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Contagion

Responding to Infectious Disease [rebroadcast]

It’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,...

Contagion

Responding to Infectious Disease

When yellow fever struck Philadelphia in 1793, the entire federal government picked up and left town, leaving individuals to fend for themselves. A hundred years later, the pendulum had swung sharply in the other direction. Health workers took extreme measures to contain disease – imprisoning the sick, burning entire districts, and vaccinating resistant citizens at gunpoint. In this hour of BackStory we trace the trajectory of that change...

American Exodus

A History of Emigration [rebroadcast]

As House Speaker John Boehner hints that immigration reform might yet have a chance at passage, we take a look at the flip side of the immigrant story – emigration – and find stories of Americans who left this country in search of a better life elsewhere, and sometimes, a fuller realization of American values. From the Loyalists who fled to Canada in the wake of the Revolution, to the free blacks who sailed to Liberia in search of freedom (and a...

American Exodus

A History of Emigration

With immigration reform in the headlines, BackStory takes a look at the flip side of the Ellis Island story: emigration. This week, we bring you the stories of Americans who have left the country in search of a better life elsewhere. From the Loyalists who fled to Canada in the wake of the Revolution, to the free blacks who sailed to Liberia in search of freedom (and a spot at the top of the racial hierarchy), to the Depression-era refugees who...

Bridge for Sale

Deception in America

In America, you can be anything you want to be. Or anyone. Literally. So on this April Fools edition of BackStory, we dig into the long story of confidence men and counterfeiters. We discover a time when fake money jump-started the economy, and take a look at the long, strange history of “the truth compelling machine.” And, oh yeah… we try to sell the Brooklyn Bridge....

American Apparel

A History of Fashion

Summer might mean taking off the layers, but what Americans wear reflects so much more than the weather. In this episode, we explore what our self-presentation can say about our society and culture, and what fashions reflect about moments and movements in American history. Can fashion statements be political statements? How does fashion evolve, or does it revolve? And does the United States have a unique style? Just some of the questions we̵...