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The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

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Great American Speeches

As we work on our upcoming show about American Oratory, we’re compiling a list of the greatest speeches in American history, as suggested by BackStory listeners. Here’s what we have so far: General George Washington’s “Newburgh Address” in 1783, delivered to officers of the Continental Army who were threatening to overthrow the government. “The Meaning of the Fourth of […]

A Bill for BackStory

BackStory is enmeshed in a grammatical crisis – and we need your help to resolve it. Divisions are forming, banners are flying, and a war of words might break out at any second over a critical question of BackStory policy: which indefinite article to use with the noun “historian”? “AN HISTORIAN” OR “A HISTORIAN”? Our hosts took […]

“I have a dream” at 50

50 years ago today, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial – the culmination of the 1963 March on Washington, and a crucial moment in American history. You can read the full text of King’s speech at the National Archives.

The Chemical Weapons Conundrum

In December 2012, President Obama addressed reports that Syrian president Bashir Assad was on the verge of using chemical weapons against rebels in his country. “And today, I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally […]

Elvis, Nixon, & the War on Drugs

It’s 36 years ago today since Elvis Presley died, following a battle with prescription drugs. But he famously offered to help President Richard Nixon fight the growing “drug culture” in America that seemed to have taken off in the 1960s.  The iconic picture of the two meeting in the Oval Office, on December 21, 1970, is the most […]

Ed Ayers receives National Humanities Medal

BackStory and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities are extremely proud of our 19th Century American History Guy – otherwise known as Edward L. Ayers, President of the University of Richmond and historian extraordinaire, who was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Obama last week. Ed was recognized at a White House ceremony on July 10th, along […]

Horses on treadmills! (c. 1881)

A team-horse treadmill in the Gray’s Horse Powers catalogue, c. 1881. (Smithsonian institution). From the fabulous article at Lapham’s Quarterly. “There were horse-powered ferryboats; horse-powered hay balers and cotton-gins; even horse-powered chocolate factories. For its first few years, Manhattan’s municipal water system was powered by horses turning a pump wheel. The work did not benefit […]

How the Chess Set Got Its Look and Feel

from Design Decoded: Victorian London’s Neoclassical architecture had been influenced by a renewed interest in the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome, which captured the popular imagination after the rediscovery of Pompeii in the 18th century. The work of architects like Christopher Wren, William Chambers, John Soane, and many others inspired the column-like, tripartite division […]