BackStory show


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.


 Small Island, Big Shadow: Cuba and the US | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 52:46

On this episode, we mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis with a look back on the outsized influence that this small nation has had on three centuries of American history.

 Been There, Done That: Historical Reenactments | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 52:33

On this episode of BackStory, we ask what drives Americans to reenact their past. Is it purely educational? Or is there something deeper, more personal, at stake?

 Borrowed Times: A History of the National Debt [rebroadcast] | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 52:52

The History Guys explore why the national debt has continued to be so controversial in a country that was founded on borrowing.

 Conventional Wisdom: A History of American Political Conventions | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

[FULL EPISODE] Republicans and Democrats are gearing up to nominate their presidential candidates. We can be almost certain that there won't be many surprises. American political conventions haven't always been so predictable. Before they became scripted for TV, conventions were where some of the most critical policy questions were resolved, and where political careers were made or ruined. This week, we venture into the back rooms, chaotic halls, and streets where these dramas unfolded. We consider the radical roots of the convention ritual itself, and explore the ways that ritual was mainstreamed. Over the course of the hour, the History Guys hear the voices of anti-corruption crusaders in the 1820s, women’s rights activists at Seneca Falls, and civil rights workers in 1964, all of whom turned to conventions as venues for change. Through it all, we ask how well American political conventions have lived up to their promise of representing constituents back home. Visit our site for more in-depth resources about today's topic, including a full show transcript and background on the people we interviewed: Listen to individual episode segments here:

 Thenceforward and Forever Free | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 52:40

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?

 Contagion: Responding to Infectious Disease | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 52:36

In this hour of BackStory we trace the trajectory of that change and examine the shifting role of the state when it comes to coping with epidemics. Where do we draw the line between promoting the public good and protecting individual rights? How did people understand the causes and experience of disease in their own time?

 Fear Tactics: A History of Domestic Terrorism | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

[FULL EPISODE] 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 that 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 tactic of terrorism, and take a look at a little-known and unfinished Jack London novel, in which the author grapples with that ultimate question: When, if ever, is terrorism justified? Visit our site for more in-depth resources about today's topic, including a full show transcript and background on the people we interviewed: Listen to individual episode segments here:

 Cheers and Jeers: Alcohol in America | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

[FULL EPISODE] The cliche may be that apple pie is the most quintessentially American of foods but, in truth, hard apple cider might stake a more rightful claim to that title. Alcohol and our taste for it has shaped this country from its inception, when the founding fathers themselves played a role in encouraging our national hankering for the hard stuff: Jefferson loved his hard cider and wine, Washington had a thing for rum, and Benjamin Franklin loved it all so much he compiled a list of 228 synonyms for "drunk" into what is known as "The Drinker's Dictionary." In this hour of BackStory, we're all about the boozin'. Along the way, we ask when and why consumption and production has ebbed and flowed. We look at 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. Originally produced a few years ago, this episode has been revised to include new segments and reflect fresh insight into the subject. Visit our site for more in-depth resources about today's topic, including a full show transcript and background on the people we interviewed: Listen to individual episode segments here:

 Love Me Did: A History of Courtship | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In this Valentine's Day special, BackStory delves into the history of courtship. From "bundling" to the back-seat, the History Guys explore three centuries of pre-marital intimacy.

 Podcast: Big News From BackStory (also some sports) | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

We know that it’s been a while since you’ve heard from us, and we apologize for that. We miss you too. Hopefully the news contained in this here podcast will ameliorate some of the pain. If you’re interested in reading more about college sports in American history, follow this link.

 Naughty & Nice: A History of The Holiday Season | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

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.


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