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BackStory with the American History Guys

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BackStory is a public radio program & podcast that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths.

BackStory is a public radio program & podcast that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths.
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Charlottesville, VA


BackStory is a public radio program & podcast that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths.




145 Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA 434 924 3296


243: Shore Thing: A History of the Beach

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 about race, health, and daringly provocative woolen swimsuits. And the hosts will add their own experiences of the beach as a weird, magical place. Download a full transcript of this episode ( . BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the...


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

WARNING: THIS EPISODE CONTAINS UNCENSORED USE OF THE STRONGEST PROFANITIES. PLEASE DO NOT LISTEN IF YOU ARE LIKELY TO BE OFFENDED AND PLEASE DO NOT PLAY IF CHILDREN ARE LISTENING. This week, BackStory looks at the history of profanity in America. We’ll discover how soldiers returning from World War Two brought home more than just tales from the battlefield, explore what it really means to swear like a sailor, and discover how Lenny Bruce challenged and provoked the America of the 1950’s and...


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

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 York Telephone in the 1970’s and learn how Ida B. Wells found her voice as an advocacy journalist. We’re also sharing a Radio Diaries ( story on Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican Senator from Maine whose 1964 presidential bid inspired a generation...


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

What drives people to reject technology? Though American society has been driven by technological leaps forward, not everyone has come along for the ride. We explore the strain of technophobia in American society from Neo-Luddism to Sabbatarianism and the anti-technology terrorism of the Unabomber. About the image: Original Film Title: METROPOLIS. English Title: METROPOLIS. Film Director: FRITZ LANG. Year: 1927. Credit: U.F.A / Album. Source: Album / Alamy Stock Photo


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

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 wave of heiresses running away with their coachmen caused a moral panic in the Gilded Age.


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

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 used minstrel shows for fundraising, why the era known as Jim Crow is named after a minstrel character, and what must happen to prevent people from donning blackface going forward. THIS EPISODE CONTAINS SOME LANGUAGE THAT...


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

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 the extraordinary story of Korla Pandit, the turban-wearing showman of California’s cocktail lounges. We’re also sharing a segment from “Scene On Radio ( ” about the racial cleansing in...


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

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 and Brian discover, Nixon ran a more imaginative and ideologically flexible administration than its ignominious ending might suggest.


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

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 consciousness raising and isolation tanks? And what does Thoreau’s solitary experiment at Walden Pond have to teach us all in the digital age?


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

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, Brian, Joanne, Nathan and special guest judges Margot Lee Shetterly (author of Hidden Figures) and actor Chris Jackson (who played George Washington in “Hamilton” on Broadway) as they discuss the exhibitions, books, websites and museums competing to become the winner of the first ever BackStory Prize. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit...


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

What could be more American than . . . butter carving? Maybe miniature roadside towns or perhaps a dead whale on a train. On this episode of BackStory, Ed, Brian and Nathan explore the best of Americana, finding the unique and the kitschy in American culture. (This show features two segments from previous episodes.) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit (


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

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...


261: Playing the Past: Video Games and American History

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 of the Old West? On this episode, Brian, Nathan and Ed explore the relationship between history and video games in America. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit (


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

What history books should you gift - or get- this holiday season? BackStory’s hosts and special guests share their recommendations of the history page turners you should pack for the holidays. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit (


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

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, and from the political career of Harvey Milk to the barrier breaking career of one SFPD cop. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit (


230: Forgotten Flu: America & the 1918 Pandemic

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 ago, a strain of H1N1 that was first found in soldiers in the spring of 1918 rapidly spread across the United States killing about 675,000 by 1919 and making it “the most severe pandemic in recent history,” according to the CDC ( . Brian, Nathan, and Joanne...


257: Stuffed: Taxidermy in the History of America

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 raven connects Edgar Allan Poe to Charles Dickens and unravel the extraordinary story of the man who proposed stuffing the Founding Fathers. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit (


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

Google the phrase “divided America” and you’ll find numerous, stories, opinion pieces and even psychological theories on why we’re so disconnected. From race and class to gender and politics, it seems that Americans can’t see eye-to-eye - to the point that a recent NBC News headline stated, “Americans are divided over everything except division.” On this episode, Ed, Nathan and Joanne look at other times in history when Americans were split. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit...


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

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 career settling disputes between farmers and representing litigious railway companies. So what did this enterprising lawyer pick up along the way and how did his legal career influence the President he became? Ed and guest host Lindsay Graham of the American History Tellers podcast explore the career of Lincoln the Lawyer. Learn more about your ad...


184: Border Patrols: Policing Immigration in America

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 to escape high poverty, violence and corruption. In response, President Trump deployed 5,200 active duty troops to the U.S. border with Mexico this week and indicates that number could reach 15,000. On this episode of BackStory, Brian, Nathan and Joanne consider the origins...