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BackStory with the American History Guys 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. Over the course of the hour, they are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers interested in exploring the roots of what's going on today.
Together, they drill down to colonial times and earlier, revealing the connections (and disconnections) between past and present. With its passionate, intelligent, and irreverent approach, BackStory with the American History Guys is fun and essential listening no matter who you are.
Friday, December 6, 2013 6:17pm15 years ago this month, then-President Bill Clinton was impeached by the US House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice. The root of the trouble was, of course, the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Though Clinton was later acquitted by the Senate, the trial sparked questions about the blurry line between private and public misconduct. But Americans have been puzzling over just where to draw that line for centuries. So in this episode of BackStory, Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers, and Brian Balogh look back over other scandals in American history, exploring the public response and the legacies they’ve left behind. Talking with their guests, the guys rediscover some of the scandals that captured earlier generations’ imaginations - like a lurid tale of adultery and infanticide at a 1790s Virginia plantation called (no joke) “Bizarre.” Or the 19th century Beecher-Tilton trial, in which a celebrity preacher was accused of seducing his best friend’s wife. And in more recent years, the serious congressman whose affair with an exotic dancer helped end his career, and helped change Washington too. Along the way, they consider what has constituted a scandal in American history and how public attitudes toward them have evolved. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11567
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:46pmThree square meals a day. Three to five servings of fruits and vegetables, two to three servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese. Avoid fats and sugar. Red meat in moderation... We’re used to hearing these kinds of instructions. But eating isn’t simply about the perfect nutritional balance. It has profound social implications too, especially when we sit down with others to share a meal. And so in this episode, the Guys recover from their Thanksgiving feasts by looking back over the history of mealtime in America. From Victorian table manners to the school lunch program, how have our ideas about what, when, and how we eat our meals evolved? For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on the history of mealtime in America, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11517
Friday, November 22, 2013 6:44pmOn November 22nd, 1963, 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas – a tragedy that inspired conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Why have alternative assassination theories proven so resilient over the years? And why do other conspiracy theories persist in public memory? This episode takes a look at conspiracy thinking throughout American history, and finds a long tradition stretching all the way back to the Founding. From a political party formed to combat the secretive power of Freemasons, to whispers of a “slave power” conspiracy in the 19th Century, to an outcry over a criminal network fostering “white slavery” in the early 20th Century, and, of course, an abundance of Communist conspiracies during the Cold War – the Guys and their guests discover that while conspiracy theorists might sometimes be on the fringes of American society, conspiracy thinking has always been mainstream. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on conspiracy thinking in American history, check out BackStory’s website at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/grassy-knolls-2/
Friday, November 15, 2013 4:05pmNovember 19th, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It’s one of the most iconic speeches in American history, but in 1863, it got decidedly mixed reviews – one newspaper even called it “silly, flat and dishwatery.” So how did it become one of the most famous speeches in the United States? This episode of BackStory explores the evolution of an icon, and asks, more generally, what kinds of speeches – and speakers – endure in American history. From the fiery sermons of traveling preachers in the 18th century to the teleprompted prime-time addresses of presidents today, we’ll look at how audiences’ expectations of orators have shifted, and ask why some speeches loom so much larger — or smaller — in our memory than they did in their own times. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on oratory in the United States, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11413
Friday, November 8, 2013 3:24pmThe wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created thousands of new combat veterans - but what is it like for those soldiers as they return home? How were veterans of America’s earlier wars treated, and what kinds of challenges did they face? Are veterans only as popular as the wars they’ve fought in? In honor of Veterans Day, this episode of BackStory examines the veterans' experience across American history. We explore how the psychological impact of war was understood before “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” emerged as a diagnosis, and probe the symbolic place of Confederate veterans after the Civil War – including their relevance for veterans of the United States military today. Plus, looking back to when veterans were exclusively male, we take a look at the changing expectations for soldiers’ wives and mothers when the boys returned home. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources relating to veterans in American history, check out BackStory’s website: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/coming-home/