Pitch us!

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Belle North, female pitcher, 1915.

LISTENERS

We love receiving pitches from our listeners and many of them make it on the air! Past 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, here’s your chance – propose a topic below and explain why you think it would make a compelling subject for us to tackle.

We’re looking for topics we can trace over the entire course of American history, rather than single chapters. In other words, we can’t create a show around the history of the car, but we can explore the history of American transportation. If you’ve never listened to BackStory, check out 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.

Post your suggestions below OR send your pitch to backstory@virginia.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

FREELANCERS

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.

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Comments (155)

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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!
    Thanks,

    Chip Fisher
    Boulder, CO

    Reply
  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 😉

    Thanks,
    -Chip
    Boulder, CO

    Reply
  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.

    Thanks,
    Chip Fisher
    Boulder, CO

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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 (-:

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  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.”

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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).

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
    • Nakia Jackson

      I, too, would like a show on American comedy, discussing the depth and breadth of what we have laughed at through 2.5 centuries.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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…

    Reply
  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.?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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?]

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  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?
    Anyone?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • Rob

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

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  30. Philip Davisson

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  33. Benjamin

    Hi,
    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.

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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….

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Elizabeth
    Washington, DC

    Reply
  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]

    Reply
  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”?

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  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.

    Reply
  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).

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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)

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Examples:
    * 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?

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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).

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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”

      Reply
    • Erica

      I’d like to echo this earlier idea to have a show on Canada. I currently live in BC and am finding it fascinating to see the way Canadians view the US. Perhaps a show or a segment of a show on how the two countries view one another? To what extent can the two countries be measuring sticks for one another on the issues? This came up a lot during the health care debate and the more recent issue of Syrian refugees.
      I’ve also met a few Americans who originally fled to Canada to escape the draft in Vietnam. Perhaps this could be expanded to discussing how citizens of both countries crossed borders and how the borders were decided. There’s a lovely little boondoggle of a peninsula that belongs to Washington state and was overlooked when the border was decided.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  70. Emily Watlington

    A History of Suburbia – what could be more American?

    Case studies that come to mind: Levittown (particularly in the context of segregation), The Eichler home community and the way Eichler attempted to design homes according to changing views of women (Steve Jobs grew up in one of these homes).

    Historian Andrew Wiese’s work counters the narrative that Levittown was the first suburb, and notes that African American communities developed during the Jim Crow era resembled suburbs in their value systems but where called “slums” by whites.

    Reply
  71. Emily Watlington

    A History of Museums – American style. People often take information provided by these institutions as objective and it’s important to consider it as a viewpoint. Key voices would be Andrew McClellan and Carol Duncan. In terms of art museums, rivalries with Europe are very interesting, as is the practice of displaying casts of Greek and Roman sculptures in lieu of the “real thing.” Also, the encyclopedic museum is a model developed by Napolean to display spoils of war, and so many museum objects are acquired unethically. The NAPRA act would also be interesting to look at. And, the very American corporatization of museums – though that is maybe a 21st century phenomenon.

    Reply
  72. Karen

    A history of security.

    In light of recent events, school shootings, the attacks in Paris, the shooting in Colorado at Planned Parenthood, even natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. What have Americans done through history to protect themselves? What new developments have been made to help us communicate problems with each other as well as the first responders trying to help us?

    Reply
  73. Nakia

    I’d like to see an episode on holidays– how they get state or federal recognition, and the process of creating American holidays. Who or what gets recognized with a day off and sales, and why?

    Reply
  74. Curtiss

    This might be a little too political, but I’d love to see you guys delve into the changing attitudes toward historical figures (and more specifically, monuments to those historical figures) throughout American history. Specifically, it would be interesting to hear you discuss the lines that are drawn when trying to remove monuments to historical figures. When does the negative aspects of someone’s life/achievements begin to outweigh the positive achievements of their lives?

    Obviously, I’d love to see this tied to the whole course of American history; so it would be intriguing to see what kinds of attitudes Americans had toward Brtiish royalty/figures during and after the revolution (for instance, were there states/cities that were renamed after the revolution; were there movements to rename other states/cities such as Maryland or Virginia; were there monuments that were torn down after the revolution, etc.); how attitudes toward our founding fathers changed during and after the Civil War; how our attitudes toward our founding fathers are changing today; and how our attitudes toward more recon figures have changed in the past decade.

    In addition, it might be interesting to look at the ways history has essentially judged people as good or bad, based on projects with which they were aligned or specific achievements they’ve made (for instance, Oppenheimer is often vilified for his role in building the atomic bomb; Edison is held up as an icon, despite his questionable business and PR tactics, etc.)

    Reply
  75. Laura Bradshaw

    I’m dyslexic, so please forgive my terrible writing. I’m listening to a book called “The Half Hasn’t Been Told” about the role of slavery in the growth of capitalism in the US. It’s good but I think it needs a little translating….I’m fantasizing that you could do just that!

    Reply
  76. Flint

    With all the discussion about Trump being a demagogue, I think a discussion about demagogues in American history. I know about Joseph McKarthy. But I don’t know as much about others. I suppose that Thomas Paine would be considered a demagogue from the Revolutionary period. I’m sure there have been demagogues in every century.

    Reply
  77. Don M

    I would like to see a sequel to the episode on racial passing that explores other types of “passing.” For example, men who passed as women and women as men. Gays and lesbians who passed as straights. A friend of mine did her doctoral dissertation on the ways disabled persons passed as abled in order to avoid discrimination in the workplace. Members of unpopular religions have passed as members of mainstream ones. I was involved in the psychiatric patients rights movement in the 1970s, so the type of passing I’m most familiar with is that of psychiatric patients. Stanford Professor David Rosenhan’s study (published in his article, “On Being Sane in Insane Places”) showed how easy it was to pass for being psychotic once you were labeled as such, and how difficult it was to break free of this label once it was placed. Criminals with no intention in going straight have passed as “reformed” in order to be paroled. Undercover cops pass as crooks. American spies need to pass as the enemy (or at least as neutrals). The US FBI did a poor job of training spies in WWII and giving them the skills to pass in their assigned countries. My father-in-law was an FBI agent who was placed in Brazil because he spoke Spanish. (He thought that people there spoke terrible Spanish until he figured out that everyone was actually speaking Portuguese.) One of his colleagues was arrested soon after arriving in Venezuela because his cover was that he was selling US soap, and that was illegal in Venezuela at the time. Many FBI agents who were posted to South American countries failed to pass and were arrested.

    Reply
  78. Don M

    If you haven’t already done this (I admit that I haven’t looked at every episode in the full archive), I’d like to see an episode on the way psychosis has been dealt with in U.S. history. I was involved in the psychiatric patients rights movement in the 1970’s which was one factor in the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients. We thought that all the money that had previously gone into the large state mental hospitals would naturally go into local, community-based settings. Instead, politicians like Reagan saw this as a wonderful opportunity to save money. This was a major factor in the development of homelessness as a major American problem. Anyway, how mental illness handled in the 1700’s and 1800’s? I’d like to know and I bet some of your listeners would too.

    Reply
  79. amy moser

    As a geneticist, I am always intrigued by the desire of people to find out their heritage and “reclaim” their family history. Do they think their genes shape their family history or is it culture? At the time when my grandparents came to the US, they wanted to fit in, to acclimate. Many people would “americanize” their names and name their children more “american” names. Now it seems that everyone wants to be a hyphenated american, What accounts for this change? is is good? Is there a difference between keeping hold of some family traditions, and feeling that everything is a challenge to your heritage. The reality is that most people who came here came to escape from a threat or bad situation in their home country and were looking for a better life. So why romanticize the life back home? I notice that this is not the original immigrant that feels this way, but usually the descendents.

    Reply
  80. Leah

    Wow it would be useful to see a tag cloud of all the ideas in here. I haven’t read them all so don’t know if my ideas overlap with those already suggested (or included in previous shows, w/ which I am still catching up).

    NIMBY. What it means now and then. To what extent are we inured to or annoyed by what’s in our backyard, depending on all sorts of factors — urban/suburban/rural, for ex.

    TRASH. Also see NIMBY, above. At a pan-national level, trash in the ocean has existed since the dawn of coastal humanity, I reckon, but ocean gyres of trash the size of Texas — that’s a big human-made thing to not think about as much as we don’t think about it. I love what William McDonough writes about how waste is food and that humans create two kinds of waste, organic and nonorganic, and each of those COULD be food for either an organic or an industrial system, but our waste PROBLEM flows from the fact that we humans create things that inextricably blend the two types, making our waste = nonfood.

    DISPOSABLE CONTAINERS. See TRASH and NIMBY. I don’t know about you, but I feel terribly about throwing out or even recycling containers made from metal — containers that I used for a few minutes while eating takeout food bought, for ex., yesterday, on the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue. It seems criminal. I’ve been alive for a lot of this so-called throwaway culture of wasteful convenience and I’ve despaired of it a lot. I identify with the first minutes of a movie from a few decades ago, Sex Lies and Videotape, where the depressed wife is obsessing mournfully about trash.

    NOISE. History of tolerance, intolerance. Increasing incursion of steady-state noise. How have we become inured to what kinds of sounds? Earphones. Creating our own idio-soundscapes. Vs. being unable to escape certain sounds. Urban vs. suburban vs. rural settings. Looking back in time, I think of the pounding noises (and other types of pollution) associated with, for ex., mining in (again for ex.) Pennsylvania that miners’ families had to live with because their company housing was practically on top of the mines. I guess there have been improvements but in general I guess as well that noise continues to increase. I believe it’s one of the very top complaints phoned in by residents to municipal complaint lines of cities such as New York. Again, I ref NIMBY, above.

    Thanks for your show and for soliciting listeners’ ideas. I am greatly enjoying catching up with the entire Backstory archive and would enjoy the show even if it weren’t so well produced — by which I mean only that if you could churn out even more content if you didn’t have to commit precious resources to finessing each program so well, I’d still be more than happy to listen.

    Reply
  81. Leah

    My immediately preceding post, continued

    ALONE TOGETHER: THE IDIOSPHERE IN PUBLIC SPACES. I’d be interested in your exploring how people have disconnected from their immediate surroundings down through history. Reading (getting lost in a book), daydreaming, what have you. Today, for example, we see the demise of widespread clapping at certain public events such as, for example, from the sidelines of a local marathon. I notice the nonsound of one hand not being able to clap because the other hand holds a phone. This phenomenon, remarkable to me both personally (avid clapper) and professionally (performing arts administrator), mirrors the seeming demise of attentiveness among those being applauded (in this example, the marathon runners), who’ve tuned out the public and tuned into personal soundtracks. Even if we, the public, did put both hands together to make an appreciative noise, they might see it but would not experience it fully. Thus is severed, to some extent, a potential/passing public connection — and, with it, the potential joy of shared civic engagement.

    (A side, partially-corrective (IMO) phenomenon called “quiet clubbing” is growing in which people all wear headphones and tune in together to one of a few live-DJ’d audio streams.)

    Reply
  82. Tami Lee

    Hello,
    Two books were published recently that have caused quite a stir in the library world:
    A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins, illus Sophie Blackall (Schwartz & Wade (January 27, 2015) and
    A Birthday Cake For George Washington by Ramin Ganeshram, illus. Vaness Brantley-Newton (Scholastic Press (January 5, 2016).
    Both books are asking modern readers to look at the institution slavery in a way that I find…distressing. I’m interested in your opinion. Here are some reviews/opinions to get you started:
    https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/smiling-slaves-post-fine-dessert-world/
    http://oomscholasticblog.com/post/proud-slice-history
    https://www.facebook.com/roni.deanburren/posts/10208956379133052?fref=nf&pnref=story
    Thank you for considering this topic!
    Tami Lee

    Reply
  83. Kim

    I would like to know the history of Presidential Candidates, not unlike Donald Trump or Sarah Palin, who offer little in the way of actual plans to govern, and yet are able to command a strong following based on empty platitudes.

    Reply
  84. David M.

    With the changing modes of entertainment it would be interesting to see the changing ideas of what being a celebrity meant in the US.

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  85. CazFans

    I am an avid reader of The Archdruid Report. He covers a lot of History but he’s a big fan of the cyclical nature of history specifically Spengler and Toynbee (20th century guy:)) but also some older guys (whose names I can’t remember) one in Greece and one in Florence way back when. Anyway, I’m interested in y’alls take on that aspect of history and the predictions of the collapse of the American empire. Thought a show on the history of history in America may be a bit too circular.

    Thanks

    Reply
  86. aldadebater

    I would be interested in the history of polling and how it developed in this country. Particularly political polling.

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  87. Zanne Macdonald

    I know that the subjects I am going to suggest are not too intellectual, but they might be fun for a summer gig. I recently visited the Tilden Park Merry-go-round in Berkeley. It is one of many amusement areas set up by the railroads to attract riders. Thought the subject of railroads and amusement areas would be interesting.

    A related subject would be amusement parks in general. Of course with my background this subject makes sense. Here are a couple of amusement parks that my grandfather CC Macdonald owned: Idlewild Park in Ligonier PA and Rock Springs Park in Chester WVa. They were also connected to railroad clientele.

    Reply
  88. Genhi Whitmer

    History of charities and charitable giving in the U.S.

    When did charities first begin to emerge, how did they evolve, and what have been some interesting twists and turns in how Americans perceive of charities? In 2010, US News did an article on the uniqueness of American charity, including the early days of Christian-oriented giving, as well as the rise of social work, as examples. The Guys could look at the arc of how this developed over time, up to and including phenomenon such as GoFundMe, etc.

    Reply
  89. Sam Bussan

    How about an episode on the history of prison in the United States? You’ve done episodes on policing and trial-watching, but you haven’t covered the threat which gives the law its strength, the prospect of imprisonment. It would certainly be a topical show, given the severity of mass incarceration in the US and President Obama’s recent visit to a prison. You could talk about the first prisons in the United States, and profile a few of the most infamous prisons in the country, past and present. You could also discuss the various prisoner-of-war camps which operated during the Civil War, like Andersonville.

    Greetings from Portland!

    Reply
  90. Peter Sabol

    Peter, Brian, Ed:

    Please do a show on “A History of the Party System of the United States”. I know you’ve covered political factions but the Party System (all 5… or is it 6 now?) is a whole other monster that sees many mirrors to the United States socially, economically, ethically…

    The First was those elitist Feds vs the Democrat-Republicans. The Second saw the Whigs eventually get buried by the peoples’ champion Dems only to be divided and lose ground to the newly formed Republicans at the start of the Third. Seeds of change are buried in the Fourth as the gilded age influenced nearly everything, including D.C. Global events and a more interconnected, diverse society led to massive upheaval and many changes across party lines during the Fifth that are now still in place today. Also, are we now, in your opinion, in a Sixth Party system?

    Forgive the poor summary. I know I left out of SO MANY people, events, ideologies and lessons. I leave that to you 🙂

    Thanks for all you do!

    Peter Sabol

    P.S. The Election of 1912 = WOW!

    Reply
  91. Ed Joras

    How about this: The grass was always greener. Why do Americans think that things are getting worse than things used to be (fill in the blank) years ago?

    For example, people are always telling me how bad crime is. Well, I lived through the 1970s. And I remember how bad things were. And all you need to do is look up the crime statistics. I believe crime per capita in most areas is nearly as low as it has ever been. Certainly nowhere near the 70s and 80s.

    And people talk about government regulation being a bad thing, without giving a thought to how dirty our air and water was in the 1960 and 1970s. And how many people were maimed and killed in the cars of the 1950s, 60s and 70s that we now consider classics.

    And people cry and moan about illicit drugs and illegal immigration. Both have been trending down for years. But we still perceive these as problems somehow

    Even more recently, people are complaining about today’s economy. When just eight years ago the country was losing 800,000 jobs each month (now we are adding about 200,000 per month).

    And don’t get me started on the threat of Muslim Extremism

    There are issues, don’t get me wrong. We can talk intelligently about incarceration of black maies. But by and large, things are not as bad as we make them out to be.

    Is there something in the American psyche that buys into doom and gloom scenarios that run contrary to demonstrable facts? Or is it that we don’t believe what we see?

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  92. Gerri

    I can’t think of a presidential election in U.S. history that would have been more polarized than a faceoff between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

    But I’m sure The History Guys can!

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  93. Clint T.

    Politicians today seem to have many avenues of getting funding for their campaigns. Bernie Sanders has raised money from individual donations, Donald Trump is self funded, while other’s have money coming in from so called super PACs. How were elections funded in the past? What were some of the strategies politicians used to raise money?

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  94. Benjamin

    I would love to hear and episode on the history of popular music or music consumption in the united states. It could cover the psalmody/hymnody movements that led to the singing schools of early New England, the Shape Note movements in the South, the Handel and Bach societies, the early symphonies, minstrel shows, Old Timey/Bluegrass music and the changes caused by recording industry, the national art and music movements of the New Deal, and the changes from the traditional recording industry selling physical copies to the age of digital music. It could also include information on the first wax cylinder recordings and recordings of Native American and Slave music saved by this technology and early grammaphone tech..

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  95. Barbara

    History of election fraud, please. I strongly suspect that virtually all past election fraud has been perpetrated by election officials, not by the voters. These voter ID laws claim to be about preventing election fraud. If we all knew more about what sorts of fraud actually have happened in the past we all could better judge whether these laws are about stopping fraud or discoursing voting.

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  96. Margaret

    People talk about the historic lack of bipartisanship in our country and the lack of compromise, from Congress to city governments. However there is a history of nasty political divides in our country. The 1828 election, yellow journalism, Federalists & Antifederalists, etc.Is this the most politically divisive period in American history? I’d like to hear a show about the history of partisans divisiveness both from elected officials and from the public.

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  97. Steve Miceli

    Hi Guys,
    You’ve discussed Trump through the political lens of parties and realignment, but how about the rise of a characters like Trump through the lens of fascism? Fascist figures from Europe and in the US were quite popular in the 1920s in the United States and remained so for many people.
    I see nativism and a fear of others as a constant stream running through American history that rises and falls based on a variety of factors including economic uncertainty and an increase in immigration. The larger the group of people who perceive their lack of success due to those factors, the greater likelihood that fascist ideas will be accepted by the larger public.

    Enjoy your show!

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  98. Sheri Maple

    I’ve been wondering as of late the media’s role throughout history. Did media always have the public’s trust? Does the media inform or influence or a combination of both?

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  99. Laura

    Hi guys, love the show! There’s a lot of great ideas on here, and a few seem like they were prompted by the 2016 presidential election, and I suppose this one would be timely as well.
    I’m interested in learning the history of presidential campaigning (or perhaps campaigning for political office more broadly). I recently finished “The Bloody Shirt” by Stephen Budiansky (wonderful, shocking, eye-opening book) and found myself on the Wikipedia page for Rutherford B Hayes reading about the election of 1876 when I stumbled across this gem: “In accordance with the custom of the time, the campaign was conducted by surrogates, with Hayes and Tilden remaining in their respective home towns.” um, what?! When did candidates start campaigning in person like they do today? Why did they use a surrogate? Where did the custom come from? So many questions.

    Thanks for your time, guys!

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  100. Steve Faust

    Read “The Imperial Cruise” by James Bradley and expand on the back story of Teddy Roosevelt’s racism and his actions in the Pacific.

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  101. Jamie Hall

    I love the show and love to get a deeper insight into my neighbour. (I’m Canadian and have visited 43 states.) I would love to hear a show highlighting the complex relationship of Canada and the U.S through our histories.

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  102. Nel

    I’d like to hear about the history of the relationship of the US with Mexico. A few points:
    — wars and land-grabs: how formerly Mexican land became American, and why we thought we had a right to it
    — any difference in perception between Canadians and Mexicans when it comes to immigration. Why are Mexican immigrants or potential illegal aliens considered so ‘bad’ while we don’t hear any similar concern about Canadian immigrants or potential illegal aliens. Are Canadians just not as interested in coming to the US as Mexicans?
    — Mexican contributions to American culture or history.
    — Official American policy towards Mexico. Why, for example, is the US so very concerned about revolutions further away from the US than Mexico (especially communist revolutions), but was not only unconcerned, but officially SUPPORTIVE of the Mexican Revolutions of the early 20th century (especially the Cristero war). I’ve read that the US absolutely refused to help the embattled Cristeros in any way because of endemic, deep-seated anti-Catholicism that goes back to before the founding of the colonies. The US government WELCOMED a regime in Mexico that would stamp out Catholicism and kill off the Catholic priesthood. So how much of our ‘official’ policy toward Mexico – which seems deeply negative – is anti-Catholic?

    Another topic:

    Anti-Catholicism in the US. The Know-Nothing party, for example. I know you’ve done a show about Catholicism in general, but to Catholics, it is taken for granted that ‘the last politically correct bigotry in the US is anti-Catholic bigotry.’ How is it that Catholic neighborhoods in cities were targeted for destruction in ‘urban renewal’ or when a highway somehow had to be cut straight through the heart of a city? How much of anti-Catholicism is policy in the US or has been policy in the US, and how much of it is just plain bigotry spawned by Protestant slanders and misunderstanding?

    As someone who grew up being attacked on the street by other children because I was wearing a Catholic school uniform; having been targeted for retaliation by a professor at Berkeley for contradicting an anti-Catholic slander he presented as fact (and told by another, more sympathetic, professor never to mention my religion at Berkeley with certain teachers), the anti-Catholicism of the United States has been deeply formative for me personally (I have emigrated to a Catholic country where I can freely practice my religion).

    It seems to be something that is known and felt by Catholics – who recently have had legislation aimed at stopping them practicing their faith freely or who have been sued for following Catholic beliefs in the exercise of charitable work – but is ignored as a problem by most Americans, or cheered and abetted by non-Catholic Americans.

    For example, it was said on one show about education, I think, that the Catholics did not build Catholic schools because they felt that the public schools were trying to Protestantize their children, and that’s just wrong. I think that the way it was stated was that the schools did not have some written policy to make children Protestant. But when there is an atmosphere of anti-Catholicism clearly expressed in the schools; when chilren are constantly told that all their ‘ethnic’ (read Catholic) foods and holidays and customs are ‘not American’ and that they need to eat, celebrate, speak and ‘act American’ – the Catholics knew that their children were being given the message: ‘real’ Americans are WASPs, and you should eschew the ‘ethnic’ customs of your parents (deeply bound up in their Catholic faith) and embrace ‘American’ ways of doing things (identified as WASP ways of doing things). To say that the schools were not ‘trying’ to Protestantize Catholic children is like saying that the WASP schools were not trying to marginalize African-American children. It shows that the mainstream media and university historians still just don’t get it when it comes to anti-Catholic sentiment as part of the bedrock of what it means to be a ‘real’ American.

    Although my maternal line started arriving in America in the 1630s, and my paternal line in the 1840s, I will never return to live in the United States for a variety of reasons, but the number one reason is that I am a Catholic, and it’s an anti-Catholic country. I have lived for nearly 25 years in a Catholic country that has no connection to my ethnic makeup (English, Irish, Scottish, German, Swiss) because here I am free to be Catholic among people who don’t automatically hate, ridicule, suspect or insult Catholics. I fully understand the African-Americans who went to Europe after World War I, where they could live like human beings, instead of ‘black beings.’ I feel the same way as a Catholic, and a great many American Catholics who stay in the US feel the same way. But anti-Catholicism is like an odorless, colorless gas to non-Catholic Americans. They breathe it in from birth and never question it or notice it, and certainly don’t feel guilty about it or apologize for it.

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  103. Robert Brugler

    With apologies to Rowan & Martin, a program called the Fickle Finger of Fashion covering unusual clothing of the past; or possibly the Fickle Finger of Architecture, or Fickle Finger of Technology, I trust you understand the pattern. Many thanks for peaking my interest in history.

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  104. Chrystine Julian

    Listening to political news is a reminder of how flawed our candidates can be; still I think that many of our less than perfect leaders have done great things. I would love to hear a show about past leaders, their blemishes and accomplishments.

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  105. kwixote

    *Local Control* Everybody’s looking to my formerly-wonderful state of NC right now because of the stupid HB2 bill. But this is only the latest example of a state legislature that, since the Republicans took power 3-4 years ago, has seemed to become increasingly intolerant of local government and local citizens’ voices. Despite claiming to be against “Big Government,” the General Assembly won’t even let the local citizens of my home town of Durham make their own call on things as fundamentally local as enforcement of neighborhood school, zoning, landlord and water regulations.

    This seems to me profoundly undemocratic, but perhaps I need some perspective on this phenomenon. How common are such seizures of local power? How often are they reversed? How are these things decided?

    I know that the history of working out what is properly the province of local city and county governments, of state governments and of the federal governments must be fraught with interesting examples. Seems perfect for a show!

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    • amy

      We have the same situation in Wisconsin. the republicans are in control and while criticizing big government have cut school spending and then put caps on how much money districts can raise on through tax levies, same with spending on cities. The impacts of these laws takes time for the average citizen to feel. People get upset when the schools plan to consolidate or cut pricey extracurricular activities, but are all for cutting the money going to the schools. They only get upset when it directly affects them..apparently not being able to think ahead.

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  106. Katherine

    Many American politicians today like to point to the ‘founding fathers’ or the Constitution as being focal points for the birth of the US.

    It would be wonderful to hear more about the importance of the ideals and principles of The Enlightenment and how they were manifested (through our ‘founding fathers’ and via the Constitution) to initially create the United States and drive powerful social, scientific, philosophical and political revolutions through the 1700s, 1800s and beyond.

    What might be a great addition, is perhaps a series which highlights moments where we, the US, socially and politically may not have yet reached the our own Enlightenment inspired ideals and a bit of debate on “why”.

    Immanuel Kant’s summary of The Age of Enlightenment’s Motto (1784): “Dare to Know! Have courage to use your own reason!”

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  107. Alexa Fraser

    I’m fascinated by how our society has moved from lawless places to more lawful ones. What actually ended the violence of the gangster era. Surely it wasn’t as easy as ending prohibition. How did KKK violence diminish? How did elections get fairer. What are the themes that lead to this sort of raise the boat increases in legality?

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  108. Andrew Nusbaum

    Hi Back Story Guys,

    I just finished listening to your recent show on standardized testing and it got me thinking: I teach dyslexic students and it would be fascinating to hear about the history of “special needs” education– from the early days where children were basically either locked away or relegated to menial jobs/lives all the way to today where we have a range from specialized schools, to special education classes in public school (with an increased focus on “mainstreaming” students back into general ed whenever possible), to current political fights over whether certain learning differences are legally recognized as disabilities (and therefore entitled to services under ADA and other laws). It could also be an interesting opportunity to explore memoirs or written material by self-identified LD individuals through American history, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Stonewall Jackson, George Patton, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, all the way up to Charles Schwab and Richard Branson to get a sense of how LD learners’ self-perceptions of their intelligence/creativity, etc have changed over time. A little out of the box, but could certainly be interesting!

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  109. Tavarris Spinks

    I would love to listen to a show that studies the history of privacy in America. From the Puritans in NE through the 20th century move into cities with close quarters and 21st century government surveillance. My driving question is when de we begin value our individual privacy?

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  110. Jonathan Schlesinger

    Dear Peter, Ed, & Brian,

    I know that you did a show on birth in 2012, but it may be time to do a show on birth certificates Between the hullabaloo over Obama’s birth certificate and the contemporary culture war over transgender individuals using bathrooms that do not correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate, it seems like Americans have never been more interested in this document. I know that some of my relatives did not have a birth certificate until they were adults. In this way, how has this document evolved throughout American history? What does this evolution say about the changing United States? When else has this document popped up in American current affairs? I realize that this would be a very, very narrow show that may be too arcane for a radio audience, but I couldn’t resist. Thanks!

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  111. Horatio

    Howdy,
    having recently moved back to the States from New Zealand, I had to deal with America’s Health Care/Insurance industry. It was in a crisis when I left 14 years ago, but now it is so incredibly dysfunctional I would love to hear the story of how an educated and supposedly progressive country like the US stands alone among most 1st World Countries holding on to an obviously flawed and detrimental system.
    Many thanks.

    Reply
  112. Bruce Pencek

    History of euphemism — how have Americans talked about (or around) things that they fear may give offense or simply make them uncomfortable? How have some of the words survived after their original referents have disappeared? (Eg, allegedly, “number two” was a finger sign in school asking unobtrusively for permission to use “the necessary,”) Or consider how the underlying words endure, and are arguably perpetuated by locutions like “F-word” or “N-word.” How have euphemisms and vulgar or derogatory slang terms or usages co-evolved within — and crossing over — cultures? (I think back to your program on Judaism, and the tension between saying “Jew” vs “Jewish person.”) Are there historical or cultural patterns in the origin and extinction of euphemisms? (Eg, “Passing away” or “going to the other side” as euphemisms for dying are probably grounded in religious and folk literatures, but “crossing the rainbow bridge” as a smarmy way to describe a pet’s death probably has more to do with the pet industry then with the pervasiveness of Norse mythology in American culture.)

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  113. Emily

    I would love to hear an episode on the history of arts education. I am an art educator and have already seen changes in philosophies and practices in the few years I have been teaching. I would love to know about early arts literacy education either in schools or in the community more broadly. When did art begin to be taught to students in most schools, and what was taught to students in different eras? I am sure that there are a lot of interesting ways to look at arts and education in America.

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  114. Renee Watkins

    Great show, story of political correctness in relation to class conflict, sexual norms, and diplomatic self-censorship told with joy of teaching.
    Thanks!

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  115. Happy Listener

    Hello, History Guys!

    I really enjoyed your episode on “Hamilton”. I work in education and am a tutor of all things, so I found the effect of the play on students particularly interesting. I would like to know more about how Broadway has shaped popular culture and opinion, and how it has been a reflection of those things. In the past few decades, we’ve seen plays like “Hair” and “Rent” have big impact. I don’t know how many Millennial listeners you have, but I am very curious about how those shows were viewed at the time. (The current events of my parents youth were a blind spot in my history education. I think this is true for most people.) “Hair” was so controversial when it came out, my grandma banned my aunt from even listening to it. I saw the show with my aunt a few years ago and it seems to be viewed as more of a historical piece now as opposed to a political statement. I would love hear your thoughts on the subject.

    Thank you for all the great content!

    Reply
  116. aldadebater

    Well, since you’re doing one on the GOP, Backstory, it’s only fair that you focus on the Democratic Party’s history as well. In addition, I would be interested in a look at the Electoral College’s history, such as how votes are apportioned, reform attempts, and how it’s been viewed throughout American history.

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  117. Paul M Peters

    1913 was a year that stands out amongst others. When I search the year on your site, many major topics are drawn from this time. Adolf Hitler, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Tito, Sigmund Freud and Joseph Stalin were all in Vienna at one point that year. There were floods, sinking ships, rising powers, and more. I could go on, but would be very interested to hear the three of you spend an hour talking about the year, what lead to it, and how we are still feel the impact today.

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  118. aldadebater

    In light of the salience that immigration holds, I’d like a history of nativism. What precedents were there for the Know Nothings? How did it impact our immigration law? When did nativism reemerge in contemporary times?

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  119. Karen Uminski

    I would be interested in hearing you guys give us a history of art in America. From colonial times that would be fascinating, the period during the wars when Paris was no longer an accessible capital and the US had to look to it self for a lot of art inspiration. Not unlike fashion. But then in the postwar New York becomes an art center. It would be interesting to hear how and why.

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  120. UR Spider 2012

    I greatly enjoyed Melissa Gismondi’s post on the generational divide in the Brexit referendum. Why not build an entire show around generational divides in American history? Generational conflict has figured prominently in the 2016 election cycle. Where else has it appeared in American history, and how has it been affected by the advent of named generations (the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, etc.)? What role have journalists played in constructing generational tensions? How has generational conflict shaped social movements?

    I’d also love to hear your take on the history of growing old in America.

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  121. Mike McCulley

    I am interested in the Great Basin and its impact on life in the west. It’s an enormous geologic feature, and life, politics and culture in the Basin seem to be unique. As a birdwatcher I’ve studied the natural values, as a traveler I’ve been on many of the emigrant trails, and as a Westerner I’ve observed the culture. I’d like to hear your take its impact on Uncle Sam’s America.

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