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.
331: The End of the Road: BackStory and the History of Finales in America
1:19:45On this final episode of BackStory, Nathan, Brian, Joanne and Ed explore different kinds of finales throughout American history. They also consider what it’s like being a part of their own finale and how finales can sometimes lead to new beginnings.
Teaser: BackStory and the History of Finales in America
6:21Coach Tony Bennett knows a thing or two about big finales. He’s the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Virginia. This is a clip from Brian's conversation with Coach Bennett about the power of sports and how you have to be able to accept the outcome of a big game, whether it’s a buzzer-beater win or a heartbreaking loss. The full episode is coming to you this Friday, July 3.
330: Best of BackStory: The Time the People Picked
51:13As BackStory nears the end of its production, we’ve asked our listeners to call in with moments from the show’s history and compile their very own “Best of BackStory.” We got some great responses covering a range of topics, each of them meaningful to the present moment in their own way. So in this best of BackStory, we present three of our listener’s favorite interviews from the show. You’ll learn about the early U.S. Postal Service, and hear from residents of Hamlet, North Carolina as we explore the painful memory of a 1991 tragedy. Then, you’ll discover the long evolution of the Confederate flag’s design.
Introducing: Seizing Freedom
18:39Coming Feb 2021… In most history classes, students learn that the Emancipation Proclamation and Union victories “freed the slaves.” But ending slavery in America required much more than battlefield victories and official declarations. Black people battled for their own freedom, taking incredible risks for a country that had actively denied their right to it. And after the Civil War, they made freedom real by organizing for equality and justice. On Seizing Freedom, you’ll hear stories of freedom taking and freedom making, in the words of those who did both. Drawing on stories from diaries, newspapers, letters, and speeches, we’ll recreate voices that have been muted time and time again. This excerpt is from the first episode of the series. It tells the story of those who escaped slavery to enlist with the Union Army—an army that wasn’t particularly interested in having them. Subscribe to the entire series here.
329: Great, Small and Other Expectations: Charles Dickens and His History with America
39:52Charles Dickens died 150 years ago this month. A famous chronicler and critic of English industrial capitalism, Dickens was also immensely popular in the United States. But in an age of widespread debate about slave versus wage labor, his writings meant different things to different readers. Music: Bright White by Podington Bear Outmoded Waltz by Podington Bear Quatrefoil by Podington Bear Theme in G by Podington Bear Refraction by Podington Bear Stages of Awakening by Podington Bear Associations by Podington Bear Arboles by Podington Bear
328: The Clue of the Blue Bottle from "The Last Archive"
57:03The Last Archive is a show from Pushkin Industries about the history of truth, and the historical context for our current fake news, post-truth moment. It’s a show about how we know what we know, and why it seems, these days, as if we don’t know anything at all anymore. The show is driven by host Jill Lepore’s work as a historian, uncovering the secrets of the past the way a detective might. On this episode, The Clue of the Blue Bottle, Jill tells the story of a Spring day in 1919, when a woman’s body was found bound, gagged, and strangled in a garden in Barre, Vermont. Who was she? Who killed her? Jill tries to solve the cold case—reopening a century-old murder investigation—as a way to uncover the history of evidence itself. Find out more about The Last Archive at their website.
327: Another Burden to Bear: A History of Racial Health Disparities in America
56:09The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color. According to the CDC, 33% of people who’ve been hospitalized due to the virus have been African-American, despite making up only 18% of the population. The ongoing crisis is a reminder of the racial health disparities that have plagued the United States throughout its history. So on this episode of BackStory, Joanne and Brian learn about how different communities have struggled to acquire adequate health care. NOTE: This episode was recorded before protests took place across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer. The protests, in addition to the death toll of COVID-19, serve as brutal reminders of the systemic inequalities afflicting communities of color. Suggested Reading: Murray, Shaw, and Siegel’s Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories (Law Stories Series) Jim Crow in the Asylum: Psychiatry and Civil Rights in the American South by Kylie Smith Madness in the City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Race and Mental Illness in the Nation’s Capital by Martin Summers
326: Mystery, Murder, and Mayhem: A History of True Crime in America
1:06:33For 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.