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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
2019-01-19 07:58
last episode published
2019-01-18 19:57
publication frequency
6.81 days
BackStory / Panoply owner   author  
Number of Episodes
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Society & Culture History



Date Thumb Title & Description Contributors

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

Elementary Mr. President: Sherlock Holmes, the Supreme Court and Dr. Spock

Ed, Joanne and Brian explore the history of filling vacant seats on the Supreme Court, discover the secret connections between 221B Baker Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and find out why the publication date of a successful child rearing manual is...
BackStory / Panoply author

The Melting Pot: Americans & Assimilation

This week, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan wrestle with a long-running tension in our country’s history: what it means to assimilate and “become American.” We’ll explore the 19th-century notions of who could become an American and the ways they were expected...
BackStory / Panoply author

Shore Thing: A History of the Beach

Summer’s 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 ...
BackStory / Panoply author

What’s in a Number? Thirteen in American History

The 13th of any month is more likely to occur on a Friday than any other day of the week and it's happened as many as three times in a single calendar year. So, why is it considered bad luck?  In this episode, Joanne, Nathan and Brian explore stories o...
BackStory / Panoply author

Saving American History

How is the history of a nation remembered? Well -- it all depends on what you keep. We’re talking about recipes, your old record collection, wedding dresses, newspapers, family letters or even your own personal diary. These are the types of documents f...
BackStory / Panoply author

Summer Reading List: 14 History Books You’ll Want to Read

What should you be reading this summer? BackStory’s hosts and special guests share their recommendations of the history page turners you should pack for the beach.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
BackStory / Panoply author

The Camera Never Lies? History Through the Viewfinder

In the 21st century, we often assume that a picture captures what really happened in a given moment. But on this week’s show, Joanne and Brian look at the early days of photography - when Americans had to figure out how to ‘read’ images - and learn if ...
BackStory / Panoply author

Death Before Dishonor: Shame and Reputation in American History

This week, Ed, Nathan and Joanne discuss the importance of honor throughout American history. We’ll explore how 19th-century honor culture demanded that a man’s good name be saved by any means necessary — even murder. And we’ll consider how the concept...
BackStory / Panoply author

Are We There Yet? Americans On Vacation

As Americans hit the road and take to the skies for summer vacation, Joanne, Ed, and Nathan explore the ways Americans have spent their time off.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
BackStory / Panoply author

Reflecting on Darkness: Lynching; Americans and the Holocaust

On this week’s episode, Nathan, Brian, Joanne & Ed talk about how Americans remember and reckon with systematic violence, and how we keep this difficult history alive and in the public eye. Historian Kidada Williams reads letters from a man seeking...
BackStory / Panoply author

Upward Nobility: American-Made Royalty

The marriage of England’s Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle is making headlines around the world. U.S. women marrying into aristocracy has a surprisingly long history. This week, Ed, Brian, and Joanne look at the outsized political impact ...
BackStory / Panoply author

Shock of the New: The Legacy of the 1893 World’s Fair

The World’s Columbian Exposition opened 125 years ago this month. Known today as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it put the emerging United States and its host city on shining display. So, on this episode, Joanne, Ed, and Nathan explore the fairgrounds....
BackStory / Panoply author

Crowning Glory: A History of Hair in America

It’s been fifty years since “Hair” debuted on Broadway. The groundbreaking play featured an integrated cast and defined the rock musical genre.On this episode, Brian, Joanne and Nathan explore some of the many meanings Americans have attached to hair -...
BackStory / Panoply author

“Dear Mr President…”: Letters to FDR, #twitterstorians, and one man's experience of slavery's legacy

Joanne talks about the letters that flooded into FDR’s Whitehouse and how historians reach the public using social media. Also, Justin Reid, director of African American programs at Virginia Humanities, reflects on his family’s experience of slavery.Le...
BackStory / Panoply author

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. illeg...
BackStory / Panoply author

Teen Activists: A History of Youth Politics and Protest

As students organize protests around the country, Joanne, Brian & Ed talk about the role young people have played in American politics. They’ll look at how the desegregation movement in Virginia was sparked in part by a 16-year-old girl, how young ...
BackStory / Panoply author

The Habit: Opioid Addiction in America

As the opioid epidemic continues, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome M. Adams said this week that Americans should carry and learn to use naloxone, an overdose antidote. In this episode, Nathan, Ed and Brian look at America's long history with opioids - like o...
BackStory / Panoply author

The Real Martin Luther King: Reflecting on MLK 50 Years After His Death

Civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago. Today he is celebrated as an American hero and championed in children’s books and inspirational posters. But have Americans lost sight of the real MLK?Learn more about your a...
BackStory / Panoply author

You Have The Right to Remain Silent: A History of the Miranda Warning

Fifty-five years ago this month, a man named Ernesto Miranda confessed to rape and kidnapping in a Phoenix police station. His trial would go all the way to the Supreme Court in one of the most well-known cases of the 20th century: "Miranda v Arizona."...
BackStory / Panoply author

Wherever Green is Worn: The Irish in America

On this St. Patrick’s Day special, Brian, Joanne and Nathan explore Irish American culture and identity. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
BackStory / Panoply author

Turf War: A History of College Sports

On this episode, Brian, Peter, and Ed unpack the origins of college sports and the ways universities originally justified athletics on campus. From the first collegiate PHYS ED program at Amherst College to the little-known story about the integration ...
BackStory / Panoply author

Too Good To Be True?: Myths in American History

On this week’s episode, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan explore some of the stories Americans tell about our past and find the kernels of truth that lie at the heart of a few American legends.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
BackStory / Panoply author

Billy Graham, Black Panther and Haiti, and Thomas Edison’s Reputation

The BackStory hosts look back on the rise of influential pastor Billy Graham, who died this week. Nathan probes how Black Panther’s mythical kingdom of Wakanda is a fully realized dream of a black-led country. And Joanne introduces a new segment, in wh...
BackStory / Panoply author

Life After the Oval Office: Presidential Legacies

In honor of President’s Day, Joanne, Brian, and Nathan explore the ‘afterlives’ of presidents: what do they do with their time once they’re out of office -- and how do we remember them once they’re gone?Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone...
BackStory / Panoply author

Catholics in America

Ed, Brian and Nathan mark the beginning of Lent with an exploration of American Catholicism—recounting the struggles, triumphs, and unique impact of Catholics on the history of the United States. From Spanish missionaries on the California coast and ea...
BackStory / Panoply author

Forgotten Flu: America & the 1918 Pandemic

The U.S. is in the grips of the worst flu season in nearly a decade, with hospitals full across the country. But it’s nothing compared to the flu season one hundred years ago, when a nationwide pandemic killed over half a million Americans. Brian, Nath...
BackStory / Panoply author