The Backdrop - A UC Davis Podcast Exploring the World of Ideas-logo

The Backdrop - A UC Davis Podcast Exploring the World of Ideas

Arts & Culture Podcasts

The Backdrop podcast is a monthly interview program featuring conversations with UC Davis scholars and researchers working in the social sciences, humanities, arts and culture. Hosted by public radio veteran Soterios Johnson, the conversations feature new work or expertise on a trending topic in the news.


United States


The Backdrop podcast is a monthly interview program featuring conversations with UC Davis scholars and researchers working in the social sciences, humanities, arts and culture. Hosted by public radio veteran Soterios Johnson, the conversations feature new work or expertise on a trending topic in the news.




17 - Richard Huskey on Brain Flow

Whether it’s an athlete performing at their best or a musician taking it to another level, flow feels good and is good for our well-being. And the best part — pretty much anyone can attain it. Evidence suggests flow can ward off depression, prevent burnout and make us more resilient. In this episode, Richard Huskey, a UC Davis, assistant professor of communication and cognitive science, explains the flow state, how he and other researchers are piecing together how it can be achieved and...


16 - Muhammad Haroon on How Social Media Algorithms Can Foster Political Radicalization

A new study from UC Davis suggests that artificial intelligence recommendation algorithms on sites like YouTube and TikTok can play a role in political radicalization. In this episode, UC Davis Computer Science Ph.D. Student Muhammad Haroon, who led the study, discusses how the study was designed, what the team found, and a new digital tool they created to mitigate the radicalizing effect of social media platform AI Algorithms.


15 - Lisa Ikemoto on the Ripple Effects of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs Decision

The consequences of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade go far beyond the immediate right to terminate a pregnancy. Some of the ramifications are only now being realized, months after the court’s landmark abortion ruling. In this episode of The Backdrop, Lisa Ikemoto, professor at the UC Davis School of Law, details some of the far-reaching ramifications of the court’s Dobbs decision, which touch on issues of privacy, equality, eugenics, disability rights and medical research.


14 - Paul Griffin on How Climate Risk Could Bring a Series of Recessions

New research finds the economy could be plunged into recession — or a series of recessions — because financial markets don’t account for climate risk. Without a better knowledge of the risk posed by extreme weather events, the average investor can only hope that the next extreme event won’t trigger a sudden correction. Paul Griffin, Distinguished Professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, has been studying this ”unpriced risk” and how it can affect markets and the economy. In...


13 - Clifford Saron on the Scientific Study of Meditation

Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain and the MIND Institute, leads the Shamatha Project, one of the most ambitious and comprehensive longitudinal studies of meditation ever conducted. In this episode, Saron discusses the findings so far of the Shamatha Project; what science can tell us about the tangible effects of meditation; and how mindfulness affects our physical, mental and emotional health.


12 - Victoria Juharyan on the Destruction of Ukrainian Cultural Heritage

Victoria Juharyan discusses the destruction and threat of destruction of Ukraine’s cultural heritage during the Russian invasion. The visiting assistant professor in the Department of Russian and German at UC Davis teaches literature and philosophy. She has been active in the effort to preserve Ukrainian culture.


11-Paul Eastwick on the Science of Romantic Relationships

The Backdrop explores the mysterious and complicated topic of human relationships. UC Davis Psychology Professor Paul Eastwick investigates how people initiate romantic relationships and the psychological mechanisms that help romantic partners remain committed and attached. In this episode of The Backdrop, Eastwick discusses the latest research on finding the best partner, how compatibility is constructed in a relationship, and whether men and women really approach relationships...


10 - Andrés Reséndez on ‘Conquering the Pacific’

Acclaimed historian and UC Davis Professor Andrés Reséndez has researched and written a riveting account of the first expedition to sail from the Americas to Asia and back, launching an era of global trade and cultural exchange with the Far East. In Conquering the Pacific: An Unknown Mariner and the Final Great Voyage of the Age of Discovery, he tells how it starts with a secret mission and includes mutiny, a shipwreck, and an African-Portuguese navigator whose story was almost lost to...


9 - Kadee Russ on Supply Chain Bottlenecks and Inflation

From restaurants and grocery stores to construction companies and car manufacturers, the pandemic’s widespread effects on global supply chains have caused shortages, price hikes and layoffs. In this episode, UC Davis Economics Professor Kadee Russ discusses how supply chains got backed-up, and how these critical systems that produce and deliver products to consumers can be made more resilient.


8 - Karima Bennoune on Helping Artists, Cultural Workers Escape Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan

With the end of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan and the quick takeover of that nation by the Taliban, advocates fear a terrible backslide in human rights and civil society there. Karima Bennoune, a professor at the UC Davis School of Law, has been working with others to help get artists, musicians and other at-risk cultural workers out of Afghanistan. She’s worked in the field of human rights, including in Afghanistan, for more than 20 years. And, she serves as UN Special...


7 - Lewis Lawyer on Documenting the Patwin Language

In what is now California, close to 100 indigenous languages were spoken before Europeans arrived. According to UNESCO, most of the languages native to the Americas are critically endangered — many others are entirely extinct. Linguist Lewis Lawyer, a UC Davis alumnus, has compiled the first-ever published description of one of those languages, Patwin — originally spoken in hundreds of communities in Northern California. In this episode, Lawyer discusses the history of the language, how he...


6 - Keith Watenpaugh on Helping Refugee Students Reclaim Their Right to Education

According to one estimate, the global refugee population has more than doubled over the past decade to 26 million. Professor Keith Watenpaugh, director of the Human Rights Studies program at UC Davis, leads an innovative project to help refugee students start or continue their university education — even as they’re displaced and on the move. In this episode of The Backdrop, Watenpaugh discusses the Article 26 Backpack project, the rapid growth of UC Davis’ Human Rights Studies program and...


5 - Rachel Teagle on Reopening the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum

UC Davis’s fine arts museum is reopening to the public after being closed for more than a year because of the pandemic. The Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art reopens June 3, 2021, following campus COVID-19 protocols. In this episode of The Backdrop, the museum’s founding director, Rachel Teagle, discusses the institution's new exhibitions, how the museum has been weathering the pandemic and how the yearlong closure helped the staff focus on issues of diversity, equity and...


4 - Lizbeth De La Cruz on “Humanizing Deportation”

In a typical year, hundreds of thousands of people are deported from the U.S. for entering or staying in the country illegally. A digital storytelling project at UC Davis, called “Humanizing Deportation,” aims to document their stories. On this month’s episode, Ph.D. candidate Lizbeth De La Cruz, discusses the project’s goals, how it got started and her experience working as a member of one of the research teams collecting and preserving these stories.


3 - Magdalena Wojcieszak on Media Exposure and Political Polarization

Conventional wisdom has held that as people are exposed to more partisan news, they become more polarized. But a new study finds that’s not so. On this episode of The Backdrop, Magdalena Wojcieszak discusses a couple of new studies she has co-authored that found no correlation between media exposure and political polarization. Wojcieszak, a Professor of Communication at UC Davis, studies how the changing media environment creates both opportunities and challenges for informed publics,...


2 - Eric Rauchway on Contentious Presidential Transitions

The transition of power from one U.S. president to the next typically goes off without a hitch. But the transition between President Donald Trump and President-Elect Joe Biden has been anything but typical. On this episode of The Backdrop, UC Davis Distinguished Professor of History Eric Rauchway discusses this tumultuous transfer of power and lessons we can learn from another contentious transition, from Herbert Hoover to Franklin Roosevelt.


1 - Kathryn Olmsted on Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories have circulated in the U.S. for centuries, but recently they have seeped into the mainstream consciousness like never before. On the first episode of The Backdrop, UC Davis historian Kathryn Olmsted discusses her work studying the history and impact of conspiracy theories on American society and politics. She also offers advice on how people can avoid falling prey to them.