BackStory on RADIO IQ with BBC

Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. on RADIO IQ
Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, Brian Balogh

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.

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Program Headlines

  • Friday, April 18, 2014 10:02pm
    Some 20,000 species across the globe are at high risk of extinction, experts say – many here in the United States – and some of our natural fauna have already disappeared. So in this Earth Day episode, the American History Guys explore how Americans have grappled with the idea of extinction over time, and what the loss of native species has meant for our ecosystems and everyday lives. When did we first realize that species could go extinct? To what extent did earlier extinctions shape the emergence of today's environmentalism? And how have ideas about biological extinction factored into American thinking about human cultures? These are just some of the questions the American History Guys and their guests explore in this episode, with stories on our obsession with dinosaurs, the bird that helped birth the conservation movement, the unlikely fish that galvanized a new generation of environmental activists, and much more. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring extinction in America, visit BackStory's website:
  • Friday, April 11, 2014 5:31pm
    The Boston Marathon bombings took place one year ago this week, leaving a stunned nation to wrestle with what the government response should be. But how did Americans in the past understand terrorism? How did they experience it in their own time? This episode of BackStory explores those questions, placing the focus on terrorism within the United States. On September 16th, 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street as workers took their lunch break. The explosion killed 38 people and injured hundreds. The targets? What today we’d call “the one percent”—powerful financiers who ran J.P. Morgan & Co. The Wall Street attack remained the deadliest terrorist bombing in the U.S. until Oklahoma City in 1995. But at the time, people saw it as just one more bombing in a long string of anarchist attacks. So what are the origins of domestic terrorism in the United States? And what kinds of people and movements have been identified as “terrorists”? The American History Guys and their guests explore, tracing the relationship between “terror” and the state and asking when, if ever, is terrorism justified? For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring domestic terrorism in the United States, take a look at BackStory's website:
  • Friday, April 4, 2014 4:25pm
    In 1898, President McKinley called for war with Spain to liberate Cuba from the “barbarities, bloodshed, starvation, and horrible miseries now existing there”—offering a humanitarian justification that has underpinned other interventions, from Haiti in 1915 to Libya in 2011. But in 1994, President Clinton took a stance against intervening in Rwanda, even as the scale of the humanitarian crisis there became clear. As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, BackStory takes on the history of humanitarian intervention. Where does the idea of a humanitarian obligation originate? When and why has the US felt justified to intervene in other nations’ affairs? And how have these interventions shaped Americans’ attitudes toward the world — and the world’s attitudes toward us? These are the questions that Brian, Ed, and Peter explore in this episode, looking to history to help us make sense of America’s international role. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring the history of humanitarian intervention, check out BackStory's website:
  • Friday, March 28, 2014 5:21pm
    In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10. And last month, he signed an executive order putting it into effect for federal contract workers. With legislation on the table in Congress and increases being debated in many states, this episode of BackStory looks to the origins of the minimum wage, and explores how we’ve thought about fair pay over time. Along with their guests, Ed, Brian, and Peter discuss how slaves in the antebellum period could sometimes be brought into the wage economy, and how convict labor played havoc with wages in the wake of the Civil War. They discover why early 20th century feminists cheered the demise of state minimum wage legislation in the 1920s, and find out how the federal minimum wage came to be, a decade later. For more on the guests and stories featured on this episode, and for an array of resources exploring wages and fairness in American history, check out BackStory's website:
  • Friday, March 21, 2014 2:41pm
    As the nation plunges into March Madness 2014, betting on who will make it to the Final Four and claim college basketball’s championship, we're offering some historical perspective on college sports. Why do sports programs even exist at colleges and universities? In this episode, the American History Guys unpack the origins of college sports and the ways universities originally justified athletics on campus. Peter, Ed, and Brian take us to Amherst College in the 19th century, where the first collegiate PHYS ED program blossomed. They also recount a little-known story about the integration of the University of Alabama’s football team. And as for questions about paying student athletes—it turns out that this particular debate goes back a lot further than you might guess. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring the history of college sports, check out BackStory's website: