BackStory

BackStory

Canada

BackStory with the American History Guys is a nationally syndicated, hour-long, weekly public radio show. We're based in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Each week we take a topic that people are talking about and explore its roots in American history. Through stories, interviews, and conversation with our listeners, we turn the things Americans take for granted inside out. And while we're at it, we have a lot of fun. Join us.

Episodes

Four More Years: Presidential Inaugurations [rebroadcast]  

As Washington prepares for the next four years, BackStory looks back at some of the more dramatic presidential transitions from the past. On this show, the Guys explore several high-stakes presidential inaugurations and learn what each one tells us about the social and political forces at work at the time. From George Washington’s trembling voice while taking the Oath of Office to the general apathy surround Lincoln’s second inauguration, we’ll remember why inaugurations really matter.

BackStory 0

Health Nuts: A History of Nutritional Advice [rebroadcast]  

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

BackStory 0

History For The Headlines: 2016 In Review  

As 2016 comes to a close, we’re turning back the clock and looking back on the history behind some of the year’s biggest headlines. From the partisan gridlock over President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and the Broadway hit Hamilton, to the nomination of Hillary Clinton and the partisan battle cry over “Political Correctness,” we replay some of our favorite backstory moments from 2016.

BackStory 0

Short Take: Hidden Figures - The People Behind The Story You Know  

The movie "Hidden Figures" comes to theaters this month. The film looks at the lives of a group of African American women who worked for NASA as "human computers" - the brains behind the calculations necessary for human space flight. In this Short Take, Brian talked to Margot Lee Shetterly (the author of the book the movie is based on) about the work the women did on projects Mercury and Apollo and the impact they had on the 20th century.

BackStory 0

Judaism In America [rebroadcast]  

On Dec. 24th, Jewish communities across the country begin celebrating Hanukkah. The annual holiday celebrates the victory of the Jews over the Greeks, and marks the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BC. Roughly 2% of the U.S. population is Jewish, but the influence of American Jews far outweighs their relatively small numbers. In this episode of BackStory, the Guys (along with guest host Joanne Freeman of Yale University) explore the history of Judaism in America.

BackStory 0

Counter Culture: A History of Shopping [rebroadcast]  

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? The holiday season is notorious for bringing out the beast in shoppers. On this episode of BackStory, the Guys plunge into the history of shopping in America—the glitz and glamour, the overflowing shelves, and the cheesy Muzak. They’ll consider the role that consumption played in the revolutionary politics of the colonies, look at the curious rash of shoplifting among well-heeled women in the country’s first department stores, and reveal the connection between the Wizard of Oz and window shopping.

BackStory 0

Separation Anxiety: Church & State In America  

From the persecution of Quakers in colonial Massachusetts, to 21st century battles over nativity scenes in public squares, the wall separating church and state is hardly set in stone. On this episode of BackStory, the History Guys explore the often blurry line between church and state in America - from Congress’ attempts to block the first Mormon Senator in the early 1900’s, to the federal government’s imprisonment of religious pacifists who refused to fight in the first world war.

BackStory 0

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

On Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers refused to issue a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The water protectors, which includes members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other tribes (as well as climate activists), celebrated the decision. But the celebration was brief as the opposition realized that this might be just another battle won in an ongoing war that has spanned centuries. In this Short Take, Brian talks to Robert T. Anderson, a Professor of Law and Director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington, about the history of colonization and treaties between the government and indigenous people. (Image credit: Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.)

BackStory 0

New & Improved: Advertising in America [rebroadcast]  

Nieman-Marcus’ 2016 Christmas Book, which was first published nearly a century ago as a 16-page leaflet, is 300 pages long. According to Advertising Age, catalogs remain an effective way to reach consumers all year round. This episode of BackStory tackles the tangled history of American advertising - from the nation’s first billboards to catchy radio and TV jingles. When did the industry come into being and how did advertising executives sell Americans on the idea of lunar exploration? We’ll answer these questions and more.

BackStory 0

Short Take: A History Of Rigged Elections  

President-elect Donald Trump said the election was rigged because millions of non-citizens voted (although there is no evidence to support the claim), 2016 Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein has requested audits in multiple swing states with Wisconsin being the first to begin a recount, and Hillary Clinton's campaign is willing to go along with a recount despite that Clinton allies are, according to Politico, "irritated with Jill Stein." Even with all of the talk of tampering, the actual chances of voter fraud are very slim now. The past, however, is a different story. In this BackStory short take, the Guys take a look at the history of rigged elections. (Image credit: Voting Machine Bumpersticker by GalacticWanderlust via Flickr)

BackStory 0

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

If a Pilgrim were to attend a contemporary Thanksgiving celebration, he or she would probably be stunned by our “traditional” foods. In this episode of BackStory, The Guys discuss Puritan foods with historian James McWilliams, and religion scholar Anne Blue Wills reveals the surprising, 19th century origins of our national holiday. We’ll also hear from legendary NFL quarterback Roger Staubach about what it was like to spend every turkey day on the football field.

BackStory 0

A Whole New World: A History of Utopias  

In his recent book “Utopia for Realists,” Rutger Bregman advocates a 15-hour workweek, universal basic income, and open borders. Sounds like paradise to us! From the Oneida Community’s dream of open, or “complex marriage” to the rise and spectacular fall of Pullman’s model company town, the Guys look at why the idea of “utopianism” has such strong appeal to Americans.

BackStory 0

American Exodus: A History of Emigration [rebroadcast]  

With Donald Trump vowing to keep undocumented Mexicans out of the U.S. with a wall and Hillary Clinton promising the same immigrants a path to citizenship, immigration was a big issue in the 2016 presidential election. But what about the flip side – emigration? In this episode of BackStory, we ask who’s chosen to leave the U.S. and what parts of their American identities they took with them - from the free blacks who sailed to Liberia in search of true freedom to the Depression-era refugees who moved to the Soviet Union.

BackStory 0

Short Take: The 2016 Election  

Early this morning, Donald J. Trump was declared president-elect and will become the 45th President of the United States. The victory came as a surprise to many and it feels like a rupture in American history. Just what should we make of this and how can we draw lessons from the past? In this BackStory short take, Brian and Ed look to add perspective to this historic event. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

BackStory 0

Pulling the Curtain: Voting in America [rebroadcast]  

If the record TV viewership of the Clinton-Trump presidential debates is any guide, voter turnout for the November election could reach levels not seen since the Gilded Age. It’s easy to be nostalgic for the consistently high voter turnout in the late 19th century, until you consider all the people who weren’t eligible to vote back then. In this episode of BackStory, the History Guys look at voting trends - from the changing mechanisms of voting to how the electoral college system maintained racial hierarchies in the South.

BackStory 0

Short Take: FBI and U.S. Elections  

Last Friday, FBI Directory 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 effectively reopened the investigation into Clinton's private server and email activity during her time as Secretary of State. It also set off a firestorm of protests from both sides of the aisle. Just what is the role of the FBI when investigating politicians and did Comey cross a line with a move that many are interpreting as interfering with a presidential election within two weeks of Americans voting? In this BackStory short take, the Guys talk to Yale historian Beverly Gage about the history of the FBI's involvement in U.S. elections.

BackStory 0

American Horror Story  

What’s a Halloween show without a helping of horror, one of America’s favorite forms of entertainment? Rooted in legend and culture, horror stories play on our fears while often providing a distraction from the real sources of anxiety. In this episode of BackStory, the Guys look at the different forms horror has taken in American culture - from witches and vampires to slave revolts and haunted houses.

BackStory 0

Bridge For Sale: Deception In America [rebroadcast]  

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 and fly-by-night banks dominated the economy, and uncover the origins of the lie detector test, known as “the truth compelling machine.” We’ll also try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.

BackStory 0

A History of Manufacturing in 5 Objects  

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 manufacturing by exploring several objects that transformed American life. From 18th century colonists struggling to produce that most coveted of tems -- porcelain -- to the invention of nylon stockings and the TV picture tube in the 20th century, Peter, Ed, and Brian explore the surprising history behind five inventions and innovations.

BackStory 0

Fighting Words: A History of Debate in America  

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 history of political debate in America. Do Americans like to argue with –or past – each other? From the popularity of amateur debate clubs among young men in the late 18th century, to the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, and Gerald Ford’s infamous gaffe in the 1976 presidential debate, Ed, Brian, and Peter unpack the central role of debating in American democracy.

BackStory 0

0:00/0:00
Video player is in betaClose