’t eligible to vote back then. In this episode of BackStory, the History Guys look at voting trends - from the changing mechanisms of voting to how the electoral college system maintained racial hierarchies in the South.