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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…


  • Jul 3, 2020 LATEST EPISODE
  • weekly NEW EPISODES
  • 259 EPISODES

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Latest episodes from BackStory

331: The End of the Road: BackStory and the History of Finales in America

Play Episode Listen Later Jul 3, 2020 81:15

On this final episode of BackStory, Nathan, Brian, Joanne and Ed explore different kinds of finales throughout American history. They also consider what it’s like being a part of their own finale and how finales can sometimes lead to new beginnings. 

Teaser: BackStory and the History of Finales in America

Play Episode Listen Later Jun 30, 2020 7:51

Coach Tony Bennett knows a thing or two about big finales. He’s the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Virginia. This is a clip from Brian's conversation with Coach Bennett about the power of sports and how you have to be able to accept the outcome of a big game, whether it’s a buzzer-beater win or a heartbreaking loss.  The full episode is coming to you this Friday, July 3. 

330: Best of BackStory: The Time the People Picked

Play Episode Listen Later Jun 26, 2020 52:43

As BackStory nears the end of its production, we’ve asked our listeners to call in with moments from the show’s history and compile their very own “Best of BackStory.” We got some great responses covering a range of topics, each of them meaningful to the present moment in their own way. So in this best of BackStory, we present three of our listener’s favorite interviews from the show. You’ll learn about the early U.S. Postal Service, and hear from residents of Hamlet, North Carolina as we explore the painful memory of a 1991 tragedy. Then, you’ll discover the long evolution of the Confederate flag’s design.

Introducing: Seizing Freedom

Play Episode Listen Later Jun 24, 2020 20:09

Coming Fall 2020. In most history classes, you learn that the Emancipation Proclamation and Union victories “freed the slaves.” But ending slavery in America required so much more than battlefield victories or even official declarations. Black people battled for their own freedom, taking incredible risks for a country that had actively denied their right to it. After the Civil War, they made freedom real by organizing for equality and justice during Reconstruction. On Seizing Freedom, you’ll hear stories of freedom taking and freedom making directly from the people who did both. Using stories selected from diaries, newspapers, letters, and speeches, we’ll take you straight to the sources of lived experience. Through them, you’ll hear voices from American history that have been muted time and time again. This excerpt is from the first episode of the series, about how some Black people escaped slavery to enlist with the Union Army—an Army that mostly didn't want them.

329: Great, Small and Other Expectations: Charles Dickens and His History with America

Play Episode Listen Later Jun 19, 2020 41:22

Charles Dickens died 150 years ago this month. A famous chronicler and critic of English industrial capitalism, Dickens was also immensely popular in the United States. But in an age of widespread debate about slave versus wage labor, his writings meant different things to different readers.  Music:  Bright White ( by Podington Bear Outmoded Waltz ( by Podington Bear Quatrefoil ( by Podington Bear Theme in G ( by Podington Bear Refraction ( by Podington Bear Stages of Awakening ( by Podington Bear Associations ( by Podington Bear Arboles ( by Podington Bear

328: The Clue of the Blue Bottle from "The Last Archive"

Play Episode Listen Later Jun 12, 2020 58:33

The Last Archive is a show from Pushkin Industries about the history of truth, and the historical context for our current fake news, post-truth moment. It’s a show about how we know what we know, and why it seems, these days, as if we don’t know anything at all anymore. The show is driven by host Jill Lepore’s work as a historian, uncovering the secrets of the past the way a detective might. On this episode, The Clue of the Blue Bottle, Jill tells the story of a Spring day in 1919, when a woman’s body was found bound, gagged, and strangled in a garden in Barre, Vermont. Who was she? Who killed her? Jill tries to solve the cold case—reopening a century-old murder investigation—as a way to uncover the history of evidence itself. Find out more about The Last Archive at their website ( . 

327: Another Burden to Bear: A History of Racial Health Disparities in America

Play Episode Listen Later Jun 5, 2020 57:39

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted  communities of color. According to the CDC, 33% of people who’ve been hospitalized due to the virus have been African-American, despite making up only 18% of the population. The ongoing crisis is a reminder of the racial health disparities that have plagued the United States throughout its history. So on this episode of BackStory, Joanne and Brian learn about how different communities have struggled to acquire adequate health care. NOTE: This episode was recorded before protests took place across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer. The protests, in addition to the death toll of COVID-19, serve as brutal reminders of the systemic inequalities afflicting communities of color.  Suggested Reading: Murray, Shaw, and Siegel’s Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories (Law Stories Series) ( Jim Crow in the Asylum: Psychiatry and Civil Rights in the American South ( by Kylie Smith Madness in the City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Race and Mental Illness in the Nation’s Capita ( l by Martin Summers

326: Mystery, Murder, and Mayhem: A History of True Crime in America

Play Episode Listen Later May 29, 2020 68:03

For the last decade or so, true crime has been everywhere -- Netflix shows like Making a Murderer and podcast series like Serial. All of them are a testament to the fact that for some strange reason, so many of us love stories about murder.  But this magnetism towards the morbid is far from new. Over the years, Americans have found fascination, repulsion and sometimes even comfort in true crime stories. So on this episode of BackStory, Joanne and Ed shine a light onto the dark history of true crime in modern American history. 

325: American Empire: From Scene on Radio

Play Episode Listen Later May 22, 2020 76:46

“America” and “empire.” Do those words go together? If so, what kind of imperialism does the U.S. practice, and how has American empire changed over time?   By host and producer John Biewen, with series collaborator Chenjerai Kumanyika. Interviews with Nikhil Singh and Daniel Immerwahr.   The series editor is Loretta Williams. Music by Algiers, John Erik Kaada, Eric Neveux, and Lucas Biewen. Music consulting and production help from Joe Augustine of Narrative Music.   Chenjerai Kumanyika, collaborator on the Seeing White series, is a researcher, journalist, and artist who works as an assistant professor in Rutgers University’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies. His research and teaching focus on the intersections of social justice and emerging media in the cultural and creative industries.    Photo: U.S. Navy Seabees at Camp Morell, Kuwait, 2005. U.S. Navy photo by James Finnigan.

324: Best of BackStory: The Time Joanne Freeman Went to Congress

Play Episode Listen Later May 15, 2020 44:34

As BackStory moves towards the end of its production, we’ve asked our hosts to select memorable moments from the show that we’re publishing as episodes once per month.  Joanne Freeman joined BackStory in 2017, and has since had hundreds of conversations on a huge variety of topics. But during this time, a few of these interviews surprised and moved her as a historian, and as a woman in unexpected ways. So in this best of BackStory, Joanne presents three of these striking conversations from her time on the show. You’ll learn about a decades-old family secret, and find out why we can never truly recover the past. Then, you’ll hear from Senator Tammy Duckworth about changing the culture of Congress. We need listener submissions for our June Best of BackStory! Find out more in our announcement ( .

276: Red in the Stars and Stripes?: A History of Socialism in America

Play Episode Listen Later May 8, 2020 59:57

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and record levels of unemployment, the conversation around socialism in the U.S. has resurfaced in surprising ways. So we thought we'd revisit this episode from 2019.  Image: The cover art for the album "Power to the Working Class: Revolutionary songs written & sung by workers & students in struggle." Source: Library of Congress ( BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

323: Zooming Ahead: How Virtual Learning is Shaping the College Classroom

Play Episode Listen Later May 1, 2020 21:31

Today, the word zoom has become synonymous with an application millions of people are using to learn, teach and work. COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives, including how we teach and how we learn. So what does this all mean for the future of classroom learning? And where does it fit into the broader history of higher education?   On this episode of BackStory, Brian dives into the topic of teaching and where the virtual college classroom fits into the history of higher education in the United States. As Jonathan Zimmerman ( , author of the forthcoming book, The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America, tells Brian, Zoom and virtual learning are hardly the first time college students and professors have adapted to new technologies in the classroom.

322: 1980s Environmentalism and How the Reagan-Era Shaped the Natural World

Play Episode Listen Later Apr 24, 2020 61:17

This week, environmentalism was in the spotlight, thanks to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Over the decades, environmentalism has adapted to new challenges, like increasing levels of greenhouse gases and a swinging pendulum when it comes to federal policy. But the 1980s exemplified a notable and often consequential shift in how people - from protestors to the president - approached environmental issues. So on this episode of BackStory, Ed and Brian dig into the 1980s and explore how actions in both federal policy and grassroots movements shaped environmentalism.

321: Give Us the Ballot: From LBJ and the Great Society

Play Episode Listen Later Apr 17, 2020 52:03

By his own account, and by many others as well, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was Lyndon Johnson’s greatest achievement – the jewel in the crown of the Great Society, and widely considered the most effective piece of civil rights legislation in American history. This episode, "Give Us the Ballot," will focus on the extraordinarily eventful eight-month period — January to August 1965 — when the battle for Voting Rights was joined and ultimately fought to a successful conclusion. The outcome was hard won, and in doubt up until the last frantic weeks of negotiation and maneuvering. Why and how Johnson prevailed, where so many before him had failed, is the central story in this episode, which looks at the complex and precarious alliance forged between the President on the inside, and Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement on the outside.  Source notes: This episode includes interview excerpts from Washington University Libraries, drawn from the Henry Hampton Collection ( . This digitized resource includes complete video interviews with Civil Rights Movement leaders, known and unknown, captured for the influential and award-winning documentary film, Eyes on the Prize ( . LBJ and the Great Society was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and distributed by PRX.

320: Best of BackStory: The Time Nathan Connolly Had A Close Encounter

Play Episode Listen Later Apr 10, 2020 37:17

As BackStory moves towards the end of its production, we’ve asked our hosts to select memorable moments from the show that we’re publishing as episodes once per month.  Since joining BackStory in 2017, Nathan Connolly has interviewed a ton of different people about everything from Bruce Lee to Bison. But a handful of conversations are particularly memorable to Nathan because they unpacked issues that he cares deeply about. 

319: Overcoming An Outbreak: How San Francisco Survived the Plague

Play Episode Listen Later Apr 9, 2020 25:00

In this special bonus episode, Ed talks with David K. Randall ( , author of Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague. David tells Ed about how Dr. Rupert Blue defied conventions to get an outbreak of the plague under control in San Francisco during the early 20th century. It’s a story that can offer us some important lessons as we wrestle with our own public health crisis today.     Music: Chainlink Melody ( by Podington Bear Going Forward, Looking Back ( by Podington Bear Winter Walk ( by Podington Bear Massive ( by Podington Bear Pounded Piano ( by Podington Bear Light Touch ( by Podington Bear Image: Screenshot of headline on page 5 of the Oroville Daily Register, Oroville, California, Wednesday, November 27, 1907. Source: (

281: Mind, Body and Spirit: The History of Wellness In America

Play Episode Listen Later Apr 3, 2020 56:14

In these trying times, we’re all trying to stay well mentally, emotionally, and physically. Naturally, that got us thinking about the history of health in America. It also reminded us that maybe we could all use a break from thinking about COVID-19. So this week BackStory explores the history of wellness, a story which involves breakfast cereal, aerobics, and Sigmund Freud.

318: Best of BackStory: The Time Brian Balogh Went to a Monastery

Play Episode Listen Later Mar 27, 2020 27:19

As BackStory wraps up production, we’ve asked our hosts to select memorable moments from the show.   A founding host of the show, Brian Balogh has discussed a range of topics with a lot of different people - academic historians, museum curators, and even politicians. But some of his favorite conversations have been with everyday people who have lived and engaged with history, sometimes in surprising ways.  So in this edition of the “Best of BackStory,” Brian brings you three of his favorite interviews from his time at BackStory. You’ll hear from a member of a prison work crew, and find out what life is like behind the walls of a Catholic convent. Finally, you’ll learn about the American twist on a classic Mexican dish. 

317: Fighting Jane Crow: The Multifaceted Life and Legacy of Pauli Murray

Play Episode Listen Later Mar 20, 2020 76:32

Pauli Murray might be one of the most influential but little-known figures in modern American history. Born in 1910 in Baltimore, Murray, who was a prominent lawyer and activist, went on to shape American law, society and culture throughout much of the 20th century. Publicly, Murray is remembered for contributions to feminist legal thought and in particular, the concept of “Jane Crow,” which recognized how black women struggle with racism and sexism. Meanwhile, in private, Pauli Murray’s fluid gender and sexual identity clashed with the era’s rigid categories. All of this made Pauli Murray a steadfast proponent of equality and a committed fighter against injustice of all kinds. It even led Murray to the ordained ministry, where the fight for a reconciled humanity could be waged in the spiritual realm. So for that reason -- and many more -- this week on BackStory, Ed and Joanne explore the life and legacy of Pauli Murray.  *Note: Pauli Murray often self-identified as a woman and used “she” and “her” pronouns. You can see this in public writings, like Murray’s autobiography. But, in private, Murray grappled with a nuanced gender identity. This identity was often at odds with the strict gender and sexual constructs of the 20th century, and it was often in flux. For that reason, the question of pronouns is a complicated one in the case of Pauli Murray. So after careful consideration, we decided to opt out of using any pronouns when referring to Pauli Murray throughout the episode. Instead, you’ll hear us say “Pauli Murray,” “Murray” or sometimes just “Pauli.” But you’ll hear our guests alternate between different pronouns. We’ve let each guest decide for themselves which pronoun they think best fits when talking about Pauli. 

316: Blacks and Indians: From What's Ray Saying?

Play Episode Listen Later Mar 13, 2020 40:01

What’s Ray Saying? is a podcast that takes a deeper view into Black life in America by examining the intersection of history, narrative, and experience.    This episode, “Blacks and Indians,” explores the complex relationship between Black Americans and Native Americans and attempts to separate  fact from fiction.    Ray Christian has an MA in Public History and an EdS/ EdD in Education. His stories have been heard on the Moth Radio Hour, Snap Judgment, Spooked and the Risk podcast. Learn more about Ray Christian at his website:   Find out more about What’s Ray Saying?:

Past Pandemics: What Can We Learn That May Help Us Today?

Play Episode Listen Later Mar 12, 2020 24:21

For several weeks, nothing has dominated national and international headlines more than the coronavirus. As of this week, authorities have identified approximately 113,000 cases worldwide, more than 4,000 deaths have been reported and the WHO is now calling the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.  The coronavirus might be new. But this is by no means the first time that America and the world have been in the grips of a deadly virus. Over a century ago, Spanish influenza caused a global pandemic, spread in large part by soldiers returning home from the First World War. The virus killed between 50 and 100 million people. But the story of the virus, and the lives it affected, has often been forgotten.   Back in 2018, BackStory looked at the history of Spanish influenza in an episode titled “Forgotten Flu: America and the 1918 Pandemic ( .” So in the wake of ongoing concerns about coronavirus, Ed revisits a couple segments from that show, to learn about how people from the past dealt with a terrifying and unpredictable virus.  Music: Hip Hop Piano Lounge ( by Bobby Cole/Audioblocks Sad and Reflective Hip Hop ( by Bobby Cole/Audioblocks Light and Laid Back Rap Beat ( by Bobby Cole/Audioblocks Fighting the Flu  Brian and historian Nancy Bristow ( explore the medical community’s response to the 1918 pandemic, and their inability to understand the virus.  Music:  Ones Left Behind ( by Ketsa Once and Future Flu Brian speaks with virologist John Oxford about how the 1918 influenza pandemic spread worldwide and why scientists think we should prepare for another pandemic.  Music: Live With No Fear ( by Ketsa

315: New Stories for an Old Conflict: Rethinking Civil War Narratives

Play Episode Listen Later Mar 6, 2020 35:52

Over the years, tens of thousands of books have been published about the Civil War. America’s most divisive conflict might be its most-written about. With stacks and stacks and stacks of books about the Civil War, it’s hard to know what else there is to say. But historians are coming up with new ways to look at conflict all the time.

314: People Making History: The Power and Perils of Telling History Through Individual Stories

Play Episode Listen Later Feb 28, 2020 34:44

We turn to history to make sense of the present…but how do you make sense of history? For many of us, it’s through stories -- individual tales of individual people. So on this episode of BackStory, Joanne, Ed and Brian present and discuss a particular person from their time period, someone who they think sheds much-needed light on our current moment.

313: Best of BackStory: The Time Ed Ayers Marched Into Richmond

Play Episode Listen Later Feb 21, 2020 39:29

As BackStory moves towards the end of its production, we’ve asked our hosts to select memorable moments from the show that we’re publishing as episodes once per month.  A founding host of the show, Ed Ayers has had hundreds of conversations on a huge variety of topics. But some of his favorite BackStory moments touched on anniversaries and events related to his own field in American history: slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.  So in this best of BackStory, we will take a deep dive into what the Confederacy means today, and learn about the newly opened Civil War Museum. Then, we’ll hear tape from a BackStory live show at the 150th anniversary of the liberation of Richmond, Virginia.

312: From Music to Madiba: A History of U.S. Relations with South Africa

Play Episode Listen Later Feb 14, 2020 50:59

Thirty years ago this week, Nelson Mandela, the renowned civil rights and anti-apartheid leader, was released from prison. His release marked the beginning of the end of South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime and a new future for black South Africans. So on this episode of BackStory, Joanne, Ed and Brian take a look at the complicated and often contentious relationship American officials and anti-racism activists have had with South Africa. Image: President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Representative Kweisi Mfume, at an event at the Library of Congress. October 1994. Source: Library of Congress

311: "The Gay Agenda" from American Hysteria

Play Episode Listen Later Feb 7, 2020 44:50

American Hysteria is a podcast exploring the fantastical thinking and irrational fears of Americans through the lens of moral panics, urban legends, and conspiracy theories, how they shape our psychology and culture, and why we end up believing them. Poet-turned-podcaster Chelsey Weber-Smith explores the sometimes hilarious, sometimes horrifying stories of historical and modern American freak-outs, and the real social issues they act to cover up. An in-depth alternative history as well as a sociological experiment, the show analyzes how issues of race, gender, sexuality, and class have informed our beliefs from the Puritans to the present.   Written, produced, and hosted by Chelsey Weber-Smith Produced and edited by Clear Commo Studios ( Instagram: @americanhysteriapodcast // twitter: @amerhysteria

310: Seminoles, Retirees and Florida Man: A Brief History of the Sunshine State

Play Episode Listen Later Jan 31, 2020 74:31

As most of America is bundled up in the dead of winter - we’re wearing our flip-flops, slathering on sunscreen, and basking in the history of the Sunshine State. On this episode of BackStory, Joanne, Nathan and Brian learn about the social media phenomenon called “Florida Man,” explore the often overlooked story of the Seminoles, discover how the state became a mecca for retirees, and find out about the remarkable efforts of one woman to preserve Florida’s natural environment. Image: Welcome to Florida Sign by DonkeyHotey via Flickr available under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

309: Best of BackStory: The Time Peter Onuf Declared Independence

Play Episode Listen Later Jan 24, 2020 31:09

For close to ten years, Peter Onuf hosted BackStory along with Ed Ayers and Brian Balogh. Now, with the show coming to a close, Peter is back to help kick off a new series we’re doing on the show. These are episodes in which all five of our hosts will look back on their time with the show and highlight some of their favorite moments.  With so much time at the show, Peter had a lot of material to work with. But he has narrowed it down to three conversations that still stick out in his memory today. Each one captures something that he considers to be unique about BackStory. 

235: The Real Martin Luther King: Reflecting on MLK 50 Years After His Death

Play Episode Listen Later Jan 17, 2020 51:27

Had he lived, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have celebrated his 91st birthday this week. King is regarded as an American hero and championed in children’s books and inspirational posters, but have Americans lost sight of the real MLK? Image: Martin Luther King press conference by Marion S.  Trikosko, March 26, 1964. Source: Library of Congress

308: The U.S. and Iran: A Brief History of an Often Tense Relationship

Play Episode Listen Later Jan 10, 2020 32:28

Last weekend, an American airstrike killed Iranian General Qasam Soleimani, at the direction of President Trump. Iran vowed to retaliate and launched more than a dozen missiles at two American military bases in Iraq. In response, President Trump addressed the nation on Wednesday, saying the US will impose new economic sanctions on Iran. Only time will tell what Solemani’s death means for U.S./Iran relations, and the future of the Middle East. But how did we get here?  On this episode of BackStory, Brian speaks with Hussein Banai ( , author of “Becoming Enemies: U.S.-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979-1988,” about what the history of US/Iran relations can teach us about the current moment -- and where we might be headed. Image: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of Unites States, Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria Tuesday July 14, 2015. Source: AP Images

307: Those Were The Days: Nostalgia in American History

Play Episode Listen Later Jan 3, 2020 69:46

It’s common for folks to look back on a time gone by and romanticize it as “better days.” But is nostalgia a harmless yearning for the past, or a distraction from what’s happening in the present?  Image: Memory Lane sign by Martin Bennett / Stockimo Source: Alamy Stock Photo

257: Stuffed - Taxidermy in the History of America

Play Episode Listen Later Dec 27, 2019 70:50

The holidays are upon us and we're more than a little obsessed with stuffing - just not the kind you eat. On this episode of BackStory, Brian, Ed and Nathan find out about the father of American natural history dioramas, talk to a man with a condor in his freezer, discover how a mischievous raven connects Edgar Allan Poe to Charles Dickens and unravel the extraordinary story of the man who proposed stuffing the Founding Fathers. Image: "In the workroom," photograph shows occupational portrait of taxidermist Martha A. Maxwell with animal specimens, palette, and rifle. Oct. 27, 1876 Source: Library of Congress BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

306: The Best of BackStory 2019

Play Episode Listen Later Dec 20, 2019 46:53

On this episode of BackStory, Brian brings you a sampling of some of our favorite segments from the past year.  BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

305: From BackStory to You: A History of Giving and Receiving

Play Episode Listen Later Dec 13, 2019 59:06

‘Tis the season for giving. Whether it’s the latest gadget or the coziest sweater, many Americans are spending the month of December searching for that perfect gift. But throughout American history, gift giving has taken on many different forms. And the act of giving and receiving has allowed bonds to form across social, political, and cultural divides.  On this episode of BackStory, Brian, Joanne and Nathan bring you two very different stories of giving and receiving. One starts in Ireland, and the other looks at a time when lending a helping hand resulted in more harm than good. BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

304: Telling Stories About the Past: Historians on Historical Fiction

Play Episode Listen Later Dec 6, 2019 44:35

On Christmas Day, the sixth film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 1868 novel Little Women hits theaters nationwide. The movie reflects the ongoing popularity of historical fiction, a genre that has captivated audiences for decades and shows no signs of slowing down. BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

225: What's Cooking? A History of Food in America

Play Episode Listen Later Nov 29, 2019 50:09

It’s the holidays — that time of the year when food is everywhere. So, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan sit down to discuss some of America’s many homegrown culinary traditions and what the food we eat says about American identity. In this episode we talked to Pati Jinich of “Pati’s Mexican Kitchen.” Find her recipe for Chilorio Burritas (and more) on her website ( . We also talked about Maida Heatter’s “Best Damn Lemon Cake.” Learn more about Heatter and find her lemon cake recipe (as well as a few other desserts) in this 1982 story from the Washington Post ( . BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

303: Sunny Days: The History of Sesame Street in America and the World

Play Episode Listen Later Nov 22, 2019 56:09

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street, the children’s television show that has made an indelible mark on American culture, not to mention people all over the world. So on this episode of BackStory, Brian, Ed and Joanne explore the history of Sesame Street and what made a show about muppets and their neighbors so revolutionary. Image: A scene of the US children's series "Sesame Street" with puppets Ernie and Bert, photographed in March 1976. Photo by Dieter Klar/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

Sponsored: Introducing Clearstory, from This Old House

Play Episode Listen Later Nov 20, 2019 26:36

Host Kevin O'Connor digs into the systems, structures and materials in our homes from unexpected angles. Why is the window the ultimate machine? What can Las Vegas teach us about lowering our water bills? How did the Great Chicago Fire change the way we frame houses today? You’ll hear from This Old House experts, as well as industry leaders, historians, and builders.  Find Clearstory in Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and learn more at

302: The End of an Era: History That Was Made - and Unmade - in the 2010s

Play Episode Listen Later Nov 15, 2019 29:39

The calendar is nearing closer and closer to the end of 2019. Which has us thinking about the end of the decade and how the United States has changed since the start of the 2010s. So on this episode, Brian, Nathan and Joanne dive into an extended conversation about the memorable moments of the last 10 years and what future historians might say about the decade. Image: "Tuesday morning the police evicted the Occupy Wall Street protesters and cleaned the park." by David Shankbone, November 11, 2011. Source: Wikimedia Commons BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

301: The Chinese in American History: How Afong Moy, Mayling Soong and Bruce Lee Changed the Narrative About China

Play Episode Listen Later Nov 11, 2019 66:32

Conversations about US-China relations often revolve around tariffs, trades and recently, President Donald Trump’s tweets. So on this episode of BackStory, Nathan, Joanne and special guest host Erika Lee ( go beyond the standard narrative of US-China relations and learn about three Chinese and Chinese American people who worked to change American perceptions of China. Support for this podcast comes from International Education at the University of Richmond and The Rose Chen Group for Cultural Understanding. BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

195: Call To Arms: Enlistment in America

Play Episode Listen Later Nov 8, 2019 42:49

It's Veteran's Day weekend, when we in the US honor those who have served in our Armed Forces. In this episode of BackStory, Ed, Joanne and Brian look at the many reasons for joining the US armed services - from a sense of patriotism, to escaping poverty, to earning American citizenship. They’ll discuss the struggles of the Continental Army to find enough soldiers during the Revolutionary War and how thousands of Filipinos became American citizens by enlisting in the US Navy after World War II. BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

300: Blasts from the Past: A History of Dynamite in the United States

Play Episode Listen Later Nov 1, 2019 35:30

In the 19th century, dynamite helped transform the nation. It led to the construction of important milestones like the transcontinental railroad and helped create iconic American monuments like Mt. Rushmore. But some people also saw these small explosives as potential weapons and used dynamite to promote violence. Learn more about Smithsonian's Sidedoor podcast and find episodes: BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

Coming Up: The History of Dynamite in America

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 29, 2019 6:14

More than 154 million treasures fill the Smithsonian’s vaults, but where public view ends, Sidedoor begins. With the help of biologists, artists, historians, archaeologists, zookeepers, and astrophysicists, host Lizzie Peabody sneaks listeners through Smithsonian’s side door to search for stories that can’t be found anywhere else. Follow Sidedoor at @SidedoorPod or sign up for the e-newsletter at

299: Haunted Histories: A BackStory Halloween Special

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 25, 2019 37:14

Image: Alleged 1911 spirit photograph of Emma Hardinge Britten taken by William H. Mumler. BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: 

298: Rallying Behind Racism: The Women of White Supremacy

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 18, 2019 55:29

White supremacy has been in the news a lot recently. It is often seen as a movement at the fringes of American society, and discussion of it rarely includes white women. But women play a critical, if overlooked, role in the white supremacy movement, and examining their involvement shows it to be far less fringe than many think. So on this episode of BackStory, Brian, Nathan and Joanne dig into the little known history of white women and white supremacy. Image: Attention has been focused on the almost mythical Ku Klux Klan organization in the United States, following the allegations that Senator Black, the new Supreme Court judge, was a member of the sect. Virtually unknown, even in the U.S., a women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan has grown into a powerful organization in the south. The women’s Klan salute to the cross at Atlanta, Georgia, on Aug. 18, 1937. Source: AP Images BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

"The Schizophrenic Sixties" from episode "States of Mind"

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 16, 2019 12:10

Image: Woman in state of 'hysteria' (Wikimedia Commons). BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

297: How Reconstruction Transformed the Constitution: A Feature Conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian Eric Foner

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 11, 2019 36:53

If you turn on the news, you’re likely to find a heated debate about big issues, from citizenship to voting rights. For Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner, these issues are at the heart of what are often called the “Reconstruction Amendments”: the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution. They were passed in 1865, 1868 and 1870, respectively. And if you ask Eric, they’ve been misinterpreted and overlooked for generations.  On this episode, Ed sits down with Eric Foner ( , a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, to talk about public perceptions of Reconstruction, the landmark amendments to the Constitution and how they have the power to change the country today. Foner’s new book is The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution ( . Image: February 18, 1865 Harper's Weekly cartoon depicting celebration in the House of Representatives after adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. Source: Internet Archive ( . BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

"Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" from episode #0136 "Where There's Smoke"

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 9, 2019 14:20

On this day in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire swept through the city after starting, from unknown causes, the previous evening. The fire, and subsequent rebuild, shaped the city that exists today. But the new city had no room for many poorer Chicagoans.  Residents of San Francisco's Chinatown faced similar economic and political pressure as their own city recovered from the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires. But the city's Chinese community fought back, building a new, thriving Chinatown from the ashes.  Image: An artist's rendering of the Great Chicago Fire, Chicago in Flames -- The Rush for Lives Over Randolph Street Bridge. Originally from Harper's Weekly, 1871. BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

Sponsored: Introducing American Elections: Wicked Game

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 8, 2019 8:40

American Elections: Wicked Game is a new podcast from the host of Wondery’s American History Tellers (Lindsay Graham) that will explore all 58 presidential elections, leading up to the big day in November 2020. From the inevitable election of George Washington in 1789, to Donald Trump’s surprise electoral victory in 2016, we’ll attempt to discover if there ever was a “good ol’ days,” or if presidential politics have always been played dirty. Listen now at (

296: Darkness Over the Plain: The Bison in American History

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 4, 2019 47:57

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are over 28,000 threatened species in the world. But this is hardly the first time our planet has faced the prospect of mass extinction. In the beginning of the 20th century, America’s flora and fauna were seriously threatened by urban encroachment and over-hunting. And one animal at the center of this struggle was the bison.  So in celebration of World Animal Day, Brian and Nathan explore the history of bison in America. We’ll find out how the bison went from an animal in excess to near extinction and we’ll learn how Madison Grant’s work preserving the bison went hand and hand with his theories on eugenics. Plus, we’ll hear from the Buffalo Representative of the Eastern Shoshone about his efforts to restore the buffalo. Image: Buffalo at water circa 1904 by Denver Kendrick. Source: Library of Congress BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

231: Life After the Oval Office: Presidential Legacies

Play Episode Listen Later Oct 2, 2019 49:07

This week, President Jimmy Carter turned 95, extending his status as the oldest-living American president. What has Carter, and other presidents, done with their time once they're out of office - and how do we remember them once they're gone?  BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show:

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