BackStory

BackStory

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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

Crowning Glory: A History of Hair in America  

From Katy Perry’s new pixie to cut to Lebron James going bald - hair (or the lack of) is in the headlines a lot recently. On this episode, Brian, Joanne and Nathan explore some of the many meanings Americans have attached to hair - as a marker of personal identity, a living connection to distant loved ones, and even as the root of business empire. 

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Contested Landscape: The Battle over Confederate Monuments  

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 Confederate statues were erected, and what they stood for.  They’ll examine the many meanings of the Confederate flag and hear a Civil War re-enactor take a closer look at his Southern heritage. 



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Prying Eyes: Privacy in America  

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 private and the public collide. We’ll look at voting in the 19th century, surveillance of gay employees in the federal government, the newsworthiness of your private life, and find out if there was ever a golden age of privacy in America. Image credit: The Right to Privacy by Unarmed Civilian via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Body Politics, JFK at 100 and African American Memorials  

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 news. They’ll discuss the art of the Presidential Handshake, John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday and public monuments of African Americans.

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Call To Arms: Enlistment In America  

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 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.

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National Lampoon: A History of American Satire  

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 Show with Stephen Colbert is now the most successful late night program on TV.  Joanne, Ed and Brian look at the long history of political satire in America - how Mark Twain became the country’s most famous satirist by mostly sticking to safe subjects, a look at the 1987 Supreme Court case that made political satire protected speech, and talk to the star and director of “Ask a Slave”, the satirical web series.


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The Habit: Opioid Addiction in America  

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 Brian look at America's long history with opioids - like opium, morphine and heroin. They’ll discuss how late 19th century doctors spurred the nation’s first addiction crisis and how race and class have shaped our perception of addicts and addiction.  

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History Grab Bag 5.5  

In this History Grab Bag, Joanne, Ed, Brian and Nathan discuss the history behind items in this week’s news. They’ll discuss why the Civil War and its monuments remain so divisive, consider the varied paths of ex-Presidents, and talk about this week’s Supreme Court decision that says cities can sue big banks over predatory lending.

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American Hoarders: Saving History  

How is the history of a nation remembered? Well -- it all depends on what you keep. We're talking about recipes, old record collections, wedding dresses, newspapers, family letters or even your own personal diary. These are the types of documents future generations depend on to understand past American culture.


On this episode, Joanne, Ed and Nathan talk about the people who took it upon themselves to collect stuff they knew someone would one day care about -- even if some thought it weird. We'll tell the story of a U.S. congressman who collected his colleagues' discarded notes and talk to his 21st-century counterpart -- someone trying to archive the daily culture of the internet.



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History Grab Bag 4.21  

In this History Grab Bag, Joanne, Ed, Brian and Nathan discuss the history behind items in the news. They’ll look at the deep history of sanctuary cities and rule of law, and look at America’s history of boycotts all the way back to the Boston Tea Party. The hosts will also talk about why it’s so hard for presidents from Nixon to Trump to actually shrink the federal government. Plus, footnotes! 

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Over There: America Enters WWI  

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. 
We’ll explore how Woodrow Wilson led a decidedly isolationist country into war. We’ll also discuss the repressive ways Wilson and his administration cracked down on anti-war sentiment. 

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

In recent years, the White House’s relationship with the Kremlin has dominated the headlines in America --  from Syria to Ukraine. According to CNN, Vladimir Putin denounced last night's U.S. airstrike against Syria (a response to a Syrian chemical weapons attack earlier this week) as "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law." In addition, an FBI probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians in the 2016 election has turned into a full-blown political scandal.  It can be tempting to view these events through the familiar lens of the Cold War, but in this episode, Joanne, Ed and Brian probe the deeper history of our relationship with Russia — and discover moments of comity as well as conflict.

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A More Perfect Union?: The Reconstruction Era  

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 period: how would the country be put back together? Who belonged in it? And what rights would they have?


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History Grab Bag 3.24  

In BackStory’s second history grab bag, Joanne, Ed, Brian, and Nathan discuss the history behind items in this week’s news. They’ll look at Boston Public School’s decision to ditch the traditional world map for a new one that reflects the true proportions of Europe, Africa and the Americas, and discuss Democrats’ sudden fondness for States’ Rights, as they look for ways to push back against Republicans. The hosts also tip their hats to late rock ‘n roll legend Chuck Berry.

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Behind the Bylines: Advocacy Journalism in America  

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 the reporter on the O’Reilly Factor, he called Ramos “an advocate for people who enter the U.S.A. illegally.”

In recent decades, however, more journalists have vocally advocated for underrepresented communities. Websites like the theGrio.com are unapologetic about finding stories the mainstream media aren’t picking up.

On this episode, Nathan, Joanne, and Brian look at the deep roots of advocacy in journalism. They’ll also explore the recent origins of objectivity and debate the duty of the Fourth Estate.

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Border Patrols: Policing Immigration in America  

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 threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak.”
Coupled with his second attempt at a travel ban from Muslim-majority countries and his promise to build a border wall, the president and his team are focusing the nation’s attention on who gets in and who the government will kick out.
In the second episode of our two-part series on immigration, we explore how the federal government monitors and polices the undocumented. We’ll consider the origins of illegal immigration, as well as how the government’s deportation powers have grown over time.

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Taking it to the Streets: Protest in America  

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 Street. 
On this episode of BackStory, Ed, Nathan and Brian look at the central role that political protests have played throughout American history.

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History Grab Bag  

In BackStory’s first history grab bag, Joanne, Brian and Nathan discuss the history behind items in this week’s news. They’ll look at how institutions like government agencies and the press have pushed back against presidents in the past and explore the political uses of satire in American history. They’ll also consider the legacy of Malcolm X, fifty-two years after his death.

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Fit to Print?: A History of Fake News  

Since the 2016 election, concerns about “fake news-” widely circulated news stories that are inaccurate, misleading, or completely made-up - have dominated the headlines. A Buzzfeed study found that in the three months before the election, false news items were shared on social media more than mainstream news. 
On this episode, Nathan, Joanne and Ed will look at other times in history when Americans had to be a bit more careful about what they read.

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On the Outs: Restricting American Immigration  

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 order on Jan. 27, is commonly believed to be a ban on Muslims. So, on this episode of BackStory, Ed, Brian, and Joanne look back at sweeping immigration restrictions in the 19th and 20th centuries, and how immigrant communities navigated these changing rules.

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