Pitch a show!

Winter/Spring 2015

Published: January 23, 2015

Belle North, female pitcher, 1915.

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

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

The history of the Civil Rights Movement = Bad

The history of “outsiders” = Good

The history of the car = Bad

The history of American transportation = Good

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


Comments (28)

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  1. Chip Fisher

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

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

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

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

    Chip Fisher
    Boulder, CO

  2. Chip Fisher

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

    Boulder, CO

  3. Chip Fisher

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

    Chip Fisher
    Boulder, CO

  4. Deb Pressley

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

    • John

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

  5. judith reichsman

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

  6. Sheri Bailey

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

  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.”

  8. aldadebater

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

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

  9. Joshua

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

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

    • Heather T.

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

  10. aldadebater

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

  11. aldadebater

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

  12. Cheryl

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

  13. Phil Bush

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

  14. Sam Pastor

    The History of Gambling

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

  15. Don M

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

  16. Don M

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

  17. Robert

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

  18. Ken Smith

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

  19. Thomas D Dial

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

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

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

  20. aldadebater

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

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

  21. Marie Thomas

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

  22. Ken Hoch

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

  23. Josh

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

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

  24. aldadebater

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

  25. Robert

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