US 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.
Friday, March 7, 2014 2:02pmAs we all get ready to switch the clocks and "spring forward," we're taking a look at time itself in American history. In this episode, we explore the changing ways Americans have experienced the 24-hour day - from pre-industrial times right on up through today's era of time-shifted media. Along with their guests, Peter, Ed, and Brian examine the role of economic forces in shaping our relationship with the clock – like the powerful Gilded Age railroad officials who got together in 1883 and carved the continental U.S. into five time zones, introducing Americans to the idea of “standard time.” And they explore how people have experienced the rhythm of night and day - and why the advent of electric lighting changed that rhythm forever. And finally, they ask, is unlimited time always a good thing? A loving look at basketball’s iconic “shot-clock” offers answers. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring time in American history, take a look at BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=12410
Friday, February 28, 2014 2:35pmThe Academy Awards are right around the corner, and so BackStory is heading to the movies! With Oscar-nominated movies like "12 Years A Slave" bringing the antebellum United States to the fore, and others like "American Hustle" or "Dallas Buyer’s Club" presenting aspects of the more recent past, the Guys explore how well history is represented in this year’s big contenders. Along with their guests, Ed, Peter, and Brian consider the political context of the original Solomon Northup slave narrative, and examine how certain kinds of narratives – like those dealing with captivity – show up again and again in American storytelling. And they ask how factual accuracy weighs up against dramatic imperatives, and whether movies can tell larger truths about history. For more on the stories and guests featured in this episode, and for an array of resources on history in the movies, take a look at BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=12196
Friday, February 21, 2014 1:55pmThere’s a lot of talk about Bitcoin these days—the digital currency that's been gaining ground. Bitcoin allows online payments to be made person-to-person, instead of via a bank, and sidesteps government involvement, too. Is it a more democratic approach to financial exchanges? Could it be “the future” of money? Brian, Ed, and Peter look to American history for answers. In this episode, we unpack America’s relationship with money, exploring the transformations of currency over the centuries. The Guys and their guests discuss the profusion of currencies in the past, considering how Americans decided which ones to trust—and which were only flashes-in-the-pan. From Continental Dollars at the Founding, to Greenbacks and “Greybacks” during the Civil War; from the gold and silver crises of the Gilded Age, to the new Federal Reserve notes of the 20th century—this episode considers the many ways money has shaped, and been shaped by, America’s politics, economy, and society. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring money in American history, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=12193
Friday, February 14, 2014 2:29pmIt’s the height of the flu season, and federal agencies have been spending millions of dollars trying to keep this year’s virus under control. But when yellow fever struck Philadelphia in 1793, the entire federal government picked up and left town, leaving stricken individuals to fend for themselves. How and why has the pendulum swung so sharply toward government action? And how have epidemics themselves shaped American history? In this episode, we trace the shifting role of the state when it comes to coping with epidemics. Where do we draw the line between promoting the public good and protecting individual rights? And how did people understand the causes and experience of disease in their own time? Along with their guests, Ed, Peter, and Brian look at the impact of smallpox on a New York City immigrant neighborhood at the turn of the 20th Century, and explore how diseases ravaged camps of escaped slaves behind Union lines during and after the Civil War. And they share the devastating story of what happened in Philadelphia when soldiers returning from World War I brought the Spanish flu home with them. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring the history of epidemics in America, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=12120
Friday, February 7, 2014 1:10pmValentine’s Day is around the corner, and that means candy, chocolate, cakes – all the sweet stuff for your sweetheart! It’s just one of the ways sugar has seeped into our personal lives, but it hasn’t stopped there. From the triangle trade to the rise of high-fructose corn syrup, sweetness in America has been a political question too. So why has sugar been so intimately linked to power over the centuries? And how has our national sweet tooth shaped our political and economic priorities? This episode of BackStory finds out, exploring how sugar has shaped, if rarely sweetened, American history. For more on the guests and stories featured in this episode, and for an array of resources exploring sugar in American history, check out BackStory's website: http://backstoryradio.org/?p=11968