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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 the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.Each week we take a topic that people are talking about and explore it through the lens of American history. Through stories, interviews, and conversation with our listeners, we make history engaging and fun.

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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 the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Each week we take a topic that people are talking about and explore it through the lens of American history. Through stories, interviews, and conversation with our listeners, we make history engaging and fun.
🇬🇧 English
last modified
2019-06-22 20:46
last episode published
2019-06-21 16:00
publication frequency
6.7 days
BackStory / Panoply owner   author  
Number of Episodes
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Society & Culture History



Date Thumb Title & Description Contributors

In God We Trust? The History of Religious Identity in America

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment forms the basis for the separation of church and state: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Yet, throughout American history, th...
BackStory author

Sponsored Promotion: Bleeped

Sometimes when someone sees something unjust, they speak out about it, and the people they criticize do everything in their power to silence them. Then they're forced to make a choice. Allow themselves to be silenced, or fight back.  Bleeped is a new p...
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The Many Lives of Roe v Wade: The Little Known History Behind the Famous Ruling

In 1973, the landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade decriminalized abortion. But since then, the court’s findings have been simultaneously celebrated and contested. Now, Roe is in the news again. States including Alabama and Missouri have passed laws that chal...
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Sponsored Promotion: Unknown History Podcast

In honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, "Unknown History" podcast, author and historian Giles Milton takes listeners through the perilous 24 hours of D-Day, sharing the tales of the men and women who risked their lives by land, sea, and air. For mor...
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Mind, Body and Spirit: The History of Wellness in America

Recent estimates have put the value of the “Wellness Industry” at $4.2 billion, with celebrities like Jay-Z and Gwyneth Paltrow offering advice on how to get, and stay, well. But being holistically healthy hasn’t always involved a daily dose of meditat...
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Song of Ourselves? Walt Whitman and the American Imagination

May 31st marks Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday. In honor of the man known as America’s “bard of democracy,” we explore diverse aspects of Whitman’s life and legacy - from sexuality to spirituality, poetics to place. Image: Walt Whitman by George C. Cox, ...
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Paying for the Past: Settling the Nation’s Debt to African Americans

Reparations for African-Americans has been a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail, with Democratic candidates including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren coming out in favor of compensation for unpaid African-American labor. But the debate aro...
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Sponsored Promotion: Introducing The Shrink Next Door

Marty Markowitz had his share of problems. His parents had recently died. He had troubles at work. A failing relationship. He needed someone to help him through this rough patch in his life. So he decided to get some professional help from a psychiatri...
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Sponsored Promotion: Family Ghosts

Announcing Season 2 of Family Ghosts, a podcast that takes a closer look at the legendary tales that shape our family histories. Listen:
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You Have The Right to Remain Silent: A History of the Miranda Warning

When a man named Ernesto Miranda confessed to a rape and kidnapping on March 13, 1963, his trial went all the way to the Supreme Court becoming one of the most well-known cases of the 20th century: "Miranda v Arizona." Nathan and Joanne look at the int...
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The Year of the Woman: A History of Women in Congress

Today, 131 women serve in the House and Senate, making Congress the most female and most diverse it’s ever been. But women in politics continue to face an uphill battle. Even after their election, Congresswomen such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rash...
BackStory author

The Civil War in the 21st Century: A New Museum Marks an Old Conflict

On May 4, 2019, the American Civil War Museum ( opens in Richmond, Virginia. It’s a historic endeavor, building upon a merger of several museums and historical sites in the region, including the former Museum of the Confederacy.  The ...
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Red in the Stars and Stripes?: A History of Socialism in America

More candidates for political office in America today identify themselves as socialists than ever before. But isn’t the idea of socialism anathema to American values of free enterprise and entrepreneurism? BackStory reveals the rich history of socialis...
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Alternative Facts, Falsehoods and Delusions: The Lies We've Told Ourselves and Each Other in American History

Late last month, the Washington Post reported President Trump has made some 9,451 false or misleading claims throughout his term in office. Yet, Trump’s supporters have maintained he’s not lying — he’s presenting so-called alternative facts. No matter ...
BackStory author

Death on the Assembly Line: Industrial Tragedies in American History

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 explosions to pollution, tragedi...
BackStory author

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

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 presidential vetoes through two period...
BackStory author

Teen Activists: A History of Youth Politics and Protest

This month, youth around the globe participated in Youth Strike 4 Climate, coordinated demonstrations by school students who are demanding action by world leaders to prevent further climate change. So, in this episode, Joanne, Brian & Ed talk about...
BackStory author

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

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 controversial images that appear in college yearbooks. What explains the long life of blackface in Ameri...
BackStory author

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

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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 ...
BackStory author

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 ...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 ...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 fundraisin...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 ...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 ...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 tea...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 C...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 c...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 t...
BackStory / Panoply author

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...
BackStory / Panoply author

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
BackStory / Panoply author

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 mor...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 U...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 Cha...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 ...
BackStory / Panoply author

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 en...
BackStory / Panoply author

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...
BackStory / Panoply author

The War to End All Wars: Remembering WWI

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 all wars” is still with Americans....
BackStory / Panoply author

To be a Citizen? The History of Becoming American

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 citizenship challenged, undermined, r...
BackStory / Panoply author

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

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 disguise, find out why a decomposing ...
BackStory / Panoply author

Thar She Blows: The History of Whales and America

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 nearly two centuries of whaling. Am...
BackStory / Panoply author

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

(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 a National Prison strike protesti...
BackStory / Panoply author

Close Encounters: UFOs in American History

The national Sunspot Solar Observatory was mysteriously shut down on Sept. 6. Located near Almagordo, New Mexico, local law enforcement reported that the FBI was behind the closure that lasted approximately one week. However, the FBI would neither conf...
BackStory / Panoply author

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

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 American Millionaire, telling the story of one of the first African American Millionaires, delving into the...
BackStory / Panoply author

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

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 Puerto Rico and the United States...
BackStory / Panoply author

Hot Enough For You? The History of Climate Change

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 understood climate and weather in ...
BackStory / Panoply author

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

In 1942, American scientists created the first sustained, controlled nuclear reaction, under the bleachers of a football field. Needless to say, it was the beginning of a new era. On this week’s show, Brian, Joanne and Ed talk atomic power, and the ind...
BackStory / Panoply author

A More Perfect Union? The Reconstruction Era

Lately, Americans feel the country is more divided (at least politically) than ever and often wonder how to go about repairing our divisions. Those same questions were asked when the nation started to come back together after the very real split of the...
BackStory / Panoply author

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

On August 11 & 12, 2017, a “Unite the Right” rally brought chaos, violence and death to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. To mark the anniversary, BackStory broadcasts an episode of “A12,” a new podcast series presented by historian, writer...
BackStory / Panoply author