179 EpisodesProduced by BackStory

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 B… read more

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274: Death on the Assembly Line: Industrial Tragedies in American History

April 12th, 2019

On Wednesday an explosion from a gas leak in Durham, NC killed one person and injured 25 others. Local authorities say the leak started after a construction worker hit a gas line. The explosion occurred soon after.

From …

273: All the Presidents’ Vetoes: A Brief History of Saying No to Legislation

April 5th, 2019

To veto or not to veto? That was the question President George Washington wrestled with on this day in 1792.

In honor of that decision, and the precedent it set for subsequent leaders, this week BackStory looks at …

236: Teen Activists: A History of Youth Politics and Protest

March 29th, 2019

This month, youth around the globe participated in Youth Strike 4 Climate, coordinated demonstrations by school students who are demanding action by …

272: Burnt Corks & Cakewalks: The Toxic Legacy of Blackface in American History

March 22nd, 2019

Ed, Nathan and Brian explore the history of blackface, from its heyday as the most popular form of entertainment in America to its afterlife in the …

243: Shore Thing: A History of the Beach

March 15th, 2019

Spring Break is here and BackStory has gone to the beach. Ed, Joanne, and Brian dip their toes into four tales from America’s shoreline. We’ll talk …

271: Oh, Bloody Hell: BackStory’s History of Profanity in America

March 8th, 2019


This week, BackStory looks at the …

270: Shattering the Glass Ceiling in America: BackStory Celebrates Women's History Month

March 1st, 2019

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Brian showcases our favorite BackStory segments that highlight female achievement in American history. We’ll hear from a former switchboard operator about her experiences at New …

269: Man vs. the Machine: Technophobia and American Society

February 22nd, 2019

What drives people to reject technology? Though American society has been driven by technological leaps forward, not everyone has come along for the …

268: Love Off Limits: A History of the Relationships Once Considered Taboo in America

February 15th, 2019


In this episode, Joanne, Brian, and Nathan discuss stories of love that challenged social norms and transcended class, race, and gender. They explore how people subverted laws banning interracial marriage, and why a …

267: The Faces of Racism: A History of Blackface and Minstrelsy in American Culture

February 8th, 2019


Nathan talks with historian Rhae Lynn Barnes about Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page and its link to a long and disturbing history of blackface minstrelsy. They discuss how white civic organizations …

266: BlackStory: BackStory Celebrates Black History Month with a Compilation

February 1st, 2019

Nathan showcases some of BackStory’s best content about African American history in honor of Black History Month. In this episode, hear about one historian’s heartbreaking research into the human effects of lynching to …

265: Nixon Beyond Watergate: A History of the Presidency Before the Scandal

January 25th, 2019


Today the Presidency of Richard Nixon is mostly remembered for how it ended - with the Watergate scandal, impeachment and resignation. But what about early Nixon, the man sworn into office in January 1969? As Nathan, Ed …

264: When You Just Want to be Alone: The History of Solitude in America

January 18th, 2019


We all have times when we want to be alone, but what is the history of solitude in America? How are experiments on dolphins connected with …

263: The BackStory Prize: Our Choice for the Best Public History Project in America

January 11th, 2019

BackStory is ten years old, and to celebrate our birthday we’ve created an important new prize - the BackStory Prize for Public History. Join Ed, …

262: Finding Americana: Butter Sculptures, Tiny Towns and Other Irresistible Gems

January 4th, 2019

What could be more American than . . . butter carving? Maybe miniature roadside towns or perhaps a dead whale on a train. On this episode of …

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

December 28th, 2018

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 …

261: Playing the Past: Video Games and American History

December 21st, 2018

The Department of Defense developed the very first video game and the Oregon Trail taught a generation to live as a pioneer. Red Dead Redemption 2 might be a major commercial success, but how historically accurate is it …

260: The BackStory Holiday Book Show: 19 History Books for the Holiday Season

December 14th, 2018

What history books should you gift - or get- this holiday season?  BackStory’s hosts and special guests share their recommendations of the history …

259: Out of the Closet: The LGBTQ Community in American History

December 7th, 2018

Brian, Nathan and Joanne explore the history of the LGBTQ community in the US, from tales of gender fluidity in the Old West to early gay liberation, …

230: Forgotten Flu: America & the 1918 Pandemic

November 30th, 2018

The CDC recommended flu shots for all this year after more than 80,000 Americans succumbed to influenza in 2017 - a four-decade high. But 100 years …

257: Stuffed: Taxidermy in the History of America

November 23rd, 2018

This Thanksgiving week BackStory is all about stuffing and being stuffed. We’ll find out about the father of American natural history dioramas, talk to a man with a condor in his freezer, discover how a mischievous …

256: Divided States of America? The History of An Often Disjointed Union

November 16th, 2018

Google the phrase “divided America” and you’ll find numerous, stories, opinion pieces and even psychological theories on why we’re so disconnected. …

255: Lincoln the Lawyer: Abraham Lincoln’s Early Life and Career

November 9th, 2018

Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the first lawyer to occupy the Oval Office (and he wouldn’t be the last). Lincoln came to national prominence after a long …

184: Border Patrols: Policing Immigration in America

November 2nd, 2018

Thousands of Central American migrants, dubbed the “migrant caravan,” have traveled north on foot towards the U.S. border since mid-October. Originating in Honduras, the group includes men, women and children attempting …

254: The War to End All Wars: Remembering WWI

October 26th, 2018

On November 11, 1918, Germany formally surrendered to the Allied Powers, about 19 months after the United States entered the conflict. On this episode, Brian and Nathan reflect on how, 100 years later, “the war to end …

253: To be a Citizen? The History of Becoming American

October 19th, 2018

Around three quarters of a million people applied to be American Citizens in 2017. But what does citizenship actually mean? The way Americans have defined citizenship has changed over time and many have found their …

252: Thar She Blows Again: The History of Whales and America (Part 2)

October 12th, 2018

BackStory shoots up from the depths and spouts another great episode exploring the extraordinary tale of whales and whaling in America. Brian, Nathan, Joanne and Ed uncover the story of Cabin Boys who were women in …

251: Thar She Blows: The History of Whales and America

October 5th, 2018

Whale deaths are defying yearly averages on the East Coast according to the New England Aquarium, once again increasing concerns about our conservation responsibilities and the continued recovery of the species after …

250: Land of the Free? The History of Incarceration in the U.S.

September 28th, 2018

(Contains archival audio in segments 1 and 3 (see for details).) The United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. This month prisoners across the U.S. took part in …

218: Close Encounters: UFOs in American History

September 21st, 2018

The national Sunspot Solar Observatory was mysteriously shut down on Sept. 6. Located near Almagordo, New Mexico, local law enforcement reported that …

249: Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The History of America’s Wealthy Elite

September 14th, 2018

It’s been ten years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers shook the world’s economy. Today Ed, Nathan and Brian explore the iconic figure of the …

248: After Hurricane Maria: The History of Puerto Rico and the United States

September 7th, 2018

In August of 2018, officials in Puerto Rico reported that over 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. One year after the disaster, Brian, Ed and Nathan take a look at the historical relationship between …

181: Fit to Print?: A History of Fake News

August 31st, 2018

As we approach the midterm elections, concerns about fake news - widely circulated news stories that are inaccurate, misleading, or completely …

247: Hot Enough For You? The History of Climate Change

August 24th, 2018

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2018 is on pace to be the fourth hottest year on record. So, on this week’s episode, Nathan, Brian and Joanne talk about how Americans …

246: In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud: A History of the Atomic Age

August 17th, 2018

In 1942, American scientists created the first sustained, controlled nuclear reaction, under the bleachers of a football field. Needless to say, it …

187: A More Perfect Union? The Reconstruction Era

August 10th, 2018

Lately, Americans feel the country is more divided (at least politically) than ever and often wonder how to go about repairing our divisions. Those …

245: The Battle for Charlottesville's Soul: One Year Later, A Community Looks Back

August 3rd, 2018

On August 11 & 12, 2017, a “Unite the Right” rally brought chaos, violence and death to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. To mark the …

244: Elementary Mr. President: Sherlock Holmes, the Supreme Court and Dr. Spock

July 27th, 2018

Ed, Joanne and Brian explore the history of filling vacant seats on the Supreme Court, discover the secret connections between 221B Baker Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and find out why the publication date of a …

212: The Melting Pot: Americans & Assimilation

July 20th, 2018

This week, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan wrestle with a long-running tension in our country’s history: what it means to assimilate and “become American.” …

216: What’s in a Number? Thirteen in American History

July 6th, 2018

The 13th of any month is more likely to occur on a Friday than any other day of the week and it's happened as many as three times in a single calendar year. So, why is it considered bad luck?  In this episode, Joanne, …

191: Saving American History

June 29th, 2018

How is the history of a nation remembered? Well -- it all depends on what you keep. We’re talking about recipes, your old record collection, wedding …

242: Summer Reading List: 14 History Books You’ll Want to Read

June 22nd, 2018

What should you be reading this summer? BackStory’s hosts and special guests share their recommendations of the history page turners you should pack …

241: The Camera Never Lies? History Through the Viewfinder

June 15th, 2018

In the 21st century, we often assume that a picture captures what really happened in a given moment. But on this week’s show, Joanne and Brian look at the early days of photography - when Americans had to figure out how …

210: Death Before Dishonor: Shame and Reputation in American History

June 8th, 2018

This week, Ed, Nathan and Joanne discuss the importance of honor throughout American history. We’ll explore how 19th-century honor culture demanded …

205: Are We There Yet? Americans On Vacation

June 1st, 2018

As Americans hit the road and take to the skies for summer vacation, Joanne, Ed, and Nathan explore the ways Americans have spent their time off.

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240: Reflecting on Darkness: Lynching; Americans and the Holocaust

May 25th, 2018

On this week’s episode, Nathan, Brian, Joanne & Ed talk about how Americans remember and reckon with systematic violence, and how we keep this …

239: Upward Nobility: American-Made Royalty

May 18th, 2018

The marriage of England’s Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle is making headlines around the world. U.S. women marrying into aristocracy has a surprisingly long history. This week, Ed, Brian, and Joanne look …

238: Shock of the New: The Legacy of the 1893 World’s Fair

May 11th, 2018

The World’s Columbian Exposition opened 125 years ago this month. Known today as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it put the emerging United States and …

199: Crowning Glory: A History of Hair in America

May 4th, 2018

It’s been fifty years since “Hair” debuted on Broadway. The groundbreaking play featured an integrated cast and defined the rock musical genre.

On …

237: “Dear Mr President…”: Letters to FDR, #twitterstorians, and one man's experience of slavery's legacy

April 27th, 2018

Joanne talks about the letters that flooded into FDR’s Whitehouse and how historians reach the public using social media. Also, Justin Reid, director of African American programs at Virginia Humanities, reflects on his …

185: Behind the Bylines: Advocacy Journalism in America

April 20th, 2018

In 2015, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly challenged Univision journalist Jorge Ramos on his role as a voice for Latinos in America. In an interview with …

236: Teen Activists: A History of Youth Politics and Protest

April 13th, 2018

As students organize protests around the country, Joanne, Brian & Ed talk about the role young people have played in American politics. They’ll …

193: The Habit: Opioid Addiction in America

April 6th, 2018

As the opioid epidemic continues, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome M. Adams said this week that Americans should carry and learn to use naloxone, an …

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

March 30th, 2018

Civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago. Today he is celebrated as an American hero and championed in children’s books and inspirational posters. But have Americans lost sight of the …

234: You Have The Right to Remain Silent: A History of the Miranda Warning

March 23rd, 2018

Fifty-five years ago this month, a man named Ernesto Miranda confessed to rape and kidnapping in a Phoenix police station. His trial would go all the …

233: Wherever Green is Worn: The Irish in America

March 16th, 2018

On this St. Patrick’s Day special, Brian, Joanne and Nathan explore Irish American culture and identity. 

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52: Turf War: A History of College Sports

March 9th, 2018

On this episode, Brian, Peter, and Ed unpack the origins of college sports and the ways universities originally justified athletics on campus. From …

204: Too Good To Be True?: Myths in American History

March 2nd, 2018

On this week’s episode, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan explore some of the stories Americans tell about our past and find the kernels of truth that lie at the heart of a few American legends.  

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232: Billy Graham, Black Panther and Haiti, and Thomas Edison’s Reputation

February 23rd, 2018

The BackStory hosts look back on the rise of influential pastor Billy Graham, who died this week. Nathan probes how Black Panther’s mythical kingdom …

231: Life After the Oval Office: Presidential Legacies

February 16th, 2018

In honor of President’s Day, Joanne, Brian, and Nathan explore the ‘afterlives’ of presidents: what do they do with their time once they’re out of office -- and how do we remember them once they’re gone?

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138: Catholics in America

February 9th, 2018

Ed, Brian and Nathan mark the beginning of Lent with an exploration of American Catholicism—recounting the struggles, triumphs, and unique impact of …

230: Forgotten Flu: America & the 1918 Pandemic

February 2nd, 2018

The U.S. is in the grips of the worst flu season in nearly a decade, with hospitals full across the country. But it’s nothing compared to the flu …

99: US vs Them: Sports on the World Stage

January 26th, 2018

This year’s Winter Olympics have already seen their share of drama -- and political jockeying -- and the games haven’t even begun. So, BackStory is …

229: All that Glitters? Legacies of the California Gold Rush

January 19th, 2018

Gold was discovered in California 170 years ago this month. It set off a mad rush from across the United States -- and around the world. Ed, Joanne, …

228: Presidents in the Public Eye, Slogans, and the Value of History

January 12th, 2018

In this week’s roundtable conversation, Ed, Joanne, and Brian focus on President Trump’s Twitter habit and look back at how presidents have …

227: Schism: The Branch Davidians at Waco

January 5th, 2018

This year marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most infamous law enforcement confrontations in American history: a bloody stand-off between federal agents and an apocalyptic Christian group known as the Branch …

226: History for the Headlines: 2017 in Review

December 29th, 2017

On this episode, Brian, Ed, Joanne, and Nathan look back at the stories we produced in 2017. Topics include fake news, the opioid crisis, and the August 12th white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

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133: Untrammeled: Americans and the Wilderness

December 22nd, 2017

With President Trump moving to drastically reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah, Brian, Ed, and Nathan return to our episode on Americans’ fascination with wild places. They explore how early European …

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

December 15th, 2017

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 …

224: Man of The People: A New Technology Falls Into the Wrong Hands

December 8th, 2017

BackStory features a guest podcast this week, from Reply All. The episode, Man of the People, first aired on January 19, 2017.  It’s about the rise and fall of an American demagogue. 

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223: Men Apologizing, Alabama Senate Race, Net Neutrality

December 1st, 2017

In this week’s roundtable conversation, Ed, Joanne, Nathan and Brian focus on three stories in the news: famous men apologizing (or not) for bad …

222: On the Take: Corruption in America

November 24th, 2017

With allegations of corruption flying on both sides of the aisle in Washington, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan return to our episode on how Americans have …

221: The Thin Light of Freedom

November 17th, 2017

Brian sits down with Ed to talk about a project of his that’s been twenty-five years in the making. We’re talking about Ed’s series on the American …

220: Red Dawn: Americans and the Bolshevik Revolution

November 10th, 2017

One hundred years ago, Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik Party seized power in a revolution that would change the world. They would establish the …

219: Other People’s Battles: American Volunteer Soldiers

November 3rd, 2017

An estimated 200 American volunteer soldiers have joined the fight against the Islamic State. They’re part of a much longer tradition of freelance …

217: Boy Scouts Welcome Girls, Trump Drums Up Support for War, America as a Judeo-Christian Nation

October 20th, 2017

In this week’s roundtable, the hosts tackle three stories that have been in the news: the Boy Scouts’ decision to include girls, growing GOP support for war with North Korea, and America’s identity as a Judeo-Christian …

215: It is So Ordered: 4 Landmark Decisions of the Supreme Court

October 6th, 2017

This month, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments for cases that may have a profound impact on the lives of everyday Americans -- ranging from cell phone privacy and the rights of workers during labor disputes, to …

214: Enemies: A History of Bad Blood

September 29th, 2017

As tensions rise with North Korea, Brian, Ed, and Nathan return to our episode on enemies. What distinguishes friend from foe - both at home and abroad - and how has America dealt with our adversaries across time?

213: Longer Commutes, Equifax Data Breach, and Income Inequality

September 22nd, 2017

In this week’s roundtable discussion, Brian, Joanne and Ed discuss the history behind 3 stories in the news: our lengthening work commutes, the massive data breach at Equifax, and the Census Bureau’s latest numbers on …

212: The Melting Pot: Americans & Assimilation

September 15th, 2017

This week, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan wrestle with a long-running tension in our country’s history: what it means to assimilate and “become American.” …

211: A Conversation with Karl Rove

September 8th, 2017

Brian Balogh sits down with Republican political strategist Karl Rove to talk about his book, “The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of …

Starry-Eyed: A History of the Heavens

August 25th, 2017

Why do we want to travel to the moon, to Mars, or beyond? We’re saluting this week’s total solar eclipse by looking at how Americans in the past have …

Charlottesville: Our Town, Our Country

August 18th, 2017

Brian, Ed, Joanne, and Nathan share their personal reactions to last week’s violence in Charlottesville, when white supremacists and Neo-Nazis showed …

Revisionist Climate: Americans & the Atmosphere

August 11th, 2017

On this week’s episode, Nathan, Brian and Ed, talk about how Americans have interacted, dealt with, and tried to actively change the North American climate. 

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Too Good To Be True?: Myths in American History

July 28th, 2017

On this week’s episode, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan explore some of the stories Americans tell about our past and find the kernels of truth that lie at the heart of a few American legends.  

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Skin Deep: Whiteness in America

July 14th, 2017

This week, BackStory looks at whiteness in America by broadcasting segments from podcasts we admire. These stories -- from the podcasts Scene on Radio and What’s Ray Saying along with a segment from BackStory’s archives …

Hometown History: Local Stories From Across The Country

July 7th, 2017

This week, BackStory looks at local history by broadcasting segments from podcasts we admire. These stories -- from Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis and San Francisco -- illuminate big themes in American history and tell …

Contested Landscape: The Battle over Confederate Monuments

June 16th, 2017

Communities from New Orleans to Charlottesville, Virginia have been debating the presence of Confederate monuments. On this episode of BackStory, Ed, Nathan and Brian discuss when and why many of the nation’s …

Prying Eyes: Privacy in America

June 9th, 2017

Is privacy a guaranteed American right? Or is it just continually under threat? On this episode, Joanne, Ed and Nathan explore the places where the …

Body Politics, JFK at 100 and African American Memorials

June 2nd, 2017

In this episode of BackStory, Brian’s off, but Joanne, Ed, and Nathan are holding it down and talking about the history behind items in this week’s …

Call To Arms: Enlistment In America

June 1st, 2017

Memorial Day honors those who’ve died while serving in the military. In this episode of BackStory, Ed, Joanne, and Brian look at the many reasons for joining the U.S. armed services - from a sense of patriotism, to …

National Lampoon: A History of American Satire

May 19th, 2017

The election of Donald Trump has been a boon to political satirists.  Saturday Night Live is enjoying its highest ratings in 20 years, andThe Late …

The Habit: Opioid Addiction in America

May 12th, 2017

Opioid addiction is a national epidemic. According to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, "drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States." In this episode, Nathan, Ed and …

Over There: America Enters WWI

April 14th, 2017

This April marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’s entry into World War I. So on this episode of BackStory, Brian, Joanne, and Ed discuss how this oft-forgotten war set the stage for the American century. 

Seeing Red: A History of U.S./Russia Relations

April 7th, 2017

In recent years, the White House’s relationship with the Kremlin has dominated the headlines in America --  from Syria to Ukraine. According to CNN, …

A More Perfect Union?: The Reconstruction Era

March 31st, 2017

It’s been 150 years since Congress passed the first Reconstruction Acts, which paved the way for Confederate states to rejoin the Union after the Civil War. Ed, Nathan and Joanne explore the central questions of this …

Border Patrols: Policing Immigration in America

March 10th, 2017

President Donald Trump recently announced his plans to crackdown on undocumented immigration. In his first address to Congress, the president claimed: “We are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that …

Taking it to the Streets: Protest in America

March 3rd, 2017

The election of Donald Trump set off a seemingly continuous wave of protests across the country. This is just the latest surge of resistance. Past protests have included varied groups - from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall …

On the Outs: Restricting American Immigration

February 10th, 2017

On Thursday, a federal appeals panel unanimously rejected President Trump’s move to reinstate the ban on travel from seven largely Muslim nations into the United States. The restriction, put into effect by executive …

Worlds Apart: Urban/Rural Divides in America

February 4th, 2017

According to the New York Times, the 2016 election “highlighted a growing rural-urban split.” So, on this episode of BackStory, Brian, Ed and Nathan …

PREVIEW - Worlds Apart

January 31st, 2017

According to the New York Times, the 2016 election “highlighted a growing rural-urban split.” So, on this episode of BackStory, Brian, Ed and Nathan …

Best of BackStory Pt. 2

January 26th, 2017

Best of BackStory Pt. 2 by BackStory with the American History Guys

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January 20th, 2017

BackStory is going through some big changes. Take a listen to this preview and learn about everything that's going into the new BackStory - premiering on Feb. 3!

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Best Of BackStory Pt. 1

January 19th, 2017

We’ll spend our last regularly scheduled broadcasts reviewing some of BackStory’s most memorable moments. We’ll revisit BackStory interviews with …

Four More Years: Presidential Inaugurations [rebroadcast]

January 9th, 2017

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 …

Health Nuts: A History of Nutritional Advice [rebroadcast]

January 5th, 2017

Health Nuts: A History of Nutritional Advice [rebroadcast] by BackStory with the American History Guys

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Judaism In America [rebroadcast]

December 21st, 2016

On Dec. 24th, Jewish communities across the country begin celebrating Hanukkah. The annual holiday celebrates the victory of the Jews over the …

Counter Culture: A History of Shopping [rebroadcast]

December 15th, 2016

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 …

Separation Anxiety: Church & State In America

December 8th, 2016

From the persecution of Quakers in colonial Massachusetts, to 21st century battles over nativity scenes in public squares, the wall separating church …

Short Take: Native Americans, the U.S. Government, and a History of Treaties

December 6th, 2016

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 …

New & Improved: Advertising in America [rebroadcast]

December 1st, 2016

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 …

Short Take: A History Of Rigged Elections

November 30th, 2016

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 …

American As Pumpkin Pie: A History Of Thanksgiving [rebroadcast]

November 23rd, 2016

If a Pilgrim were to attend a contemporary Thanksgiving celebration, he or she would probably be stunned by our “traditional” foods. In this episode …

A Whole New World: A History of Utopias

November 17th, 2016

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 …

American Exodus: A History of Emigration [rebroadcast]

November 11th, 2016

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. …

Short Take: The 2016 Election

November 9th, 2016

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 …

Pulling the Curtain: Voting in America [rebroadcast]

November 3rd, 2016

If the record TV viewership of the Clinton-Trump presidential debates is any guide, voter turnout for the November election could reach levels not …

Short Take: FBI and U.S. Elections

November 2nd, 2016

Last Friday, FBI Director James Comey informed Congress of a potential link between a device owned by disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The disclosure …

Bridge For Sale: Deception In America [rebroadcast]

October 20th, 2016

America has a long and colorful history of confidence men and counterfeiters. On this episode of BackStory, we go back to the time when fake money …

A History of Manufacturing in 5 Objects

October 13th, 2016

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have talked about loss of manufacturing jobs, and the importance of having things “Made In America.” In this episode of BackStory, we take a look at the history of American …

Fighting Words: A History of Debate in America

October 6th, 2016

With the presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dominating the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, we’re taking a look at the …

Keeping Tabs: Data & Surveillance in America [rebroadcast]

September 29th, 2016

Calls to pardon Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who blew the whistle on the NSA’s secret internet and phone surveillance programs, have increased with the recent release of the “Snowden” movie. As the country …

Banned: A History of Censorship [rebroadcast]

September 21st, 2016

Americans have sought to censor all kinds of expression: political speech, music, radio, TV, film, even books. In this episode, Peter, Ed, and Brian …

Believer-In-Chief: Faith & The Presidency

September 14th, 2016

American presidential candidates are expected to proclaim their religious faith and the 2016 election is no exception. In this episode of BackStory, Peter, Ed, and Brian explore the complicated relationship between …

Body Politics: Disability in America [rebroadcast]

September 8th, 2016

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act made everything from parking lots to bathrooms accessible. But before this legislation, disabled people found their own ways to navigate society. On this episode of …

Nose to the Grindstone: A History of American Work Ethic

September 1st, 2016

The Labor Day holiday offers some of us a much-needed break from work, but most Americans don’t get much vacation time. In this episode, the Guys …

Untrammeled: Americans and the Wilderness [rebroadcast]

August 25th, 2016

BackStory is quitting the city and heading into the wild. In this episode, Brian, Ed, and Peter revisit America’s fascination with wild places and learn how humans have impacted even the most remote corners of our …

Serve & Protect? A History of the Police [rebroadcast]

August 17th, 2016

For many Americans, police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota earlier this summer were strikingly reminiscent of similar instances across the …

Wish You Were Here: A History of American Tourism

August 11th, 2016

As summer winds down, millions of Americans are packing their bags and hitting the road. In this episode of BackStory, Peter, Ed and Brian explore the history of American tourism.  We’ll hear how asylums and prisons …

Another Man’s Treasure: A History Of Trash [rebroadcast]

August 4th, 2016

Let’s just call this episode trashy. The Guys pick through America’s history of garbage - from the filth-eating pigs that once ran free in New York City and kept the city clean, to the soda industry’s promotion of …

You've Come A Long Way?: A History Of Women In Politics

July 28th, 2016

Hillary Clinton moved a giant step closer to becoming the first woman elected President of the United States when she accepted the Democratic nomination at the party’s convention in Philadelphia. Clinton stands on the …

Conventional Wisdom: A History of American Political Conventions [rebroadcast]

July 22nd, 2016

The 2016 presidential race switches into high gear this month with the back-to-back Republican and Democratic party conventions.  Before they became heavily scripted affairs for TV, conventions were where some of the …

The GOP: A History Of The Republican Party

July 14th, 2016

Donald Trump has clinched the Republican party presidential nomination, and some political pundits wonder if his nomination represents a watershed …

Rare History Well Done: Meat In America [rebroadcast]

July 8th, 2016

Eating meat is a time-honored tradition in America. Whether it's a 4th of July BBQ, a TV dinner of Salisbury steak or a plate of Hawaiian musubi, …

Independence Daze: A History of July 4th [rebroadcast]

July 4th, 2016

In the early days of our nation, July Fourth wasn’t an official holiday at all. In fact, it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a paid day-off. So how …

The Pursuit: A History Of Happiness [rebroadcast]

June 30th, 2016

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - it’s a phrase we’ve all heard. But do we really know what Thomas Jefferson meant by that? For that matter, did Jefferson place a period or comma after happiness? In this …

Above The Fray?: Ideology & The Court

June 24th, 2016

As of June 2016, the Republican controlled Senate is still refusing to consider President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Supreme Court …

Committed: Marriage In America [rebroadcast]

June 17th, 2016

The month of June gets its name from Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. This could be part of the reason why June continues to be the most popular …

Hamilton: A History

June 10th, 2016

Alexander Hamilton is living large these days! Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical about the Founding Father won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and scored …

Politically Incorrect: Speech In American Politics

June 3rd, 2016

***CONTENT ADVISORY: THIS EPISODE CONTAINS STRONG, UNBLEEPED LANGUAGE*** Donald Trump has clinched the Republican presidential nomination for the 2016 election. On issues including immigration, race, and terrorism, …

The Beasts Within Domesticated Animals In America [rebroadcast]

May 27th, 2016

This past March, Sea World announced it will stop breeding orca whales in captivity, and is phasing out its killer whale shows. Meanwhile, the elephants of Ringling Bros. held their last performance earlier this month. …

All Hopped Up: Drugs In America [rebroadcast]

May 20th, 2016

To date, four states have legalized recreational marijuana, 23 states allow it for medical purposes and at least another five are expected to pass marijuana-related legislation this year. Meanwhile, heroin addiction and …

Watch The Throne: America & Royalty

May 13th, 2016

Queen Elizabeth celebrates her 90th birthday this June and royal watchers around the globe will join the festivities. Despite the Founding Fathers rejecting the British monarchy, Americans have always been fascinated by …

All In: A History of Gambling in America

May 6th, 2016

This May, thousands of Americans will bet on the Kentucky Derby, the most heavily-wagered horse race in the U.S. On this episode of BackStory, the Guys explore the history of gambling in America, from 18th century horse …

On The Money: A History Of American Currency [rebroadcast]

April 29th, 2016

This month, the U.S. Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. In this episode, we evaluate …

Judaism in America

April 22nd, 2016

This month, Jewish communities across the country celebrate Passover, a holiday that marks the end of the Israelites’ enslavement by the Egyptians. …

Stuck: A History of Political Gridlock [rebroadcast]

April 15th, 2016

While Senate Republicans refuse to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, the History Guys review the history of gridlock …

Pass/Fail: An American History of Testing

April 8th, 2016

This spring, millions of American high school students are taking the newly redesigned SAT, which was first administered in 1926. It’s just one of …


April 1st, 2016

With less than 2% of ESPN March Madness brackets still perfect, the madness may be more like sadness for many college basketball fans right now. In …

Little Caesars: Local Power in America

March 28th, 2016

As the presidential candidates continue their contentious path to the White House, it’s easy to overlook what’s happening at the local level. For this episode of BackStory, the Guys take a break from the race for the …

Small Island, Big Shadow Cuba and the U.S. [rebroadcast]

March 18th, 2016

No sitting U.S. president has visited Cuba in nearly 90 years, but this month President Obama will do just that. This historic visit could signal a …

Well-Regulated Militias: A History Of Armed Protest

March 11th, 2016

Earlier this year, tensions between federal officials and anti-government militia occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon came to a somewhat …

The Middling Sort: Visions of the Middle Class [rebroadcast]

March 4th, 2016

On this BackStory, we’ll take a look at what it means to be “middle-class” in America. Who belongs to the middle class? Who doesn’t? The Guys explore the rise and fall of the middle class and why so many Americans …

Hard Times: A History Of Unemployment

February 26th, 2016

President Barack Obama claims that the country’s low unemployment rate shows that we’ve rebounded from the Great Recession. But presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders say the “real” unemployment rate is …

Contagion: Responding to Infectious Disease [rebroadcast]

February 19th, 2016

As the Zika virus spreads across the Americas, it’s worth looking at how the U.S. has responded to past epidemics. In this episode of BackStory, the Guys consider the impact of smallpox on New York City’s 19th century …

Real To Reel 2016: History At The Movies

February 12th, 2016

The 2016 Academy Awards are just around the corner, and Peter, Brian, and Ed are taking a trip to the movies, considering likely Oscar contenders …

New & Improved: Advertising In America [rebroadcast]

February 5th, 2016

More than 100 million Americans will tune in to watch the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers duke it out at Super Bowl 50. And in between the …

PROMO - New & Improved: Advertising In America [rebroadcast]

February 2nd, 2016

More than 100 million Americans will tune in to watch the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers duke it out at Super Bowl 50. And in between the …

Court Of Public Opinion: Trial Watching In America

January 29th, 2016

On this episode of BackStory, the Guys will explore our fascination with courtroom drama. What makes for a compelling case and why have some landmark proceedings received little attention? We’ll consider why so many …

City Upon A Hill: A History Of American Exceptionalism [rebroadcast]

January 22nd, 2016

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama called America “the most powerful nation on Earth,” saying, “When it comes to every …

Color Lines: Racial Passing In America

January 15th, 2016

On this episode of BackStory, the Guys will consider how and why Americans throughout the centuries have crossed the lines of racial identity, and find out what the history of passing has to say about race, identity, …

The Future Then: Visions of America Yet to Come [rebroadcast]

January 8th, 2016

For as long as anyone can remember, Americans have imagined the future—from the flying cars and 3-hour workdays of The Jetsons to World War III and …

Cheers and Jeers: Alcohol in America [rebroadcast]

December 31st, 2015

A new year has dawned, and we’re willing to bet that Americans across the nation are fighting off hangovers after ringing it in with a drink—or three. On this episode of BackStory, we’re raising our glasses to the long …

History for the Headlines: 2015 in Review

December 25th, 2015

Here at BackStory, we’re always on the lookout for stories from the past that help us make sense of our lives today. As 2015 comes to a close, we’re winding back the clock to find out what some of our favorite BackStory …

Islam and the United States [rebroadcast]

December 18th, 2015

On this episode of BackStory, we’ll take a look at the long and surprising history of America’s relationship with Islam, from the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century to the clash between American-born Muslims and …

American Prophets: Religions Born in the U.S.

December 11th, 2015

History textbooks often argue that the United States was founded on the principle of religious freedom, beginning with the Pilgrims who sought refuge from the Church of England. But the America of centuries past was …

Counter Culture: A History of Shopping [rebroadcast]

December 4th, 2015

On this episode of BackStory, the Guys jump headlong into the history of shopping in America—the glitz and glamor, the overflowing shelves, and the …

Three Squares: Mealtime in America [rebroadcast]

November 24th, 2015

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 …

Contested Landscape: Confederate Symbols in America

November 20th, 2015

In July of this year, the murder of nine African-American parishioners at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina reignited a …

Body Politics: Disability in America

November 13th, 2015

The impact of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act is visible in parking lots, bathrooms, and public buildings across the country. But for centuries before the ramps and signs were erected, disabled people had to …

Coming Home: A History of War Veterans [rebroadcast]

November 5th, 2015

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created tens of thousands of new combat veterans. But what happens to these soldiers once they return home? In …

People's Choice: A History of Populism

October 23rd, 2015

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have packed stadiums as they make their case for the 2016 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. Many …

Green Acres: A History of Farmers in America [rebroadcast]

October 16th, 2015

As the fall harvest comes in, BackStory takes a look at how farmers came to wield so much influence in American politics and life. In the 18th …

They Might Be Giants: China and the U.S.

October 9th, 2015

Americans have traded with China since the earliest days of the Republic. During the colonial era and for early Americans, China was a source of …

Little Feet: Children Starting Over in America [rebroadcast]

October 2nd, 2015

Tens of thousands of refugees have been arriving in Western Europe, fleeing civil war and unrest in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the migrants making these perilous border crossings are children. This is hardly …

Banned: A History of Censorship

September 25th, 2015

September 27 marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating literature and the freedom to read, by highlighting and exploring efforts around the country to remove or restrict access to certain …

Catholics In America

September 18th, 2015

On September 22, Pope Francis will begin his first American tour, making stops in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York along the way. In this …

Fear Tactics: A History of Domestic Terrorism [rebroadcast]

September 11th, 2015

As Americans wrestle with the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and as we observe the 14th anniversary of terror attacks on New York and Washington, BackStory returns to our episode …

Rare History Well Done: Meat in America

September 4th, 2015

Eating meat is a time-honored tradition in America. Whether it’s Thanksgiving Day turkey, a TV dinner of Salisbury steak, or a plate of Hawaiian Spam musubi, meat has been a constant presence on the national platter. …
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