Pitch us!

Winter/Spring 2015

Published: January 23, 2015

Belle North, female pitcher, 1915.


Last year we received nearly 200 pitches for show topics — some of which made it on the air! Episodes about higher education and the United States’ relationship with Mexico were pitched by listeners, and lots of individual stories had their origins in your brains as well. So help us keep up the process! Propose a topic below and explain why you think it would make a compelling subject for us to tackle.

If you’ve never listened to BackStory, spend some time in our archive of past shows to get a sense of what we’re all about. You can also take a look at what others have pitched in the past herehere, or here. Basically, we’re looking for topics we can trace over the entire course of American history, rather than single chapters from that history. (In other words, “the history of the car” = Bad / “the history of American transportation” = Better)

To suggest a topic, either join the discussion below OR send an email detailing your thoughts to backstory@virginia.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!


From time to time, we’ll also include radio features by outside producers. Visit our freelancer’s page for more information about what we’re looking for, a list of upcoming show topics (and tape deadlines!), and pay rates.


Comments (92)

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  1. Chip Fisher

    I’ve listened to your episode about the history of the police in the US and that was really enlightening.

    I’d like to hear more about the history of Outlaws in the US. I think it’d be especially interesting to learn about outlaws in the colonial and revolutionary period because it’s just not the period of our history associated with outlaws.

    How has the outlaw become an American Archetype that many people admire and emulate? Have Americans always been strangely attracted to stories of outlaws, criminals, and serial killers? Has their portrayal in media, news and entertainment changed over the course of our history?

    I love the show and can’t wait for the next episode!

    Chip Fisher
    Boulder, CO

  2. Chip Fisher

    History of Secrets: spies, traitors, and secret clubs (Masons, Skull and Bones, etc.). This topic could also bridge over to privacy and more contemporary issues, though I know that has been covered in other shows. But I think you get the idea 😉

    Boulder, CO

  3. Chip Fisher

    History of Alcohol: you hear about how important discussions between the founding fathers occurred over a beer (or many!). How else has alcohol influenced life in America? There’s an interesting tie into sanitation because for a long time in settlements, alcoholic beverages were cleaner than water to drink.

    Chip Fisher
    Boulder, CO

  4. Deb Pressley

    Work on my family genealogy has lead me into reading so much more about American history! The one thing I’m having trouble wrapping my head around is the topic Civil War guerrillas. What are guerrilla fighters? What caused them to emerge in the Civil War? Was one side more notorious for their guerrilla fighters? Was there a geographical area which was more known for their antics? As it turns out I descend from one, William Owen “Wild Bill” Sizemore. What info I’ve found says he was a Union guerrilla in Eastern TN, but from what little I’ve been able to learn that seems counter-intuitive. I know, more Civil War, but maybe you can use this as a seed idea? Keep those great shows coming!

    • John

      Without any particular knowledge about Sizemore, I can tell you that there were indeed Unionist holdouts in the Confederate south, especially in Appalachia. Another interesting figure along those lines is Henry Berry Lowrie, a Lumbee Indian in Robeson County, NC whose multiracial gang of outlaws hid out in the swamps during the war and fought against former Confederates during Reconstruction.

  5. judith reichsman

    HIstory of the 12 steps (AA)
    All over the world, the creation of AA is hailed as the US’s biggest contribution to spirituality. AA has spawned OA (Overeaters Anonymous), EA (Emotions Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and several hundred! others. Al-ANon (for the family and friends of alcoholics) has spawned OAnon (family of overeaters, anorexics, bulemics, etc), Nar-Anon (family and friends of drug addicts), etc. The story of the 2 co-founders of AA is fascinating (both are from Vermont…) and the effect AA and all the 12 step groups has had and is having profound effects. I was about to say that this might leave the wonderful 18th century guy out in the cold, but certainly there were attempts to help alcoholics during his century…!
    I came on your site just to thank you for your amazingly great show, but then saw your invitation to suggest topics – thanks for that as well! I can’t believe how you transform the study of history into ‘the back story’.. marvelous idea and even more marvelous in the carrying out of it weekly. Bravo! Thank you to your anonymous (oh! there’s that word again!) donor! Gratefully, Judith R. in Vermont (-:

  6. Sheri Bailey

    The Indians called it the “Swamp of Despair.” Today it’s known as the Great Dismal Swamp, but despite all the depressing names it’s a place of great beauty &, dare I say, magic. George Washington’s first surveying job was in the swamp & he did a lot of damage. Known as a hiding place for escaping slaves, fugitive whites & natives or “maroons” made the Dismal Swamp America’s first integrated neighborhood.

    • Rob

      Sheri’s idea might become a history of wastelands. Certain landscapes have gone from valueless (because unexploitable or an impediment to travel) to cherished as endangered habitat. The meaning/value of “wilderness” has changed. Marshes and swamps formerly associated with miasma and disease are now known to be crucial to fisheries and flood control, etc. The commercial value of land types has changed drastically as well. Pine lands formerly relegated to the losers in southern land lotteries became the site of the 20th-century paper industry. Arid land where Indians were sent to die out (but didn’t) concealed petroleum or uranium. Who gets rich when this happens?

  7. Jack Pommer

    We hear a lot about “constructionist” and “activist” Supreme Court justices, but it can be confusing. By some measures Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the most “activist” justices on the court today because they vote to overturn laws passed by Congress. On the other hand, it seems like the term “activist,” in a derogatory sense, was coined by liberals to criticize conservatives during the Progressive Era. Do the terms “activist” and “constructionist” really mean anything, or are they just a fancy way of saying “I don’t like that decision.”

    • Don Bockenfeld

      I’ll add my own Supreme court pitch to Jack’s.
      There’s a lot of noise these day about activist courts & activist judges. What levels of judicial “activism” bothered people in the past? Are there patterns in how often the court overturns or significantly reinterprets laws? How has the balance between literalism, original intent, & living interpretation changed?
      The Marshall court was arguably the most activist of all when they invented judicial review out of whole cloth – or maybe that wasn’t such an innovation. What did people think at the time?

  8. aldadebater

    In light of the pending deal with Iran, I’d like to see the history of nonaggression treaties and arms control treaties and agreements between the United States and other countries. Border agreements with, say, Great Britain, could be a viable example.

    Also, when did the US start getting involved in treaties banning the use of weapons of mass destruction? When did weapons of mass destruction begin to be understood as such or perceived as a concept? And what was the US government’s response to the first Hague Conventions?

  9. Joshua

    I’d love to hear an episode on the History of Comedy. Stand up comedy in particular is considered around the world as an American artform, which more and more cultures are adopting every decade. But before we had that, we still had stage comedy, with the classic Shorts and films from the likes of The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers, and further back the entire culture of vaudeville. And perhaps even further back than that…

    Some ideas of stories would be; the connection between Jewish Americans culture and stage humor (from Curly Howard to Jerry Seinfeld to Marc Maron); What makes an American comedian (exploring the uniquely isolated rock and roll lifestyle of the road comic, from the modern stand up to the vaudeville performers); How Americans have used comedy and laughter to survive through great American tragedies (9/11 comes to mind); And an exploration of the USO shows (with props to Mr. Bob Hope for doing twenty-thousand of them).

    • Heather T.

      I second Joshua’s vote for History of Humor. I’d want the Guys to go back to the 18th century to find out what was considered funny then (Ben Franklin’s list of euphemisms for drunkenness comes to mind). I’d also like to hear an exploration of the darker strain of humor through U.S. history that plays on stereotypes.

    • Rob

      Tell us some colonial-era jokes. My guess is that some are still funny and others would seem like a foreign language. How do we know what people thought was funny in 1770?

  10. aldadebater

    I’d like to see a history of treason, sedition, and disloyalty against the United States. From the definition of the term in the Constitution to the various acts of people going “Benedict Arnold” for their own purposes. I would try to leave out the Civil War for the most part, if possible, because of time constraints for the show.

  11. aldadebater

    I’d like to see a history of capital punishment. What did the founders originally mean when put in the 8th amendment against cruel and unusual punishment? Were there any qualms against killing criminals in early America? Where did the first strong push-back against the death penalty emerge? And how did the instruments of killing convicts change over time?

  12. Cheryl

    It might be interesting to do a show about the history of gay individuals throughout american history. Gay rights and issues concerning non-heterosexuals have been gaining more widespread public acceptance and support but that cannot mean that there were never gay americans here before. I would like to hear some of their stories. Stories that show how americans experienced homosexuality through the centuries and how gay communities developed alongside the broader culture in american society. What impact did things like laws and religious institutions and traditional family structures have on the lives of gay americans of the past? In what ways were earlier americans influenced in their beliefs about gays by the different countries which they themselves had immigrated to America from? Or what about the traditions they might carried over with them…

  13. Phil Bush

    How about digging into the legend (which many claim has some truth to it) of John Henry, the steel driver who, the story would have it, beat a steam drill and died doing it.?

  14. Sam Pastor

    The History of Gambling

    This topic would include March Madness and the unbelievable amount of prop bets for the Super Bowl. Betting has been around since the Roman times with gladiator battles and as recently as March Madness.

  15. Don M

    I’d like to hear a show about the history of love. How was love viewed in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in the U.S.?

  16. Don M

    I’d like to know how child-rearing has changed over the 18th, 19th and 20th century. I had a colleague in the field of human development who told me that theories of child-rearing were surprisingly cyclical. She said that the same values and ideas kept coming back and fading away every few decades. I’d like to know if that is true. Even if it wasn’t, I’d like to know how the ideas have changed. This show might give some perspective to some very real conflicts that parents feel. I remember when my son was a baby 1991. He would have some problem and I had the two most respected child rearing books at the time. One was by Penelope Leach and the other was by Dr. Spock. (My mother worked in a nursery school in NYC where Spock was a consultant; I was a true Spock baby. But I digress.) One book said to do one thing and the other book said to do the exact opposite. it drove me nuts. If I had known that each were simply the current inheritors of various historical traditions I might have been able to better sort out what to do.

  17. Robert

    I am interested in the games that kids played or were not able to play throughout history of the country and how they changed with the world events. Example: Ring around the rosy – Bubonic Plague, Cowboys and Indians. Etc.

  18. Ken Smith

    I’m interested in something I’d call Great Episodes of Active Citizenship. Or, Theory and Practice of Active Citizenship. What are a small handful of the most interesting and illustrative stories of active citizenship in our history, and what do they tell us about democracy beyond the commonplaces of a high school civics class? Surely voting is not enough of a citizen’s toolkit–what knowledge, attitudes, and skills make up the full toolkit? When active citizens are really working well, what are they actually doing? What barriers are they knocking down along the way? What is really involved in keeping the wheels of democracy well-oiled and turning while at the same time improving our society? [And has that changed in the age of social media?]

  19. Thomas D Dial

    We hear a great deal about the increase of partisanship and the deep divide between the major parties, and I just read a Washington Post column by E. J. Dionne (4/26/2015) that mentions this along with comments about the breakdown of other democratic regimes elsewhere, such as the UK, Greece, and France. Although my knowledge of US history is far from overwhelming, it is my sense that intense partisanship, especially in presidential election cycles, is far from unique and sometimes has been quite a bit nastier than anything we have seen recently.

    I also have a general impression also that the campaign finance “problem” that some worry about a great deal may be less unusual historically than is being portrayed.

    With the 2016 elections approaching, I would like to see a show on either or both of these general areas.

    • Jennifer H.

      I would like to second Thomas’ idea digging into party politics. I would also like to add that the purpose of the Electoral College has been nagging at me lately. I was taught in school that it was established just because the founding fathers thought the common man was too stupid to vote wisely. But perhaps they hoped the Electors would actually get to know the candidates personally and with a depth that the common man couldn’t hope to? It seems that a small group of well connected folks would be a lot less likely to fall for someone who has a made-for-TV personality but is a greedy bast***d in private, or whatever the 18th century version of that was.

      What is the history of Electoral College-like institutions? What has been the consequence of deciding that every American citizen needs to gather enough information to make an informed choice for President – I mean did this drive the increased influence of money in politics? Did this bias the system against electing the quiet and competent?

      A related question is how have Americans moved (if they have) from electing people they believed were trustworthy, well-informed, and able to make wise decisions to our current system where everyone wants to vote on every issue – either via referendum or by kicking out anyone who votes wrong on gun control, for instance.


  20. aldadebater

    Two separate issues: First, the Vietnam War. Looking into it would be a good thing in light of the 50th anniversary of our escalation in Southeast Asia.

    Second, a history of the left vs. right political divide in this country. When was left vs. right first used in political dialogue? Liberal vs. conservative? When were accusations of socialism first flung around?

  21. Marie Thomas

    The history of living in mobile homes could be very interesting. Starting with Conestoga wagons and moving through time to the present day. There are a few studies of the history of mobile communitites – starting with wagons, moving to caravans and air streams and campers to trailers to mobile home communities now which really aren’t so mobile. I was doing some reasearch a few years ago when FEMA was going to purchase a mobile home park for flood protection and it was fascinating to learn about the long history of mobile communities and the social and cultural aspects of it. And the social stratification of our society.
    Thornburg, D. A. (1991). Galloping bungalows: The rise and demise of the American house trailer. Hamden: Archon Books.
    Wallis, A. D. (1991). Wheel estate: The rise and decline of mobile homes. New York: Oxford University Press.

    • Rob

      That’s a good one for summer travel months. Or tornado season. Or an anniversary connected to westward migration.

  22. Ken Hoch

    The recent events in Balitmore have led me to wonder. What is the history of rioting in the U.S.? How has it been viewed by the general public? How has it contributed to social change? Progress? How are the current events in Baltimore different from past events (protests against Vietnam, L.A. Riots, etc). Would the Boston Tea Party be considered a riot/looting? Related to that, how are these events reinterpreted by later generations?

  23. Josh

    What is it about superheroes that has captured the interest of the U.S. for nearly 70 years? What does it say about concepts of service and heroism in U.S. memory and culture?

    America’s fondly remembered wars. What is it about how we remember WWII as opposed to other conflicts? Is there really a national narrative on WWII or should we dig deeper into how its remembered by various people groups in the country.

  24. aldadebater

    With the recent UK elections concluded, I’d like to see the evolution of the “special relationship”. How did the US and Great Britain go from being blood foes to friends closer than brothers? And what have the implications of the change in the relationship been for the US?

  25. Robert

    With the recent flooding in Texas it hit me how much insurance has helped America to grow. In countries that don’t have insurance when disasters hit the companies don’t have the money to rebuild as quickly as here. Insurance on ships built up commerce before we were a country and with each natural disaster we have been able bounce back partly because of companies and the government paying out to rebuild.

  26. aldadebater

    In light of the news of actions done by Hastert and Josh Duggar, I would like to hear a Backstory show on child abuse: how it was seen in Colonial and Antebellum times, and what were the first statues and organizations set up to stop this atrocity.

  27. Nick

    As a fan of Frank Zappa and his PMRC appearance before the senate on censorship, I would love to hear the relationship music has had in american life beyond censorship.

  28. Rob

    Lies, parodies and tall tales that have found their way into history books, or repeated as historical fact in respected media. Maybe a Top 10 list and some discussion of what can go wrong to make this happen. Millard Fillmore’s bathtub belongs on the list. The cherry tree and George’s little hatchet. The live chickens in Fidel Castro’s New York hotel room when he came to address the UN. (I think Columbia Journalism Review debunked this one after it was repeated for decades.) You could adopt a tut-tutting “On the Media” approach to your profession.

  29. Kristi

    Seconding an earlier pitch to do a story on spies and espionage and in the US especially during American Revolution and Civil War. Thank you for the consideration.

  30. Philip Davisson

    I think this would be a good time to explore the history of American citizens acting as mercenaries in foreign wars.

    • Don M

      I’d like to suggest a variation of this. I’d like to hear a show about America’s use of private industry in its conduct of wars–from the use of mercenaries to the extensive use of corporations like Blackwater in the Iraq War.

  31. Serge

    With the burgeoning anti-vaccination movement, I’d really like to see an episode about the history of tensions arising from Americans and science.

  32. sandra m

    I didn’t see this topic in your archives, so here goes: California as the cultural new frontier of the sixties ( 1965-1975). California then was the birthplace of the human potential movement, radical groups like the Black Panthers and black studies college department, the Free Speech Movement, hippie culture of San Francisco and Palm Springs nature boys, Stanford University computer pioneers, etc. I’ve often wondered how did California become the epicenter for such transformative movements. There was something that drew transplants like me from the east coast to the west, changing us and the rest of the country over the last fifty years.

  33. Benjamin

    I’ve just finished the great book of David Todd on the battle for/against free trade in France, it is a brilliant book. People there kept referring to the US as an example of what a true republic was to do tariff-wise. Some were inspired by the attempts by South Carolina to nullify the tariff of the federal government and others thought that the high-tariff policy followed in Washington was the stuff of true republicans. It made me think of an episode could easily be devoted to the subject. After all the American War of Independence started on a matter of tariff, the Smoot-Hawley tariff is considered as one of the causes of WWII, there were plenty of picturesque smugglers trying to pass the border without paying the toll, and there is an interesting debate over whether or not the US needed tariff to catch up with Britain, that would make a nice show. And to put a bow on it, it is even in the news these days with the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement debates.

    And since I’m on the matter, for the next NYC fashion week, there could be an episode about the relationship between the Americans and Paris (the city, not the siege of the French government), from all the way back with Jefferson and Franklin to the 1973 Battle of Versailles when the US designers took on the French. It would be also an occasion to celebrate the liberation of the city by the 4th US division on August, 25 1944.

    Thanks for the show, guys.

  34. Katie

    I’ve spent parts of the last week on road trips with my son. He is 9 and likes history. We listened to a lot of back story episodes on the trip as we visited Valley Forge and Gettysburg. That had me thinking about how more nuanced and complicated the books about history aimed at his age group can be versus the ones I remember having as a child, even up through high school history. Then Iistened today, by myself, to the 4th of July episode. That has me thinking a lot about how we teach kids history and patriotism, in particular balancing pride in country versus not ignoring the uglier parts of history. It would be easy to think of this as a more modern/present day concern. Especially when thinking of various civil rights movements. But, would that be true? How have ideas or attitudes about teaching American history changed over time?

  35. Meredith Johnson

    Hi :) After listening to the episode regarding July 4th, I would love to hear a show or segment completely from the British perspective regarding their view of the American colonists and American independence. Were the American colonists viewed as rabble-rousers, extremists, dimwitted but respectable ideologues? Did they have a paternal condescension toward them, or was there a sense of alarm beneath the surface that ‘these people mean business’? I’m curious about the propaganda floating around England at the time… were American colonists portrayed as specific stereotypes, to help taint public opinion against them, etc.?

    I guess it would have to be blended into some other show, seeing as the period I’m referring to might be roughly 1650 to maybe 1830 (perhaps by the time the last vestiges of hope for the British to recapture America had fizzled…lol;) i.e. the 20th century probably has little to do with this issue, therefore it might not qualify for an entire episode. Thanks, and I love the show!

    • Don M

      Perhaps this could be extended to a show about the way the U.S. has been viewed by its enemies in wars. How did the British view us during the Revolution? How did Mexicans view us during the war with them? How did Spain view us during the Spanish American war? How did the Germans or their allies view us during WWI and WWII. And let’s not leave out the Japanese, the Koreans and the Vietnamese. I read Martin Cruz Smith’s “December 6,” which portrayed the way Japan saw the world situation just before Pearl Harbor and, although their point of view didn’t hold up, it was fascinating to see how from their perspective they were “forced” to attack the U.S.

    • Katie

      I really liked how the episode on the War of 1812 blended perspectives including British and Canadian. In the Revolutionary War a discussion of the Loyalist in the American colonies would be illuminating for a lot of us.

  36. Josh

    The experience of Union Veterans vs Confederate Veterans in the post-Civil War country. The politics of pensions, medals, remembrance, related racial issues, effect on how we treat veterans today, etc….

  37. aldadebater

    I’d like to see a look at the history of abortion in the United States. Was it ever as contentious as it became in the aftermath of Roe vs. Wade? How were they performed in early American history?

  38. J.P. Chambers

    How about something on the history of popular fads? I’m thinking about things like the Pet Rock and others (fashions, foods, etc). Things that Americans have followed or bought for no other reason than that everyone else was doing it.

  39. Don M

    I’d like to see a show about how the nature of corporations changed throughout US history. I’ve heard that the concept of the corporation was dramatically different in the 18th and 19th centuries.

  40. Don M

    How about a show about the relationship between religion and social change? For example, the Quakers generally helped to abolish slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas other churches actively supported it. In the 20th century the Black Church was a center of social change and again other churches tried to stop the civil rights movement.

    PS Your show on satire was the most entertaining of all of the shows I’ve heard. I loved it!

  41. Don M

    With all the talk of legalizing marijuana nowadays, how about a show about hemp and marijuana in US history. Was the rumor I heard in the 60’s about George Washington growing hemp true? Had it always been used as an intoxicant? When did it become demonized? And why? Is its social and legal status a result of the social class of most of its users?

  42. Elizabeth Dale-Deines

    Hi there!

    I’m a history educator and someone who did not love history while in school. Now I’m learning American history again as an adult and I realize how complex it really is. Sometimes our history cuts me to the core – I’m losing that comforting feeling of “America the Beautiful”, which isn’t bad, it’s just real. I think it also reflects this era’s (post-modernist?) fixation on unseating idols and finding the truth behind the story.

    So here’s my pitch: how have historians throughout our country’s history dealt with what came before? How did the ways that they thought and talked about history change as our country aged? How does this compare to other, older countries?

    As an aside, I’d also love to know how you three stay in love with history in the face of the truly ugly things that people have done to each other.

    Washington, DC

  43. Tom Roche

    [Unfortunately someone misconfigured BackStory’s WordPress to object to links, so find them here: https://bitbucket.org/snippets/tlroche/bokyq ]

    After listening to the satire show[1], and commenting[2] regarding George Schuyler[3], and given much black-white conflict “in the news these days” (e.g., white cops shooting black folk), I’m thinking: what about a show (tentatively titled “We Can All Just Get Along”[4]) about black-white alliances in US history? By which I *do not* mean abolition or the Underground Railroad (which have been kinda done), but less-well-known episodes: e.g.,

    * the Louisiana Native Guard, who rather adroitly switched from Confederate[5] to Union[6]

    * left “fusion” politics in places like Wilmington, NC[7]

    * the “black right,” including folks like George Schuyler (a favorite of H.L. Mencken, later a McCarthyite, a Bircher, and a Nixonite) and James Brown[8] (another Nixonite)

    * the fascinating biracial family of George Schuyler, Josephine Lewis Cogdell, and Philippa Schuyler[9]

  44. Bruce Pencek

    The history of elevation, topographical and metaphiorical, particularly the relation between the elevators and those to be elevated. The combination of uplifting mission and social stratification is manifest in college towns like Ithaca and Berkeley: endowed chairs atop the hill, students at the bottom, minimum-wage service staff even further afield. Hudson Valley School mountain landscapes aimed for the sublime; Ashcan School cityscapes, not so much. The missionary symbolism of Winthrop’s City on a Hill or the architecture of church towers is obvious, but what about the interpretation skyscrapers vs rowhouses vs suburban sprawl? What accounts for the contesting identities in mountainous regions between the putatively greater authenticity and common sense of mountain people vs shallow-souled “Flatlanders”?

  45. Mike

    Now that we have a self-described democratic socialist leading in many Democratic primary polls, and at least one poll showing that 49% of 18-29 year olds have a positive view of socialism (compared to just 43% positive for capitalism), why not do a show tracing socialism throughout American history? The economic crisis of 2008 has given alternatives to capitalism the kind of currency they haven’t had in decades. The time is ripe to examine the role that socialist ideas and movements have played in American history.

  46. Jill

    I’d love to hear about the extent to which the American West we know today was shaped by the railroads. There is a lot of history about building of the railways, but not a lot of stories about how the subsequent availability of that rail travel continued to promote the development of population centers (LA), economic centers (Omaha) or even tourist destinations (like Sun Valley).

  47. Sarah

    This might be too redundant given that you’ve done a show on the history of public education, but I would love to hear a show about the history of the teaching profession the United States. In particular, I’d love to learn more about how the gendered nature of teaching has changed over time, efforts to “professionalize” the teaching force, and the ways policymakers and schools of education have responded (or not) to our shifting conceptions of what an adequate K-12 education entails. Given the pressure mounting over teacher accountability and evaluation in the policy world today, I think it would be fascinating to get some historical context around the various pressures on the teaching profession.

  48. Alex

    Your podcast is one of my favorites because of how concise yet engaging it makes these complex topics in history. Since the 25 year anniversary of the ADA just passed, I would love a show on disability rights in America. The ADA was a groundbreaking piece of legislation that became a model for disability rights worldwide. I’d love to hear about how it came about, as well as the larger historical context of disability rights throughout the last century. Like most people, I’m aware of the broad strokes of other civil rights movements (feminist waves, MLK, Stonewall), but know next to nothing about this one, even though people with disabilities are one of the largest if not the largest minority group in the US.

    The disability rights movement should be an interesting case-study, because even though it’s the same struggle for equality as other minority groups have faced, there is also the need for “special treatment” due to medical concerns. It adds an interesting dimension to the movement, I think.

    I really hope you consider this, as it’s one of those topics that seems more shrouded in mystery than it should be, and I really enjoyed the episode about the Black Panthers and Women At Work.

  49. Alex

    Sorry, didn’t read the blurb carefully enough before I submitted my last comment (feel free to delete it if you want). Maybe instead of the disability rights movement, you could do a show on disability throughout American history? I’d be interested to learn out more about how people in generations past treated people with disabilities, especially when it came to things like old-fashioned freak shows or amputee vets from the Civil War or even eugenics programs (I believe one of the programs in CA went on until the 60s or 70s). Disability is part of the fabric of our nation’s history, and yet seems almost invisible.

  50. Phil Keys

    There were a couple of points from episodes where it was mentioned how anti-immigrant sentiment helped shaped American institutions. One was abolishing the scrap peddlers and the other was driving cities to create professional fire departments. Are there others? Given the current debate about immigration, it would be interesting to do a story on how anti-immigrant sentiments shaped American institutions and customs.

  51. Brian

    I know that you don’t usually do shows about particular states, but the hot dog segment in the history of meat episode made me think about New York System Wieners in my home state of Rhode Island — how about using Rhode Island as a lens by which to view the history of the US, from its early involvement in the Rev War (burning of the Gaspee, first state to declare independence, last state to sign the constitution); to its role in early industrialization; its unique immigration history and continued ethnic identities; its strange accent, vocab, and food cultures; and especially its varied political cultures, some very corrupt and some, well, slightly less corrupt…a 15th-century Italian city state that happens to be a state in the Union.

  52. Sean

    Two ideas:

    -climate change: you know, things like the Little Ice Age and the Dust Bowl

    -private education: given our current discussion of charter schools, a public/private joint enterprise as I’d call them

  53. Anne

    Has gun ownership always been such a divisive issue? How did the NRA become so important in politics? Why is ithe issue so emotionally charged? It seems that gun ownership is a uniquely American issue. Is that true or do other countries grapple with this?

  54. Katherine

    I’ve just started listening to the show, so these might already be touched on, but I looked through the archives and didn’t see anything.

    1. The History of Socialism in the United States. I know, especially during an election year, the topic can be very touchy – however it really did shape a portion of our country. I am from Milwaukee, and wrote my thesis on socialism’s influence on planning in the city – and we had an incredibly long collection of socialist history that is fascinating and not well known throughout the United States. Example – the planner of the park system in Milwaukee, Charles B, Whitnall was the moving force behind decentralization of Milwaukee. His son, G. Gordon Whitnall moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s and became an influential planner – and the generally the reason why L.A. is so decentralized.

    2. 2016 will be the 50th anniversary of the passing of the National Preservation Act of 1966 – how about an episode on either the ramifications of this law – or the history of preservation in the United States! There is a lot out there and lots of people know nothing about this law (As someone who works in preservation it would be nice to hear a general take on the subject)

    • Katherine

      Oh, and one more – Germans and their influence in the United States. Like the establishment of kindergartens or the influence of Turner Societies in large cities. Even how World War I and World War II changed the way these communities depicted themselves to each other and the greater public.

  55. aldadebater

    How about a show on populism, with Trump and Sanders on the rise? When did it first become a thing in American politics; I doubt the founders put much stock in it. Detailing the Greenbacks, Bryan, and Wallace, among others, would be nice.

  56. Kathy

    A history of toilets and outhouses would be interesting. The thought of how our ancestors used the “facilities” always comes to my mind when the seasons start changing!

  57. Eric

    I’m a new Back Story listener and am taking advantage of the archived podcasts to catch up. I just listened to the episode on gun rights, and with the shooting in Oregon this past week, I thought it’d be interesting if you guys did an episode on the history of Mental Health Care in the United States. How has the government dealt with mental illness from the founding of the country? During the development of pharmacology? And more recently when mental illness seems to used as an explanation for at least part of the gun violence problem facing America. Thanks!

  58. Faelan Blair

    I would like to submit an idea: A History of Judaism in America. How it started and where (i.e. which communities, if any, were welcoming). I can think of Savannah, off hand being a welcoming place. Or at least I recall that fact from my short visit there. And of course how the perception of Jews has changed over time. For example in this country hotels used to be restricted- no Jews allowed to stay. Whereas after WWII we became Israel’s bestie. What happened?

    I searched around the archives and didn’t find anything about this. Forgive me if I overlooked something.

    • Andrew Nusbaum

      Hi History Guys,

      I’ve been a big fan of the show for the last year or so (ever since my old history teacher Shane Carter referenced her shout-out from your “Stars and Tsars” episode) and am working my way through your whole catalogue.

      I notice that you’ve done shows on Catholicism, Islam and various streams of Protestantism in America. Seconding Faelan’s comment, I think it would be really interesting to hear the Backstory take on the Jewish experience in the US.

      A few additional ideas for topics:

      – Early conversos and crypto-Jews such as Luis de Carvajal and Luis de Torres (Columbus’ shipmate), who came to the New World to escape the Inquisition (and people who claim to be their modern-day descendants in the Southwest)– could also tie in to the history of Sephardic/converso American pirates such as Moses Cohen Henriques and Jean Lafitte.

      – Experiences of upper- and middle-class Sephardic and German Jews living in the 17th and 18th century (including during the Civil War!)

      -The culture clash between established German Jews and newer immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 1900s (a few rabbis in New York and California such as SF’s Jacob Voorsanger went so far as to call them “Asiatic hordes” in local press and tried to get immigration quotas lowered)

      – Jewish involvement in various social causes such as socialism (Yiddish Left), Communism (Red Scare/Red Baiting) and Zionism from the 1900s onwards (for instance, in early 1918, one of my relatives left then-neutral America to join a Zionist division of the British Army called the “Jewish Legion” which included later notables such as David Ben-Gurion, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and Yitzhak Rabin’s father).

      – Jewish communal activism during WWII such as the 1943 Rabbis’ March and the Bergson Boys’ “We Will Never Die” pageant at Madison Square Garden (and how this activism conflicted with other approaches being used by more “establishment” figures such as Rabbi Stephen Wise).

      – Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Struggle (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with King in Montgomery Alabama) and how the view of the two communities as allies has changed over time (could also tie in with “how Jews became seen as white”).

      -The evolution of Jewish (and non-Jewish!) views of Israel & Zionism from the 1940s/1960s to the modern day.

      – The changing picture of American Jews (the rise of LGBT synagogues in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, increasing awareness of Jews of Color, the “baal teshuvah” [returnee to Orthodoxy] phenomenon, and recent claims by the Republican Party that the number of Jewish Republicans is slowly but exponentially rising.

      I’ll keep my fingers crossed– and of course, keep listening!

    • Rob

      A show on Judaism in the USA is a great idea. Having called in to your show on Islam, I’m going to use my vast insider clout to plump for this topic. 😉

      Here are a few thoughts from my research on southern American Indians:

      – consult the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in Jackson, Miss. It appears that the 19th-century small-town South was a hospitable place for European Jewish immigrants, some of whom held political office.
      – Explore the theory that American Indians were originally Jews, descended from the “lost tribes” of biblical history. One Jewish immigrant, Abram Mordecai, settled in and married into the Creek Nation ca. 1790, apparently convinced he was reconnecting with distant relatives, although he didn’t leave a diary or letterbook that makes this explicit. Books harping on the Jewish origins theory and finding deep significance in the fact (usually regarding Christian evangelism) were common and apparently popular in the early 19th century. Sen. Elias Boudinot wrote one of them, the same Boudinot who became foster father of a Cherokee youth who went on to publish the first newspaper in a native language, the Cherokee Phoenix. And Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the federal Indian expert, was one of several who used the lapsed Jewishness of Indians to explain why their sufferings and apparent destruction were the result of divine justice. (I wonder how many fans of Dr. Ben Carson still buy this interpretation.)
      – I’ve been intrigued by a trend in some Christian churches (nondenominational, evangelical, mega-) to adopt Jewish forms of worship including Hebrew prayer, covering the head. It’s quite a revolution from the prejudice and conspiracy thinking of past generations.
      – Growing up in Atlanta, I remember two episodes of anti-Jewish violence stand out in the city’s history: the killing of Leo Frank (ca. 1918 IIRC) and the bombing of the Temple (ca. 1947 IIRC). The latter figured in the play/movie “Driving Miss Daisy.”
      – The relationship between Americsn Jews and African Americans is a vast and touchy subject. Personally I’d like to see some myth busting; the one I keep running up against is about Jews supposedly facilitating the Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

      This subject strikes a cord with me, not least because I attended a university in the 1980s with a sizable Jewish minority, and the anti-Semitic subculture among certain of my white peers was ugly and inescapable. (My reaction was to make Jewish friends and attend Shabbat and Hillel events. I wasn’t alone in this.)

      Maybe the part of this topic that is too hot to handle is Israel. But several generations of Americans have grown up spellbound by dispensationsalist tales of the End Times, with Israel and “the Jews” in the lead supporting role. It’s a historic development, but I don’t think it gets taken seriously by scholars often enough.

      Maybe one episode should deal with the lives of Jewish people and a second should deal with the Jewish cultural legacy and the influence of the Bible.

      Oy gevalt, how could I overlook Yiddish in American speech? I know, that’s been done a million times. Maybe the freshest approach would be to explain how not all Jewish immigrants spoke Yiddish in the old country. But I wouldn’t mind learning more about the Yiddish media in America.

  59. Faelan Blair

    I would also like to submit a second idea: A History of Empire in America. That is, of America’s Empire. Particularly how it was formed, how it has been and is perceived, and what it’s grand strategy has been.

    I think the topic has been tangentially covered in various shows…Exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, and the like. But I will tell you what touches it off for me:

    On a recent first visit to New Orleans I walked in front of the United Fruit Company building and was struck by its ornate decoration. I also noticed that the WWII museum was located in town and wondered if NOLA’s final contribution to the US’s empire was to serve as a place where the new, industrial era of imperialism was phased in, and meanwhile the city itself was phased out, as the great occeans became the theaters of expansion.

    I hail from Florida, and have long thought of my peninsular state being a frontier land, sticking as it does into the Caribbean. But in the moment when I saw the connection between the magnificent river system that is New Orleans and the great “Mediterranean” that lies to its south, I was fascinated by the early stages of expansion. How were the Banana Wars conducted? Was there a time when troops were staged in Louisiana? Was the Mexican-American War just a preamble?

    All of it looked very much like the beginnings of the Roman Empire to me, but I find compelling information a little lacking. Even books on the topic of the Banana Wars are few at my local library. Is there a reason Florida doesn’t talk about it, perhaps?

    It might be interesting to see how people have attempted to challenge our tactics from the inside of the machine, deep inside and how or if they were successful. Smedley Butler comes to mind.

    Again, I perused the archives but didn’t find anything so precisely about empire as the above.

  60. Brian

    American history, as shaped by foreign powers.

    The United States is a vast and powerful nation, so it’s easy to forget how decisions made by other countries have guided American history. It would be interesting to adopt this flipside perspective in a Backstory episode.

    * What made Napoleon decide to sell the Louisiana Purchase at bargain basement price, and did he ever try to renege on the deal?

    * Why did Britain decide not to officially recognize or support the Confederacy during the Civil War, even though it depended heavily on cotton imports from the American South?

    * Why did Britain peacefully cede its role as global leader (especially in terms of naval power) to the United States after World War I?

  61. Tim

    A few ideas:

    1. Different economic systems in the US. How have we reacted to or flirted with other economic systems and how has our view of capitalism changed over time?

    2. History of expansion- we’ve expanded the US through military conquest, purchase and exploration. We’ve also declined some expansion (e.g. in Cuba or the Philippines). What’s been the reaction to these different methods? Have any expansions been greater successes or failures? How about future expansion, like Puerto Rico becoming an official state.

    3. Regional identities – often we talk about regional interests in politics, but are there really regional identities? How have those interacted with a broader American identity? How have they changed over time?

  62. beth

    I’m really curious about the history of housekeeping, especially making the bed. I mean, how did we evolve to this being such an indicator of character of the household? Why a parlor, now a livingroom? Why not just hang out in the kitchen? I know you can figure it out and I know you can make it interesting to others, because–hey–you’re the history guys!

    • Katie

      Beth – just a quick FYI – but the transition from “parlor” to “living room” gets touched on in the episode on death (maybe you’d find it in the archives under funeral).

  63. Julie Tinberg

    I know you’ve talked about the Mormons, but has there been an episode on the Mountain Meadows Massacre? My late father-in-law was a great history buff and told us about this massacre. I had never heard of it!

  64. Angus

    Hi guys, I was just listening to the Veterans day episode and while it was great as always, I think you missed an opportunity to go into all the art and literary movements that came about after various wars, that were often heavily influenced by veterans experiences. So with that I’d like to pitch a few ideas to you.
    -history of art in America
    -history of American literature
    -history of popular music in America
    These could all be grouped into one episode but I think each warrants it’s own. Thanks a ton and keep up the good work!

  65. Judith Alison Lee

    Hi guys. Listened to the Veterans Day episode and was very disappointed that you gave air time to the guy from the racist SCV.

  66. Mick

    Hi. As I’ve recently gotten back involved with my sons’ Cub Scout Pack, I wonder if you might be able to do a show on different youth movements in the U.S., including Scouting, Adventure (formerly Indian) Guides, and other movements involving kids and the outdoors.

  67. Jessica

    I’d love to see something on the relationship between what is now Canada and the United States. The two countries share a large border and most of Canada’s population is less than a few hours drive from it. Canada is only rivaled by Russia in geographic size, but has the same population as the state of California. The colonization of North America by English, French and Spanish was foundational, and yet the relations between colonists and Aboriginal (“Indians”) peoples were different. I found it quite interesting that after the end of the Civil War, British North America declared their independence from Britain through the Confederation of the Dominion of Canada (only Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) July 1st, 1867.

    • Jessica

      forgot to mention, I recommend Professor Norman Hillmer of Carleton University, one of the authors of “For Better Or for Worse: Canada and the United States Into the Twenty-first Century”

  68. ryan vogel

    History of massacres in the us would be a good show. From the Boston massacre to the attacks on wall street in the 1920s to the 9-11 attacks. also what happened after these attacks and what events where directly caused by these attacks.

  69. ryan vogel

    Also another good show idea would be the history of the environmental movement. from Abraham Lincoln signing off on the world first law protecting natural land. To when john Muir help create the worlds first national park. Or the environmental movement today of removing dams and freeing the rivers.