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:

 Sweet Talk: A History of Sugar | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:39

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and that means candy, chocolate, cakes – all the sweet stuff for your sweetheart! It’s just one of the ways sugar has seeped into our personal lives, but it hasn’t stopped there. From the triangle trade to the rise of high-fructose corn syrup, sweetness in America has been a political question too. So why has sugar been so intimately linked to power over the centuries? And how has our national sweet tooth shaped our political and economic priorities? This episode of BackStory finds out, exploring how sugar has shaped, if rarely sweetened, American history. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring sugar in American history, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11968

 Outed: Sexual Identity in America | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

As the Winter Olympics in Sochi approach, countries around the world have expressed concerns over Russian legislation outlawing LGBTQ “propaganda.” The Obama administration called the law offensive, and the president pointedly chose several openly gay athletes for the US Olympic delegation. But recent Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage have highlighted our own internal debate on sexuality and its expression in the public sphere. So in this episode, we explore the often hidden stories of sexuality in American history. We ask how and why Americans have distinguished between “normal” and “deviant” sexual behavior, and look at changes in those distinctions through the centuries. How have those categories been policed — and challenged? When and why did Americans begin to think of homosexuality and heterosexuality as distinct identities? And how do historians reconstruct histories that were often purposely kept secret? From colonial courts to 19th Century “intimate friendships,” to a federal government crackdown on gay and lesbian life in the mid-20th Century, we explore the many ways that Americans have understood – and broken – the sexual status quo. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, check out BackStory's website at: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11965

 Young Americans: A History of Childhood [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

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, 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 exploring the history of childhood in the United States, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11911

 Border Crossings: A History of US-Mexico Relations | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

Twenty years ago, NAFTA — the North American Free Trade Agreement — removed barriers to trade between the United States and Mexico, marking a more cooperative phase in what has often been a contentious relationship over the centuries. In this episode, Peter, Ed, and Brian delve into the complexities of that relationship and offer a broader take on American history that looks beyond our national boundaries. In terms of national identity, territory, and citizenship, the United States has often defined itself in opposition to its southern neighbor. But the episode also uncovers moments of convergence too: like the twin crises in 1861 – Confederate secession in the US and European invasion in Mexico – which sparked talk of American “sister republics,” united in opposition to despotism. So how have these two countries shaped each other – whether in conflict and cooperation? What kinds of borders – political, cultural, or economic — have been built and dismantled and rebuilt over the years? And where does the US-Mexico relationship stand today? For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring the history of the US-Mexican relationship, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11854

 The Beasts Within: Domesticated Animals in America [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:05

From household pets to beasts of burden, domesticated animals are a major part of American life – and we spend billions of dollars each year looking after them. But what drives our desire to bring animals under our control in the first place? And how has that desire manifested itself over time? We 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. From the contributions made by pigs in the colonization of America itself, to the lethal justice carried out on circus elephants centuries later, the Guys and their guests explore what our relationships with animals have meant and continue to mean, and whether they serve as some sort of practice field for our relationships with each other. For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, and for an array of resources related to domestic animals in America, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11767

 Heaven On Earth: A History of American Utopias | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:03

The New Year is here and many Americans will be resolving to make this one better than the last. But some Americans have sought to make changes to their lives and communities on a much larger scale. So in this episode of BackStory, we explore their efforts to create American utopias: from the search for transcendence amid rural beauty, or attempts to build perfectly ordered industrial towns, Ed, Brian, and Peter discover the utopian yearnings in the American past, and the ways they still resonate today. What allows some utopian communities to endure for decades, while others collapse within months? How have mainstream Americans viewed their utopian-minded brethren? And is America itself a utopian project? For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on American utopianism, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11617

 Cheers and Jeers: Alcohol in America [2013] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

New Year’s Eve is just round the corner – and many Americans will be marking the midnight hour with a drink (or three). And it’s not just New Year's. Alcohol has been part of American celebrations – and the American experience – since the country’s inception. Founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin loved the hard stuff so much he compiled "The Drinker's Dictionary," featuring 228 synonyms for the word "drunk"! So in this episode, we dive into alcohol in the American past, and emerge without a hangover… We'll explore when and why the consumption and production of alcohol has ebbed and flowed over American history, consider why rum became the drink of choice among revolutionary troops, explore why American Indians were rejecting alcohol two centuries before the rest of the country, and follow the long march toward Prohibition. For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on the history of alcohol in America, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11576.

 Naughty and Nice: A History of the Holidays [2013] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

Christmas may be the big kahuna of American holy days, but it wasn’t always so. It used to be a time of drunken rowdiness, when the poor would demand food and money from the rich. Little surprise, then, that the Puritans banned Christmas altogether. It wasn’t until the 1820s that the holiday was re-invented as the peaceful, family-oriented, consumeristic ritual we celebrate today. So in this episode, Brian, Peter, and Ed explore the fascinating history of the “holiday season” in America. Has Christmas grown more or less religious? How has the holiday evolved and changed here? To what extent was Hanukkah a reaction to Christmas? And how have American Jews shaped and reshaped their own wintertime rituals? For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on the history of the holidays in America, check out BackStory’s website at: backstoryradio.org/?p=11574

 Wall of Separation: Church & State in America | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:57:48

The holidays are upon us – and that means debates about holiday displays. Are Christian Nativity scenes, Jewish Menorahs, or even atheistic symbols appropriate for display at public buildings? And what about other expressions of religion in the public sphere – like prayers during local government proceedings? The Supreme Court will soon be deciding that issue. So BackStory is following the Court into the thicket, taking up the tricky issue of government in our religion – and religion in government. Where have Americans drawn the line between the two, and have they ever erected a “wall of separation”? In this episode, the American History Guys explore the relationship of church and state across American history. We'll consider the meaning of "freedom of religion" and find out why Baptists in 1802 actually favored Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation.” We'll learn why the dramatic wartime deaths of three ministers – each of different faiths – shaped public ideas about American religion during the 1940s and 50s. And we'll explore how legal decisions about the relationship of church and state have shaped how Americans understand faith and what it means to have “a religion.” For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on the separation of church and state in the United States, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11578

 Naughty & Nice: A History of the Holidays [2013] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

Christmas may be the big kahuna of American holy days, but it wasn’t always so. It used to be a time of drunken rowdiness, when the poor would demand food and money from the rich. Little surprise, then, that the Puritans banned Christmas altogether. It wasn’t until the 1820s that the holiday was re-invented as the peaceful, family-oriented, consumeristic ritual we celebrate today. So in this episode, Brian, Peter, and Ed explore the fascinating history of the “holiday season” in America. Has Christmas grown more or less religious? How has the holiday evolved and changed here? To what extent was Hanukkah a reaction to Christmas? And how have American Jews shaped and reshaped their own wintertime rituals? For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on the history of the holidays in America, check out BackStory’s website at: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11574

 Shocked and Appalled: A History of Scandal | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:02

15 years ago this month, then-President Bill Clinton was impeached by the US House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice. The root of the trouble was, of course, the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Though Clinton was later acquitted by the Senate, the trial sparked questions about the blurry line between private and public misconduct. But Americans have been puzzling over just where to draw that line for centuries. So in this episode of BackStory, Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers, and Brian Balogh look back over other scandals in American history, exploring the public response and the legacies they’ve left behind. Talking with their guests, the guys rediscover some of the scandals that captured earlier generations’ imaginations - like a lurid tale of adultery and infanticide at a 1790s Virginia plantation called (no joke) “Bizarre.” Or the 19th century Beecher-Tilton trial, in which a celebrity preacher was accused of seducing his best friend’s wife. And in more recent years, the serious congressman whose affair with an exotic dancer helped end his career, and helped change Washington too. Along the way, they consider what has constituted a scandal in American history and how public attitudes toward them have evolved. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11567

 Three Squares: Mealtime in America [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:00

Three square meals a day. Three to five servings of fruits and vegetables, two to three servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese. Avoid fats and sugar. Red meat in moderation... We’re used to hearing these kinds of instructions. But eating isn’t simply about the perfect nutritional balance. It has profound social implications too, especially when we sit down with others to share a meal. And so in this episode, the Guys recover from their Thanksgiving feasts by looking back over the history of mealtime in America. From Victorian table manners to the school lunch program, how have our ideas about what, when, and how we eat our meals evolved? For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on the history of mealtime in America, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11517

 Grassy Knolls: Conspiracy Thinking in American History | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:00

On November 22nd, 1963, 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas – a tragedy that inspired conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Why have alternative assassination theories proven so resilient over the years? And why do other conspiracy theories persist in public memory? This episode takes a look at conspiracy thinking throughout American history, and finds a long tradition stretching all the way back to the Founding. From a political party formed to combat the secretive power of Freemasons, to whispers of a “slave power” conspiracy in the 19th Century, to an outcry over a criminal network fostering “white slavery” in the early 20th Century, and, of course, an abundance of Communist conspiracies during the Cold War – the Guys and their guests discover that while conspiracy theorists might sometimes be on the fringes of American society, conspiracy thinking has always been mainstream. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on conspiracy thinking in American history, check out BackStory’s website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/grassy-knolls-2/

 Talk of the Nation: Oratory in America | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:00

November 19th, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It’s one of the most iconic speeches in American history, but in 1863, it got decidedly mixed reviews – one newspaper even called it “silly, flat and dishwatery.” So how did it become one of the most famous speeches in the United States? This episode of BackStory explores the evolution of an icon, and asks, more generally, what kinds of speeches – and speakers – endure in American history. From the fiery sermons of traveling preachers in the 18th century to the teleprompted prime-time addresses of presidents today, we’ll look at how audiences’ expectations of orators have shifted, and ask why some speeches loom so much larger — or smaller — in our memory than they did in their own times. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on oratory in the United States, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11413

 Coming Home: A History of War Veterans [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:52:00

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created thousands of new combat veterans - but what is it like for those soldiers as they return home? How were veterans of America’s earlier wars treated, and what kinds of challenges did they face? Are veterans only as popular as the wars they’ve fought in? In honor of Veterans Day, this episode of BackStory examines the veterans' experience across American history. We explore how the psychological impact of war was understood before “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” emerged as a diagnosis, and probe the symbolic place of Confederate veterans after the Civil War – including their relevance for veterans of the United States military today. Plus, looking back to when veterans were exclusively male, we take a look at the changing expectations for soldiers’ wives and mothers when the boys returned home. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources relating to veterans in American history, check out BackStory’s website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/coming-home/

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