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BackStory’s Year In Review

The BackStory logo with the words "2016 Year In Review."

 

As 2016 comes to a close, BackStory takes a look at the stories that resonated most with our audience. Here are the 10 most popular blog stories from this year:

  1. Jan. 12, 2016 – Lottery Fever by Diana Williams
    The lead up to the largest lottery jackpot to date – the $1.6B Powerball jackpot hit on Jan. 13 and had only one ticket match all numbers, sold to John and Lisa Robinson of Munford, Tennessee – had Americans going crazy with dreams of hitting it big. BackStory Digital Editor & Strategist Diana Williams wrote about past lotteries and how Americans didn’t always look at them favorably.

    A ticket for the Jefferson Lottery, which was scheduled for April of 1826, but never held. Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, of the same year. © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, made by William Grattan, 1826

    A ticket for the Jefferson Lottery, which was scheduled for April of 1826, but never held. Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, of the same year. © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, made by William Grattan, 1826

     

  2. Jan. 16, 2016 – A Good Fellow by Melissa Gismondi
    UVA PhD student (in history, of course!) and BackStory researcher Melissa Gismondi told the story of Murray Hall, a New York City politician who was remembered as a “man who liked cigars, poker, and good-looking women.” Hall was outed as a woman on a coroner’s report shortly after his death in 1901 and buried in women’s clothing. The subsequent news coverage started a conversation about gender fluidity decades before the term – and any idea of what it meant – entered the American lexicon.

    A New York Times headline that reads "Murray Hall Fooled Many Shrewd Men."

    A New York Times headline that reads “Murray Hall Fooled Many Shrewd Men.”

  3. Jan. 31, 2016 – Murder Was The Case by Diana Williams
    Before Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the two frenemies teamed up to defend Levi Weeks, a young man accused of murdering his alleged lover and disposing of her body in a Manhattan, New York well.

    Aaron Burr's Strategim at the Weeks trial. Source: Library of Congress

    Aaron Burr’s Strategim at the Weeks trial. Source: Library of Congress

  4. Feb. 29, 2016 – “To My Old Master” by Diana Williams
    In September of 1848, Frederick Douglass wrote to his former slave master, Thomas Auld. The beautifully written letter had made the rounds on the internet earlier this year. It left us wondering what happened after the letter was published. We turned to Yale historian David W. Blight for answers.

    Frederick Douglass, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    Frederick Douglass, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

  5. Mar. 31, 2016 – The Best Little Whorehouse in NOLA by Diana Williams
    While the Guys were discussing local power on the podcast, the blog explored local power through the eyes of one of New Orleans’ most beloved characters, Norma Wallace. Wallace was a smart, savvy businesswoman who just happened to be a madam. We talked to Chris Wiltz, who wrote a book about Wallace’s life.

    Norma Wallace during one of her annual portrait sittings. Courtesy of Chris Wiltz.

    Norma Wallace during one of her annual portrait sittings. Courtesy of Chris Wiltz.

  6. June 10, 2016 – Let’s Rap! by Ramona Martinez
    “Hamilton” the musical swept both the country and the classroom. BackStory associate producer Ramona Martinez looked at how American students were both paying homage to A. Ham and enjoying their history classes by spitting rhymes Lin-Manuel Miranda style.

    Students at Olentangy Berkshire Middle School in Galena, Ohio dressed up as characters from Hamilton! The Musical. From the left: Esha Sharma as Angelica Schuyler Church, Olivia Davis as Aaron Burr, Ethan Paulo as King George III, Lauren Timmons as Alexander Hamilton, Emma Aquilina as Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and in the front is Amelia Mannino as Marquis de Lafayette (Photo by Teacher Justin Emrich)

    Students at Olentangy Berkshire Middle School in Galena, Ohio dressed up as characters from Hamilton! The Musical. From the left: Esha Sharma as Angelica Schuyler Church, Olivia Davis as Aaron Burr, Ethan Paulo as King George III, Lauren Timmons as Alexander Hamilton, Emma Aquilina as Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and in the front is Amelia Mannino as Marquis de Lafayette (Photo by Teacher Justin Emrich)

  7. July 1, 2016 – Top 10 Historian-Approved Historical Fiction by Melissa Gismondi
    Melissa Gismondi is a voracious reader and has a knack for selecting books that appeal to history buffs – both amateur and professional. Her 2016 summer reading selections were for lovers of historical fiction.
  8. Sept. 12, 2016 – Land of the Free, Home of the Oppressed by Elizabeth McCauley
    Colin Kaepernick took a knee and suddenly, many Americans were up in arms. Kaepernick’s act of kneeling during the national anthem, his way of peacefully protesting police brutality, sparked a media frenzy with many calling him unpatriotic. Some pointed out that the Star Spangled Banner has racist overtones and actually adds further insult to the injury many black Americans feel. BackStory fall intern Elizabeth McCauley asked former “Washington Post” editor Jefferson Morley to help us get to the bottom of the controversy by looking at the anthem’s history.

    “The star spangled banner,” published by Currier & Ives between 1856 and 1907. Source: Library of Congress

  9. Oct. 9, 2016 – Baldwin v. Buckley by Aidan Lee
    In 1965, James Baldwin and William F. Buckley debated whether American progress had been made at the expense of African Americans. BackStory student writer Aidan Lee caught up with BackStory host Brian Balogh to gain insight on the impact of the debate and learn why its message still lives in contemporary discussions about race.

    James Baldwin portrait (left) by Carl Van Vechten, Sept. 13, 1955. Source: Library of Congress. William F. Buckley by Los Angeles Daily News, May 1, 1954. Source: Wikimedia Commons

    James Baldwin portrait (left) by Carl Van Vechten, Sept. 13, 1955. Source: Library of Congress. William F. Buckley by Los Angeles Daily News, May 1, 1954. Source: Wikimedia Commons

  10. Nov. 18, 2016 – Think Faithless Electors Will Change The Outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election? Think Again. by Diana Williams
    Hillary Clinton earned 2.9 million more votes than President-elect Donald Trump. Still viewed by many as a stunning loss, the 2016 election had many questioning, again, the existence of the electoral college. With so many petitioning electors to change their minds, BackStory took a look at past examples of faithless electors and asked historians the odds of the faithless changing the election’s outcome.

    On the electoral college campus by L.M. Glackens for Puck, June 12, 1907. Illustration shows Uncle Sam and William Jennings Bryan wearing caps and gowns during the graduation ceremonies at the "Electoral College"; Jennings is holding a book "Reveries of a Candidate".

    On the electoral college campus by L.M. Glackens for Puck, June 12, 1907. Illustration shows Uncle Sam and William Jennings Bryan wearing caps and gowns during the graduation ceremonies at the “Electoral College”; Jennings is holding a book “Reveries of a Candidate”.

 

Bonus stories from our photo blog:

 

  1. Aug. 8, 2016 – Coming To America
    See what it was like to arrive in America via Ellis Island between 1902 and 1913.

    Group photograph captioned 'Hungarian Gypsies all of whom were deported' in The New York Times, Sunday Feb. 12, 1905. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collection

    Group photograph captioned ‘Hungarian Gypsies all of whom were deported’ in The New York Times, Sunday Feb. 12, 1905. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collection

  2. Oct. 31, 2016 – Creepy Tales From UVA Grounds
    In honor of Halloween, BackStory fall intern Peyton Wall shared ghost stories and other ghoulish tales from the Grounds of the University of Virginia.

    UVA Medical School, School of Medicine, Anatomy Lab, Circa 1890, Cadaver Society. Source: UVA Special Collections Library

    UVA Medical School, School of Medicine, Anatomy Lab, Circa 1890, Cadaver Society. Source: UVA Special Collections Library