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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 Virginia Humanities.There’s the history you had to learn, and the history you want to learn - that’s where BackStory comes in. Each week BackStory takes a topic that people are talking about and explores it through the lens of American history. Through stories, interviews, and conversations with our listeners, BackStory makes history engaging and fun.

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326: Mystery, Murder, and Mayhem: A History of True Crime in America

For the last decade or so, true crime has been everywhere -- Netflix shows like Making a Murderer and podcast series like Serial. All of them are a testament to the fact that for some strange reason, so many of us love stories about murder.  But this magnetism towards the morbid is far from new. Over the years, Americans have found fascination, repulsion and sometimes even comfort in true crime stories. So on this episode of BackStory, Joanne and Ed shine a light onto the dark history of true crime in modern American history.

1hr 8mins

29 May 2020

Rank #1

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181: Fit to Print?: A History of Fake News

As we approach the midterm elections, concerns about fake news - widely circulated news stories that are inaccurate, misleading, or completely made-up – continue to dominate the headlines. The topics, targets, and sources of this content continues to expand, while labelling stories as “fake news” has become a commonplace tactic to blur the lines between fiction and reality. 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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


31 Aug 2018

Rank #2

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325: American Empire: From Scene on Radio

“America” and “empire.” Do those words go together? If so, what kind of imperialism does the U.S. practice, and how has American empire changed over time? By host and producer John Biewen, with series collaborator Chenjerai Kumanyika. Interviews with Nikhil Singh and Daniel Immerwahr. The series editor is Loretta Williams. Music by Algiers, John Erik Kaada, Eric Neveux, and Lucas Biewen. Music consulting and production help from Joe Augustine of Narrative Music. Chenjerai Kumanyika, collaborator on the Seeing White series, is a researcher, journalist, and artist who works as an assistant professor in Rutgers University’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies. His research and teaching focus on the intersections of social justice and emerging media in the cultural and creative industries.sceneonradio.orgPhoto: U.S. Navy Seabees at Camp Morell, Kuwait, 2005. U.S. Navy photo by James Finnigan.

1hr 16mins

22 May 2020

Rank #3

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302: The End of an Era: History That Was Made - and Unmade - in the 2010s

The calendar is nearing closer and closer to the end of 2019. Which has us thinking about the end of the decade and how the United States has changed since the start of the 2010s. So on this episode, Brian, Nathan and Joanne dive into an extended conversation about the memorable moments of the last 10 years and what future historians might say about the decade. Image: "Tuesday morning the police evicted the Occupy Wall Street protesters and cleaned the park." by David Shankbone, November 11, 2011. Source: Wikimedia Commons BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support


15 Nov 2019

Rank #4

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291: 1619: The Arrival of the First Africans in Virginia

This month marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to land on what would become British North America. It wasn’t the first time Africans set foot in what became the United States - they’d arrived some 100 years earlier with Spanish colonists. But 1619 looms large in American history because it marks the beginning of slavery’s development in the Virginia colony and later the entire nation.  Image: "Landing Negroes at Jamestown from Dutch man-of-war, 1619," illustration in Harper's Weekly Magazine, January 1901. Source: Library of Congress BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support


23 Aug 2019

Rank #5

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Hamilton: A History

Alexander Hamilton is living large these days! Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical about the Founding Father won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and scored a record-breaking 16 Tony award nominations. In addition, Hamilton’s surge in popularity helped keep his face on the front of the $10 bill. Peter, Ed and Brian take apart the Hamilton phenomenon by considering who Alexander Hamilton was, his legacy (and how it was remade) and why a white migrant from the British West Indies appeals to so many Americans in 2016. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


10 Jun 2016

Rank #6

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Counter Culture: A History of Shopping [rebroadcast]

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? The holiday season is notorious for bringing out the beast in shoppers. On this episode of BackStory, the Guys plunge into the history of shopping in America—the glitz and glamour, the overflowing shelves, and the cheesy Muzak. They’ll consider the role that consumption played in the revolutionary politics of the colonies, look at the curious rash of shoplifting among well-heeled women in the country’s first department stores, and reveal the connection between the Wizard of Oz and window shopping. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


15 Dec 2016

Rank #7

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Small Island, Big Shadow Cuba and the U.S. [rebroadcast]

No sitting U.S. president has visited Cuba in nearly 90 years, but this month President Obama will do just that. This historic visit could signal a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations. In this episode, Peter, Ed and Brian consider dramatic moments in U.S.-Cuba relations that reflect Cuba’s outsized influence throughout American history. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


18 Mar 2016

Rank #8

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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 look back at the so-called “Spanish Flu,” how it affected the U.S., and why it’s often overlooked today. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


30 Nov 2018

Rank #9

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276: Red in the Stars and Stripes?: A History of Socialism in America

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and record levels of unemployment, the conversation around socialism in the U.S. has resurfaced in surprising ways. So we thought we'd revisit this episode from 2019.  Image: The cover art for the album "Power to the Working Class: Revolutionary songs written & sung by workers & students in struggle." Source: Library of Congress BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support


8 May 2020

Rank #10

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307: Those Were The Days: Nostalgia in American History

It’s common for folks to look back on a time gone by and romanticize it as “better days.” But is nostalgia a harmless yearning for the past, or a distraction from what’s happening in the present?  Image: Memory Lane sign by Martin Bennett / Stockimo Source: Alamy Stock Photo

1hr 9mins

3 Jan 2020

Rank #11

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Worlds Apart: Urban/Rural Divides in America

According to the New York Times, the 2016 election “highlighted a growing rural-urban split.” So, on this episode of BackStory, Brian, Ed and Nathan look at what happens when urban and rural Americans collide. They’ll tell the story of one coastal couple’s proposal to make part of the Great Plains a vast nature preserve and how it wasn’t received too kindly by the residents of those states. They’ll look at how attitudes towards small town voters shaped American politics in the 1920s. Finally, they’ll explore the urban/rural divide during the Founding Era, when city slicker Alexander Hamilton challenged Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a country composed of humble yeoman farmers.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


4 Feb 2017

Rank #12

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204: 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 megaphone.fm/adchoices


2 Mar 2018

Rank #13

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The GOP: A History Of The Republican Party

Donald Trump has clinched the Republican party presidential nomination, and some political pundits wonder if his nomination represents a watershed for the GOP. On this episode of BackStory, we unpack the origins, evolution, and reinvention of the Grand Old Party. From its birth in 1854 by anti-slavery activists in the North, to the party of small government and low taxes, we look at how theRepublican party has reinvented itself at various points in its history. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

1hr 4mins

14 Jul 2016

Rank #14

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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.

1hr 5mins

25 Jan 2019

Rank #15

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308: The U.S. and Iran: A Brief History of an Often Tense Relationship

Last weekend, an American airstrike killed Iranian General Qasam Soleimani, at the direction of President Trump. Iran vowed to retaliate and launched more than a dozen missiles at two American military bases in Iraq. In response, President Trump addressed the nation on Wednesday, saying the US will impose new economic sanctions on Iran. Only time will tell what Solemani’s death means for U.S./Iran relations, and the future of the Middle East. But how did we get here?  On this episode of BackStory, Brian speaks with Hussein Banai, author of “Becoming Enemies: U.S.-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979-1988,” about what the history of US/Iran relations can teach us about the current moment -- and where we might be headed. Image: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of Unites States, Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria Tuesday July 14, 2015. Source: AP Images


10 Jan 2020

Rank #16

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301: The Chinese in American History: How Afong Moy, Mayling Soong and Bruce Lee Changed the Narrative About China

Conversations about US-China relations often revolve around tariffs, trades and recently, President Donald Trump’s tweets. So on this episode of BackStory, Nathan, Joanne and special guest host Erika Lee go beyond the standard narrative of US-China relations and learn about three Chinese and Chinese American people who worked to change American perceptions of China. Support for this podcast comes from International Education at the University of Richmond and The Rose Chen Group for Cultural Understanding. BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support

1hr 6mins

11 Nov 2019

Rank #17

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American Prophets: Religions Born in the U.S.

History textbooks often argue that the United States was founded on the principle of religious freedom, beginning with the Pilgrims who sought refuge from the Church of England. But the America of centuries past was more than a safe haven for religious dissenters. It was also fertile ground for many new religious faiths. In this hour of BackStory, the History Guys will consider religions that originated or transformed in America, from Christian Science to Scientology. They’ll find out how the threat of colonization briefly united 18th-century Native Americans under a single deity, and how the Nation of Islam found converts among African-Americans in the civil rights era. What makes a religion “American”? Why do so many new faiths sprout from American soil? And what role will 21st century America play in the history of religious innovation? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


11 Dec 2015

Rank #18

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A History of Manufacturing in 5 Objects

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have talked about loss of manufacturing jobs, and the importance of having things “Made In America.” In this episode of BackStory, we take a look at the history of American manufacturing by exploring several objects that transformed American life. From 18th century colonists struggling to produce that most coveted of tems -- porcelain -- to the invention of nylon stockings and the TV picture tube in the 20th century, Peter, Ed, and Brian explore the surprising history behind five inventions and innovations. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


13 Oct 2016

Rank #19

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Skin Deep: Whiteness in America

This week, BackStory looks at whiteness in America by broadcasting segments from podcasts we admire. These stories -- from the podcasts Scene on Radio and What’s Ray Saying along with a segment from BackStory’s archives -- explore what it means to be white in America, and how the concept of whiteness has fundamentally shaped our country. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


14 Jul 2017

Rank #20