Pitch a Show (Fall/Winter 2012)

“King and Carter Jazzing Orchestra” by Robert Runyon, 1881-1968 (LOC)

The American History Guys are hard at work on a brand new season of BackStory, including episodes themed to reenactments and emancipation. Our schedule for the second half of the fall and into winter, however, has not yet been nailed down and we would love your input! 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 read what others have pitched in the past here and 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…

  • Civil Rights Era=Bad Topic
  • The History of Activism=Good Topic
  • The Gold Rush=Bad Topic
  • Boom & Bust in American History=Good Topic

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 (99)

{Discussion is closed
  1. Jenny

    During the early days of trains, the postal service and photography, whenever a train crashed, photographers would race to the scene, take photos of the wreckage and then sell those photos in the form of postcard to the inhabitants of the area. Those people would then send the psotcard to a family member or friends– saying, for example (paraphrasing here) “this is the train wreck where my son died.”

    This is not a ptich for a show, just a fact about communication, money-to-be-made over someone elses grief, the essential human need to process that grief, and how information about disasters was disseminated way back when. Not much seems to have changed in the human angle.

  2. Diane

    So a number of presidents (starting with the first) have been military generals. How has this meritocracy by war influenced the American peoples’ view of the presidency through history? I remember that Clinton and Bush II received criticism for lack of or sketchy military service. Neither of the current presidential candidates have served in the military. Is this something we no longer value, or is it simply a function of timing (as in we’ll have potential presidential candidates in 20 years with Iraq/Afghanistan experience)?

  3. Heather Thorwald

    I’d be interested in a show about the history of charitable organizations in America. With current political discussions about changing or eliminating income tax deductions for charitable contributions, I wonder what the reasons were for establishing those deductions in the first place. In a wider scope, what has been the view of the role of charities vs. government agencies in addressing social issues such as poverty? What was the experience of immigrant groups with charities created by American elites vs. fraternal organizations created by the immigrants themselves?

  4. Josh Venner

    BackStory should investigate the history of economic recessions in the US and what political leaders did during hard times. Recessions and depressions occur fairly routinely throughout our history with many different triggers. American political leaders reacted very differently to the outbreak of economic crisis in the past they do now.

  5. Josh Venner

    [quote comment=”28618″]BackStory should investigate the history of economic recessions in the US and what political leaders did during hard times. Recessions and depressions occur fairly routinely throughout our history with many different triggers. American political leaders reacted very differently to the outbreak of economic crisis in the past then they do currently.[/quote]

  6. Vincent Kang

    Backstory should investigate the US Revolution of 1776 with a keen eye on the question of just how revolutionary it truly was, and a compare/contrast with the French Revolution.

    Also, in regards to slavery and women’s rights, one side tends to emphasize how they proof that the revolution was flawed (and thus the Revolution really ultimately is less important than the Civil War) and another side minimizes the significance of this omission due to prevailing prejudices and practices in human society at the time. I think this is worth parsing out.

  7. Jay Hunger

    Some ideas about a couple fun topics:

    1. The evolution of toys and play. As an adult toy collector and history buff, I’m interested in hearing how the evolution of play things has adapted throughout the ages and the change of focus of what “playthings” are. As a child of the 80’s, action figures were key to my play and purchasing, but according to some companies, action figures are a dying market… to see what some of the popular toys were for generations would be interesting. This may tie in with the children theme you have going, but I thought maybe historical settings, economic settings, and societal events may have effected the focus of the popular playthings. I think also what else could be interesting in the time allotted for allowing play time for kids.

    2. The evolution of the newspaper editorial comic and art to the comic books of today. When commentary or critiques moved on to serial story telling and branching off into “worlds” and “universes” of their own. How society, economy, and norms affected the source material of characters and superheroes and how they were able to insert their commentary on life and events in their own particular way. Not only would subject and stories be interesting, but art styling, and techniques would also be fun to hear about. Is it safe to say the current superhero can be traced back to the ancient depictions of their Gods (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc)?

  8. vincent kang

    How about a Cold War retrospective?

    Specifically one that examines how some of our memories might be inaccurate, and a real analysis of the Soviet system. Personally I’ve been curious how much of it was overblown in part by America’s religious imagination, and how much was genuine threat.

  9. Andrew Ahrendt

    I have always been curious about “drugs” and how they came to be seen as the bane of society. I am not a user, so I do not know much about illegal or recreational drugs, but I know that there is a lot of conversation about them. From Drug Czars to Emmy Award winning television shows centered around them, our culture loves conversing about them (and often partaking). I feel like I even learned once the Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, and that Hearst had something to do with making it illegal. I’m in cloud of smoke about the whole thing, but I know that Backstory is the perfect group of people to clear the air.

  10. Marc Naimark

    It’s a bit late,but a show on presidential debates would have been great. How long have they been around? What was their impact on campaigns? What was the context for the idea of political debate over time?

  11. Marc Naimark

    More broadly, I’d like to hear a show on the theme of public speaking. What is the place and function of oratory over time? How does changing technology influence the kind of oratory and its role?

  12. Josh Venner

    I’d like to propose a program on the history of voter fraud and voter eligibility restrictions in American elections. What has been the impact of fraud in past elections? What kind of voter security or identification laws have existed before? What kind of laws and restrictions have been placed on voters in the past?

  13. Christina Vrba

    A Tale of Tails – the history of pets in America! I’ve read several books on the topic, and it’s fascinating – especially if you work in the founding of the American Humane Society and the rise of animal rights groups.

  14. rich lindsay

    Hard to suggest one that hasn’t been covered but one idea came to mind.
    Teaching about Rome I remember learning about how important news was posted at the tri-via(three road intersections). So how is that Americans have gotten their news historically and stayed informed. It might be interesting in today’s over-connected world to trace the shifts from the Colonial Era to today’s Digital Age and how new mediums, commercial interests, other factors and especially the internet have changed things. Maybe then touch on how these affect society. Was selecting sources that conform to our views as true then as now?

  15. Rob Vaughan

    There seems to have been a continuous debate about the meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state” and its grounding in the non-establishment clause of the first amendment. Past shows have touched on some elements of this, particularly regarding science and education, but it would be interesting to hear about the relationship between religion and politics/politicians–when politicians have emphasized or de-emphasized their faith (or certain elements thereof). This could include looking at the role religion played in the election of Hoover over Smith, the election of Kennedy, the response to the election of Rep. Keith Ellison in Minnesota and the various responses to the Mormonism of both Mitt and George Romney.

  16. David Wooldridge

    In 2015 the Sesquicentennial of the American Ciivil War will reach Appomattox Court House, “where our nation reunited.” Little known is the fact that decades before Lee’s surrender to Grant, along the Appomattox River, cultures had begun to come together already in the guise of the 5 string banjo- an instrument born of Africa, taken up by those of European descent to become the “only truly American instrument.”
    The origins of the banjo & it’s evolution have been shrouded in controversy while it continues to win over audiences and converts alike (see the Steve Martin narrated film “Give Me the Banjo!”) We are even witnessing a resurgence of interest in the period playing style of period instruments from the antebellum, minstrel & Civil War eras (see http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/09/02/civil-war-events-feature-minstrel-song-revival-2143071609/)

    Next May Appomattox Court House National Historical Park will host a celebration of Joel Sweeney- the first documented white banjo player and the African slaves he most surely learned from.

    A “Backstory” episode detailing the sometimes troubled history of the banjo and it’s historiography would be an amazing show!


  17. Edward T. O'Donnell

    Two ideas –
    1. I’ve just finished my book on Henry George and Gilded Age America (Columbia University Press, 2013) and have been thinking a lot about a show on political/economic panaceas. I have in mind plans proposed by people like Henry George (Single Tax, 1880s), William H. Harvey (Free silver and Coin’s Financial School, 1890s), Francis Townsend (the Townsend Plan) in the 1930s.

    2. also related to my HG and Gilded Age book, how about a show on the history of luxury in America. From the colonial period until the Gilded Age, “luxury” (and its close cousin, “aristocracy”) was a dirty word in American republican parlance. No one wanted to be associated with luxury because republican political culture defined it as a mark of European (the land of aristocracies, fixed classes, established churches, and despotic govs) decadence in contrast with American republican simplicity/modesty. The one notable exception was the planter class in the South, a point abolitionists stressed in making the case that a slaveholding society was inherently unrepublican. Then in the Gilded Age, Mrs Vanderbilt and the 400, along with a stupendously productive industrial economy, made luxury somehow legitimate. It did not happen overnight, and workers and radical like Henry George warned of the Europeanization of American society (and demise of the republic) by the new plutocracy. In the 21st century one cannot watch 15 minutes of TV without hearing the word luxury in ads touting everything from cars to chocolate.

  18. Ruby Ash

    My family are road builders.

    How about a story on the history of roads in America: how they were built, who built them, decisions on where roads would be built, how immigration shaped the construction workforce, the impact of the interstate system on the country, etc.

  19. Chuck I.

    ELEVEN & UP: The History of Amending the U.S. Constitution

    This topic focuses on the amendments to the Constitution that were added after the Bill of Rights. I have always been fascinated by the Amendments, in part because of how difficult the amendment process is. Some would argue it is justifiably difficult, others might argue the process needs to be easier. Even more telling, is the manner in which the amendments can serve as a “scrap book” of American history, and some of the interesting patters that occur throughout it, such as:

    1. A natural assumption is that the amendments serve as a tool for reversing unpopular opinions from the Supreme Court. Yet only a scant few amendments were actually direct responses to Supreme Court holdings. The most notable instance would be the Eleventh Amendment, which was the first “new” amendment.

    2. Speaking of the 11th Amendment, few (if any) provisions in the Constitution have managed to remain so controversial for so long. Historians (and Supreme Court justices) are still sharply divided as to its true meaning. I would argue that is due, in large part,to the fact that it happens to be the most poorly worded provision in the entire Constitution. Plus, the historical backdrop that gave rise to the 11th Amendment is as equally fascinating as it is crazy.

    3. Out of the sixteen amendments added after the Bill of Rights, seven of them pertain to the electoral process (XII, XV, XVII, XIX, XXII, XXIII, XXIV & XXVI). Of all the fundamental rights held sacred in our country, perhaps history teaches us that the right to vote requires the most protection?

    4. With two notable exceptions, the rights protected under the Constitution only pertain to government actions. The two instances in which the Constitution regulates private behavior are the Thirteenth (slavery) and Eighteenth (prohibition) Amendments.

    5. Most people would argue the Fourteenth Amendment is hands-down the most influential (and perhaps radical) change to the Constitution. I am surprised at how many people are still surprised to learn that, prior to the 14th Amendment, the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government. It would have been perfectly constitutional, for example, for a state to pass a law infringing upon freedom of speech.

    6. The Twenty-Seventh Amendment, the most recent addition, is perhaps the best final footnote you could ask for. Despite being ratified in 1992, it was proposed to the States along with the original ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. It continued to linger for 200 years until it finally received enough ratifying votes 201 years later.

    7. The topic might also address some of the notable “rejected amendments” that have popped up throughout our history, since they too offer a glimpse into various social, economic and political trends throughout American history (such as the Child Labor Amendment, abortion amendments, Equal Rights Amendment, abolishing the Electoral College, ect.)

  20. aldadebater

    How about a history of music in the United States? It’s a clearly profitable and influential aspect of American pop culture, and it has changed drastically over our 220 something year history as a nation. I’d love to see it covered! Besides, you’ve got a photograph of jazz musicians playing on the photo cover of this website!

  21. Marc Naimark

    [quote comment=”43680″]What about a history of emigration out from this “nation of immigrants”?[/quote]
    I like this very much. American abroad, Paris, draft dodgers in Canada and elsewhere, the Mormons in Mexico, disappointed immigrants returning home… and all the things you guys know and I don’t.

  22. Brian Parkinson

    Yes, exactly, Mark. Other emigration stories include the colonization of Liberia and the exodus of slaves who were freed by Britain during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

  23. Bruce Pencek

    How about a history of failure and “failure”? Horatio Alger or Willie Loman? Robert Fulton or John Fitch? Massachusetts Bay or New Sweden? Yankees (not this year) or Cubs? Nixon or … Nixon?

    Related: the history of the trope of decline/decadence (or declension, if I remember my Perry Miller aright).

    Not necessarily related: God and gardens. On a trip to Philadelphia (a town replete with failure and decline, I’ll grant), I toured various public gardens created by the old Quaker quasi-aristocracy: Bartram’s Garden, the entire campus of Swarthmore College, and the Tyler Arboretum (all in the shadow of Longwood Gardens, one of the Dupont fiefdoms that was founded on another Quaker arboretum).

    I”m selfishly interested in how you’d deal with the histories of libraries, but not many people outside the trade might find is sexy..

    Related: the history of American spelling. Noah Webster strove to prescribe an American, even republican orthography, but Webster’s eventually opted for description. At the same time Meleille Dewey (Melvil Dui) sought simplified spelling, Anglophile etiquette books sought “the honour of your presence.”

  24. Tom Roche

    [quote comment=”30267″]I’d like to propose a program on the history of voter fraud and voter eligibility restrictions in American elections.[/quote]

    +1, though the term “vote suppression” is probably more apt.

  25. Tom Roche

    [quote comment=”43284″]How about a history of music in the United States?[/quote]
    Too big for one hour. The banjo idea might work, though.

  26. Tom Roche

    You could do a whole series on “America’s forgotten wars,” occupations, and imperial adventures. One in particular:

    My Azorean grandfather was not quite fresh-off-the-boat when he became part of the US Army sent to Russia in 1918 to fight the Soviets, alongside troops from Britain, France, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Romania, Greece, Poland, Serbia, and China. IMHO,

    [quote comment=”28948″]How about a Cold War retrospective?[/quote]

    * _very_ few Americans know that we _invaded_ Russia to fight the Soviets.

    * “Soviet paranoia” seems quite reasonable when viewed in the light of outside involvement in the Russian Civil War, the subsequent Cordon Sanitaire, the interwar efforts of Churchill et al to “strangle [them] in the cradle,” the successful strangulation of left democrats both before WW2 (from the German Revolution to the Spanish Republic) and after (starting in Greece–too many to mention here), and so much more … Given the facts, even the term “Cold War” seems rather a misnomer.

  27. Brett Kensington

    I’m betting that you all are discussing the new study of Jefferson as slavemaster, Henry Wiencek’s “Master of the Mountain.” The early comment I’ve heard on this book (and the debacle of David Barton’s book and its withdrawal) got me to thinking about how Americans seem to exert so much energy to deify the big-name leaders in our history, and how upset we get when these cardboard cutouts we’ve constructed turn out to have been fallible humans. Is this an aspect of US exceptionalism, or do other nations have this gild-’em-up/tear-them-down relationship to their own historical figures? How do we generally deal with revisions of our history?
    Personally, I feel that I was very badly served by how US history was taught to me in my 1960s public school experience; everything was so oversimplified, un-nuanced and as bland as a Barbie doll. Maybe the pablum of history texts gives us the white-hat version of the Founders, but it doesn’t seem to get corrected when we’re old enough to stand some truth.
    Incidentally, I just finished listening to the Cuba Missile Crisis podcast, and I thought it was exceptional [heh]. I really appreciate your work.

  28. aldadebater

    OK, Tom, I mean popular music, not all music. I don’t actually think that it would take over an hour to summarize how the kinds of music that people like have changed over the centuries. One can have minuet, for example, for the 1700s, spirituals and ragtime for the 1800s, and the beginnings of rock and roll for the 20th century.

    Or, if that’s still too broad, you can have the evolution and development of a specific genre or subset of music in the United States. Country music would be a great example. African American music would be another. I am confident that either could covered within an hour.

  29. Brian Parkinson

    In the spirit of Backstory’s Cuba episode, how about producing a few episodes that each focus on the history of a single American city such as Baltimore or Pittsburg or Detroit? I think city-based narratives would enable the Guys to explore national historical trends through a narrative form that is more intimate and emotionally powerful than the show’s usual broad exploration of an abstract theme from a national perspective.

    For example, The Wire explored a lot of themes relevant to all of America, but its greatness as a documenter of American life came from the fact that the stories were rooted in the experience of a specific people in a specific place. The place became a compelling character unto itself. There’s no reason that Backstory couldn’t bring a little of that place-base power to its stories as well.

  30. Brian Parkinson

    This isn’t exactly an idea for a full episode, but I’d love it if the Guys could explain how the heck Andrew Jackson ever got to be on federal legal tender.

  31. kenny

    Hey guys, I work the third shift in a major grocery chain stocking shelves and to pass time and keep my gears turning I listen to podcasts. Yours is one of my favorites. I have two request for topics. The first being a history of labor in the south. I’ve heard of strikes led by slaves and then some about Richmond’s post civil war era industrial unions where white and black workers organized together, overcoming prejudices and racism to fight the exploitation of the capitalists. How far did the influence of these unions reach in the south? What led to its dissapearance? How did the exiatence of mutual societies in the black communities during reconstruction allow for more independence as black people organized in their workplaces.

    Also, what is tge history of the american department store… how did we come from small mom and pop stores to sears to walmart? What was the reaction from small business? Sears seemes to have utilized american manufactuers, licensing their products as their own, but now everything is imported, waart has taken over, etc. etc.

  32. Brian Parkinson

    I find Backstory so enlightening because it delves into the American past and allows me to compare current domestic events with similar ones from the past. In that same spirit, it would be great if the show would produce a few episodes that compare American history to those of other nations. The Guys could even invite historians of other countries as guest co-hosts, which would introduce listeners to a broader range of perspectives on history and, ultimately, on America.

    You could compare American history to those of other countries through a limitless number of topics, but here are a few that are especially relevant to current events:
    Passing national laws (Given the legislative bottlenecks in the U.S. Congress, how have other nations developed legislative systems that honor the will of the majority without oppressing minorities?)
    Managing Superpower status (a history of those who’ve won on the international scene–what did they do then?)
    Controlling executive authority (how different really is a president from a king?)
    Government involvement in the economy (has free trade ever existed…anywhere?)
    National Debt (especially interesting to compare with the U.S. in order to understand allegations that America has an “exorbitant privilege” when it comes to monetary policy)

  33. Lorenzo V.

    A History of Statehood.

    The United States has, over time, expanded and become established as “these 50 states”. However, prior to what we presently know as the United States of America, there have been many various lands that have lobbied for admission to the good ol’ US of A. From Cuba to Sicily, Alaska to Hawaii, it’d be interesting to see how America has dealt with lands not “attached” to the continental United States (and Manifest Destiny) over the centuries. What were the reasons for admitting or denying statehood and could the country ever realistically expand upon its current number.

  34. Brian Parkinson

    I really like Kenny’s focus on biracial unions after the Civil War. When it comes to Reconstruction, one of my pet peeves is the usual emphasis on the era’s bitterness and greed. For example, AMC’s Reconstruction-era series, Hell on Wheels, begins with the words “The nation was an open wound.” O.k., sure, there was unprecedented emotional trauma in the war’s wake, and certainly unchecked greed, but there was also an admirable pursuit of profoundly new political possibilities–through labor unions, but also through biracial state legislatures such as the Readjusters in Virginia and the Populist-Republican fusion in North Carolina, as well as through the efforts of remarkable men such as Robert Smalls, PBS Pinchback, Albion Tourge, and William Mahone. These instances of political progress may have been flashes in the pan before Jim Crow’s torrential downpour of easy, profitable hate, but, taken all together, they represented an outpouring of applied idealism that flourished despite the war’s brutal legacy.

    Now, I don’t mean to idealize these biracial coalitions or those remarkable men. In their own way, I wouldn’t be surprised if their motivations were just as self-centered as their white supremacist counterparts. But isn’t it at least remarkable that there were people who endured slavery and/or survived the Civil War, and yet still had enough creative life in their brains, bodies, and bones to pursue vividly new and creative paths to power?

  35. Chuck I.

    The Insignificant Presidency.

    In over 230 years, only 44 men have ever ascended to the nation’s highest office. Some of them get their very own monuments. Others are lucky to get some much as a footnote.

    Notice how I named the topic the “Insignificant Presidency”, not “President”. I would like to hear more about what makes a failed presidency. How could someone be so ambitious as to end up being elected president, and yet be so easily forgotten. Take Franklin Pierce, for example. What other president had his own biography written by the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne? So what made him so insignificant? Was it simply a matter of being an ineffective leader? Or did he perhaps try to do something that would have made him significant, only to be stonewalled by history?

  36. Robert Brugler

    Back story..

    A financial crisis, recession, & depression befall our history just as certain as weeds will grow in a farm field.

    Gentlemen, please put the long range telescope on these reoccurring events.

  37. Brian Parkinson

    I’d like to know more about the history of the libertarian movement in the United States. Have libertarians ever been a political force to be reckoned with–or just gadfly also-rans?

  38. Brian Parkinson

    With a view to incorporating previous suggestions about a history of American music, how about a show on the history of the export of American popular culture?

    For the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, stories could focus on the development of the fur trade (i.e., it not only united North America through vast trade networks, but also spurred the European fad for North American furs; as well as Ben Franklin parading around Paris in furs because that’s what the French wanted to see in an American, etc.).

    Not sure for the nineteenth century: although the more I read about the international perspective on antebellum U.S. slavery, the moral issue itself seems like a cultural export in much the same way as Save Darfur became an international phenomenon in the twenty-first century.

    For the twentieth century, we have rock n roll, which came to life as Jim Crow was dying–does this mean that it came to life because Jim Crow was dying? Did rock n roll’s power arise from the fact that barriers between white and black society were breaking down and a whole lot of cultural tension was released through this music (or is that too clever by half)? How and why, then, did the rest of the world catch the Rock n Roll fever?

    As a bonus for Brian Balogh, the episode could end with the rise and international export of Hip Hop in the twenty-first century!

  39. Brian Parkinson

    What about a show based on Alexis De Tocqueville’s book Democracy in America?

    I often hear historians and pundits praise the book for being prescient reading, even today, but I’ve never fully understood why it’s still so relevant. During this election year where so many are screaming that the country has lost its democratic moorings, maybe the Guys can help us reconnect to this touchstone of American democratic theory. What did De Tocqueville get so right about America?

  40. Marjory Greenbaum

    Hey guys. I am interested in the history of public education. I would like to explore how, from a colonizing nation who sought to “re-educate” the American Indians through mission schools, we have now landed in a place where public education reform is both a necessity and yet a movement fraught with disagreement on how to move forward. You can explore the different region of the country and how coming to educate of all children was a very slow process, especially in the South and in frontier regions of the West. There is much to review with regard to the approach of teaching, the subjects that were considered most important, to how children were viewed and treated in the classroom as the centuries progressed. Of course, looking backwards may help us move forward in thinking of how to improve on where we have been so we can figure out where we are going. Would love to talk more on this, if you are interested. Thanks!

  41. Brian Parkinson

    Marjory, the Guys did do a show on the history of public education a while ago (http://backstoryradio.org/school-days-a-history-of-public-education-2/)

    One story relevant to your question that they did not cover in that episode (and which maybe they’ll visit in a future one!), was the impressive lurch forward for public education in Virginia and North Carolina when biracial coalitions managed briefly to come to power in those states in the late nineteenth century. The Readjusters in Virginia had a sweeping victory in 1879 in response to the Democrats raiding education funds (a poll tax) in order to pay off old state debts (the Readjusters wanted to “readjust” the state debt). This diversion of funds caused enrollment in school to plummet by 50%, helping to galvanize both blacks and whites to join together and vote the Democrats out. Once in power, the Readjusters invested heavily in public education and doubled the number of schools, teachers and students. Even after they were booted out in 1883, they set a higher standard for public education in Virginia.

    In North Carolina, in the 1890s, a “fusion” of populists and Republicans (both white and black) combined forces and came to power in the state. One of their lasting legacies is increased investment in public education that was honored by the Democrats after that party returned to power.

    So, things may have been pretty slow in the south with respect to public education, but it wasn’t always for lack of trying. If the Guys ever do a second episode on the history of public education, I would love if they explored these stories. Their first episode on this subject was certainly enlightening, but left me with a sense that the development of public education was a top-down effort, and I think this misses an important and fascinating alternative current in the history.

  42. Brian Parkinson

    What exactly was the Reagan Revolution? What are its roots? What did it actually accomplish? What is its legacy?

  43. Brian Parkinson

    What about an episode on the lives of presidents after their presidencies? What’s it like to have all the prestige, but none of the power? I believe Alexander Hamilton worried that ex-Presidents might haunt the land like lost ghosts–is that accurate?

    From the seventeenth century, you could talk about Jefferson and Adams’ correspondence.

    From the eighteenth century, you could talk about Andrew Jackson cloistered, yet still exerting influence, from his hermitage.

    From the twentieth century, you could tell us about Theodore Roosevelt’s attempt to claw back power as a Bull-Moose candidate when his presidential legacy didn’t turn out the way he expected.

    Maybe you could cap the episode off with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton’s quest for historical redemption.

  44. Brian Parkinson

    Generally when the Guys look at African American History in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, they focus on the experience of slaves. But there have always been free black communities in the United States, and I’d love to know more about the history of these communities as well. For example:

    What was life like in antebellum America for free blacks in the South vs. the North?

    How did free black life change after the American Revolution?

    What was the role of free blacks in the Civil War? For example, contrary to the story told in the movie Glory, the majority of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment were free men, not slaves. What inspired them to fight and to push for enlistment? Were their motivations similar to the slaves who enlisted?

    What is the history of “reunion” between free and enslaved African Americans after emancipation? What were the key tensions? How did they overcome them to form an integrated community–or didn’t they?

    What is the legacy of free black communities for America in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?

  45. Brian Parkinson

    “They Endured.”

    The literary critic, William Dean Howells, once said “What the American public wants in the theater is a tragedy with a happy ending.” As historians have noted, this quote captures a key facet of the American view of history, life, and what makes life worth living: the idea that from suffering comes an absolutely better life. But we all know that this happy ending often fails to arrive on cue in American history (and in humanity’s history, for that matter). So what about those American peoples whose lives didn’t culminate in some sort of grand redemption? What about those who were slaves well before the end of slavery? What about Native American life on reservations? What about “Okies” who stayed put in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl (Timothy Egan wrote a grand book on this subject: The Worst Hard Time)? What about other groups of people (or individuals) who have had to parse the history of their lives’ achievements in terms of dignity rather than triumph?

  46. Brian Parkinson

    Isn’t it about time for Backstory to explore the history of gay life in America?

    Please correct me if I’ve missed something, but it seems that homosexual life has been completely avoided, except for a few tangential references.

  47. Brian Parkinson

    It looks like back in 2009, Backstory was going to produce a show on Populism: was that ever done? If not, it may make for very entertaining listening now, especially in the wake of an economy-centered presidential election. In particular, I’d love to learn more about the free silver movement because at heart it represented a movement of citizens who were sick of feeling out of control when it came to the economy and developed a coherent (albeit highly controversial) remedy to push for (just do us all a favor, and please don’t talk about the Wizard of Oz connection–we’ve all heard it, it’s clever, and probably apocryphal). A story contrasting populists with Occupy Wall Street would also be fascinating.

  48. Brian Parkinson

    What about a show on American treason?

    From what I understand, the Constitution sets a very high standard of proof for convicting someone of treason. How has that barrier to conviction influenced American history?

    It would also be great to hear the guys talk about:
    Aaron Burr and James Wilkinson;
    Pretty much every resident of the northern border states during the War of 1812 (when
    American entrepreneurs kept the British army well stocked with beef and other staples);
    Accused communist spies during the Cold War (Alger Hiss, Rosenbergs, etc.);
    Bradley Manning and Wikileaks

  49. Brian Parkinson

    America’s Reaction(s) to Genocide

    Throughout American history, genocides at home and abroad have sparked fierce domestic debates over the nation’s moral character and its responsibility to foreigners who are in desperate distress. Taken as a whole, what do America’s varied responses to genocide tell us about its real ideals?

    Possible topics:
    The Early American Republic’s response to the French Reign of Terror;
    The fierce Congressional debates over the Indian Removal Act;
    The massive public fundraising effort by Henry Morgenthau and the American Committee for Relief in the Near East in response to the Armenian Genocide;
    America and the “Ships to Nowhere” during the Holocaust;
    President Clinton’s Response to the Rwandan Genocide;
    Was Darfur Saved?

  50. Brian Parkinson

    Satirical news shows such as The Daily Show and Colbert Report strongly influence American electoral politics. This is nothing new. Throughout American history, political satirists have done more than allow us to laugh at ourselves and our government. From Ben Franklin to Mark Twain to Will Rogers to H.L. Mencken to Jon Stewart, political satirists have doubled as earnest political agitators. I’d love to hear what the Guys have to say about the serious influence of satirists on American political history.

  51. Brian Parkinson


    F. Scott Fitzgerald famously stated that “There are no second acts in American lives.” Although we often mistake this aphorism to mean that Americans don’t get second chances, Fitzgerald most likely was referring to the second act in a three act drama. In the second act, the protagonist reflects on her life and grows as a person.

    Ever since the onset of the 2008 crisis, commentators have argued that the suffering engendered by the crash will be salutary–people will learn to manage their money better and the economy will be more stable in the long term as a result. From this perspective, government (and charitable?) efforts to soften systemic blows are harmful to America’s long-term prospects because Americans will miss the opportunity to reflect and grow–thereby acquiring “character”.

    But does American history really bare out this Panglossian perspective on the aftermath of crises, financial or otherwise? In American history, have suffering people who have not been protected by government safety nets really acquired character, thereby fortifying future generations, or have they just retreated to the opposite extreme?

    In particular, how about the interplay of economic and political extremes? When economic bubbles burst, and people aren’t protected, don’t we then see the rise of a corresponding speculative bubble in politics (i.e., political extremism) in its place–with its own potential for grave dangers to the republic?

    Examples to explore could include:
    Army officers during the Revolutionary War threatening to mutiny at Newburg (and, once coopted with bonds, putting down a similar efforts among the common soldiers)

    The New York City Draft Riots

    The rise of Populist coalitions

    The Bonus Army

    Red Scare(s)

    Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street

  52. Brian Parkinson


    Like many Americans, I’ve lost several close family members to smoking-related illnesses including lung cancer and emphysema. This loss has made me curious about the history of tobacco production and use in the United States. Perhaps Backstory could produce an episode on tobacco (in the spirit of the “Cheers and Jeers” episode that focused on alcohol).

    First, how did tobacco production influence America’s early development, especially as a slave society–did fluctuations in tobacco production have any other profound impacts on America’s development?

    Second, how did the level of tobacco use fluctuate over America’s first two centuries of existence? What factors influenced these changes?

    Third, how did the imagery and social status associated with tobacco use change–and why? I have heard, for example, that in the 1920s women began to smoke more as a symbol of autonomy–are there eariler examples of groups of people taking up tobacco use to make a broad social point? What role(s) did advertising play in these changes?

  53. Tom Roche

    [quote comment=”46622″]What role(s) did advertising play in these changes?[/quote]

    Dunno about tobacco in particular, but I’d recommend that fans of BackStory with an interest in advertising and marketing check out the CBC’s “Age of Persuasion”


    Great stuff. Perhaps the American History Guys could do a show with the Canadian Advertising Guy ?-)

  54. Brian Parkinson

    Oh yeah, The Age of Persuasion is excellent radio. About three years ago, I switched from NPR to CBC for my regular radio listening because of shows like that (other great CBC shows: As It Happens, Revision Quest, This is That, and Q).

    I love the CBC because unlike NPR (except of course for certain outstanding shows such as Backstory and On The Media (hi Tony!)) they take their time in interviews. More importantly, CBC shows tend to take more risks (I can’t believe that at long last Car Talk is done, and my local station is still playing reruns on Saturday instead of trying something new).

    Also: CBC experiments with seasonal programming so some shows will play for six months or so, and then take a break instead of going year round, which gives both the radio staff and the listeners an opportunity to recharge.

    A long shot I know, but maybe a co-production of an episode on the War of 1812 since Canadians see it so differently than the U.S.?

  55. Brian Parkinson

    Economists and American Philosophy

    John Maynard Keynes famously stated “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.” Indeed, economists throughout American history have had a great influence on this nation of self-avowed practical men–and not just Keynes or Adam Smith or Milton Friedman, but also Henry George, Thomas Malthus, and Thorstein Veblen. It would be great if the Guys could give us a tour through the interplay between the development of economic thought and America’s political creeds.

    Also, did Karl Marx ever have any substantial influence on American politics–if so, how?

  56. Brian Parkinson

    I recently visited the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky—it was absolutely fascinating to hear the guide talk about the development of this utopian community and its impact on America’s economy and society. For example, according to the guide, Shakers pioneered the mass marketing of those vegetable and flower seed packets that we see at plant nurseries—and let’s not forget Shaker furniture. Also, the Shaker’s presence caused quite a stir among their non-Shaker neighbors with their midnight romps around bonfires deep in the woods.

    This experience has got me wondering about the long history of utopian communities in America—why did so many take root here, however briefly? How have they influenced America’s government, politics, and economy? Do they come in waves? Do they generally arise in response to domestic upheaval, or is their emergence linked to international trends?

  57. Julia Pfaff

    How about the history of anti-Americanism and the role we have globally. There is a very interesting book published after 9/11 which documents the love/hate relationship the world has had with America. It is called “Hating America” by Barry and Judith Rubin. ” Beyond the Age of Innocence” by Kishore Mahubani gives a very interesting international perspective on America and our unique place in global history.

  58. Brian Parkinson

    Even before the rise of the motion picture, America had rich (and in some respects quite ugly) forms of popular theater which bound the nation together culturally: minstrel shows, P.T. Barnum’s travelling circuses, and vaudeville come to mind.

    Surely there are rich stories that illuminate the allure and legacy of each of these pre-motion picture forms of American popular theater. It would be great if Backstory could weave them together into one episode.

  59. Rob Vaughan

    [quote comment=”46707″]Even before the rise of the motion picture, America had rich (and in some respects quite ugly) forms of popular theater which bound the nation together culturally: minstrel shows, P.T. Barnum’s travelling circuses, and vaudeville come to mind.

    Surely there are rich stories that illuminate the allure and legacy of each of these pre-motion picture forms of American popular theater. It would be great if Backstory could weave them together into one episode.[/quote]

    John Frick, a Professor in the Drama department, teaches a course essentially on that topic–he calls it “The History of American Popular Entertainment’ and sometimes jokingly subtitles the course “From Minstrelsy to Madonna”). He would be an excellent guest to have on if this show were to be produced.

  60. Arnold Valdez

    The history of “Main Street”
    or possibly History of-

    -The planning of cities.
    -The decline of sense of community.
    -City Beautiful, Garden City, New Urbanism movements.
    -Rise and fall of urban areas.

  61. Brian Parkinson


    During presidential election years, we forget about Congress. But without sufficient Congressional support, the President’s options are severely constrained, especially in terms of what she can do domestically. In fact, the next president will have little power to influence many aspects of domestic policy including health care, immigration, and the tax code because Congress is so divided.

    So, how about a show on the importance of Congress as a political leader?

    Possible topics:
    Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause to regulate the economy
    Thadeus Stevens vs. Andrew Johnson
    Congress’ battle with the Reagan Administration to fund AIDS research

  62. Brian Parkinson


    America is divided politically, especially when it comes to economic policy. But most people at least agree that in order for this nation to regain its economic footing, Americans will need to start making stuff again, rather than just developing fancier methods for financing other people’s commercial efforts. Indeed, the history of America’s struggle to spur manufacturing goes back to the founding.

    The British gave us so much land in the Treaty of Paris in the hopes that we would remain farmers, and thereby remain dependent on British manufactured goods. Jefferson challenged this dominance through the Embargo Act and did serious damage to the American economy in the process. One of Alexander Hamilton’s political passions was to develop domestic manufacturing. Republicans during the nineteenth century uttered the word “tariff” with the same awe and admiration that religious fundamentalists reserve for the name of their Lord and Savior. I also understand that American manufacturing got a big boost when one entrepreneur memorized the blueprints to an industrial loom while visiting Britain, and then recreated it from memory when he returned to the States. And of course, manufacturing was a major tactic by which America made its presence felt internationally after WWII.

    In short, there’s a lot of history behind America’s struggle to increase manufactures: struggles against other countries, against its own agrarian-focused citizens, and even against its own geography. Perhaps an episode on this subject could help us to get a better handle on how best to confront this critical economic challenge in the future.

  63. Brian Parkinson


    Over the past decade or so, a furor has arisen over an alleged link (no matter how often refuted) between childhood vaccinations and autism. This debate highlights the suspicions that many Americans have that their doctors might not have their best interests at heart, and that science itself is not to be trusted (for example, one leader of the anti-vaccination movement, when asked for his reaction to scientific evidence that there was no link with autism rates, memorably responded “f*** your science.”) The uneasy public trust in medicine, I believe, goes far back and I’d really like to get a sense of the overall history.

    Possible topics:
    In the nineteenth (and early twentieth?) century, medical students openly and proudly raiding graves for cadavers to study.
    The Tuskegee syphilis experiments
    The history of medicine vs. homeopathy

  64. Brian Parkinson


    Over the past decade or so, a furor has arisen over an alleged link (no matter how often refuted) between childhood vaccinations and autism. This debate highlights the suspicions that many Americans have that their doctors might not have their best interests at heart, and that science itself is not to be trusted (for example, one leader of the anti-vaccination movement, when asked for his reaction to scientific evidence that there was no link with autism rates, memorably responded “f*** your science.”) The uneasy public trust in medicine, I believe, goes far back and I’d really like to get a sense of the overall history.

    Possible topics:
    In the nineteenth (and early twentieth?) century, medical students openly and proudly raiding graves for cadavers to study.
    The Tuskegee syphilis experiments
    The history of medicine vs. homeopathy[/quote]

    Also, if possible, this might be a good opportunity to introduce us to Benjamin Rush who had such a profound impact on both American medicine and politics

  65. Brian Parkinson


    Malaria is a major threat to global public health, killing 1,000,000 people each year (mostly children under the age of five and pregnant women). It also causes 500,000 annually to become seriously ill, thus impeding this huge swath of humanity from productively participating in their communities and economies. As Robert Ross, the Nobel Laureate, has put it “In areas where malaria is prevalent, those it doesn’t kill, it enslaves.”

    The United States struggled against malaria for most of its history before finally eradicating it after World War II. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control was founded to combat malaria. I think a Backstory episode on the history of malaria in the United States would teach us a lot about our history. This episode might even help to galvanize American understanding, sympathy, and support for erradicating malaria in the developing world.

    This pitch is based on information provided in a great lecture on the history of malaria by Professor Frank Snowden: http://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-234/lecture-16

  66. Jason Luthy

    How did we end up with our current military structure and branches with the Marine Corps falling under the Department of the Navy and the Coast Guard falling under the Homeland Security or in wartime the Department of the Navy. In addition to these complexities there are also Reserve components, National Guard (which answer to the President and their state’s Governor), auxiliaries, state military reserves, naval militias, civil air patrol, etc.

  67. Brian Parkinson


    In these times of hyperpartisanship, we Americans of today have at least one virtue over our predecessors: we’re not killing each other over our politics.

    In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, dueling between government leaders (or at least their relatives who dueled on their behalf) was a familiar occurrence. Alexander Hamilton, one of the most brilliant American political minds ever, was killed before his prime (arguably) in a duel. Andrew Jackson had a passion for it, and was the only president to have killed a man in a duel.

    How about a Backstory episode on important duels in American history? Also, what happened to dueling? After dueling stopped, how did feuding folks settle questions of honor? Do similar passions drive twentieth and twenty-first century gun violence?

  68. Brian Parkinson

    “Where the Cold War Was Hot”

    I listened to Backstory’s Cuba episode at the same time that I read the great book “Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter” by Carmen Aguirre. This memoir covers the author’s coming-of-age as the child of exiled Chilean revolutionists during the 1970s and 80s, and how she herself came to join the resistance against Pinochet when she turned 18. She details her travels not only through Pinochet’s Chile, but also other Latin American nations such as Peru and Bolivia, which suffered similar revolutionary upheaval.

    All of this reminded me of the hundreds of thousands who died throughout Latin America fighting the “Cold War,” which for them was hot as hell. Given that many of these wars involved American (and, of course, Soviet) support, I find it unsettling how quickly and completely we’ve forgotten these stories (that is, if we were aware of them in the first place).

    So, I’d be very grateful if the Guys could give us some means of remembering the Cold War through international eyes. Also, it’s hard to believe that such suffering is universally forgotten—how is it remembered abroad today? What is its lingering impact on world politics and people’s attitudes towards America?

  69. Laura Giovanelli

    I’d be very interested in shows about gay rights (and pre-rights), animal welfare, journalism, and anything and all food!

  70. Eric Choate

    I second the motion on a history of statehood episode. On Tuesday, Puerto Rico voted to move toward statehood in a referendum. It’s been a really long time since we admitted a new state. Why would Congress allow a new state to join? It only dillutes the power of a current senator, and if we redid the reapportionment after the 2010 Census including Puerto Rico, California, Florida, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin would all have to give the new state one representative. And I don’t know if we can afford to replace all our flags. But this clearly hasn’t stopped us in the past. Why do we admit new states?

    Also, while it may not be the most timely at the moment, but the history of the formulas used by Congress to reapportion itself and the political calculus that goes into strategically picking its own size is pretty interesting. Like in the fascinating book about apportionment methods “Fair Representation: Meeting The Ideal of One Man One Vote” by Michael Balinski and H. Peyton Young. The House of Representatives has had 435 members for 80 years. There are certainly more Americans since then, why shouldn’t there be more representatives?

  71. Sean

    I’m really enjoying the episode on US-Cuba relations, and wanted to suggest similar episodes on Mexico and Panama.

  72. Tom Roche

    [quote comment=”48439″]I’m really enjoying the episode on US-Cuba relations, and wanted to suggest similar episodes on Mexico and Panama.[/quote]

    How ’bout Japan? I’m regularly amazed by the number of relatively-well-educated folks who know nothing about the “black ships,” the “unequal treaties,”, the long conflict preceding WW2, and that the US basically wrote the current Japanese constitution!

  73. Lance

    [quote comment=”29691″]I have always been curious about “drugs” and how they came to be seen as the bane of society. I am not a user, so I do not know much about illegal or recreational drugs, but I know that there is a lot of conversation about them. From Drug Czars to Emmy Award winning television shows centered around them, our culture loves conversing about them (and often partaking). I feel like I even learned once the Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, and that Hearst had something to do with making it illegal. I’m in cloud of smoke about the whole thing, but I know that Backstory is the perfect group of people to clear the air.[/quote]

    I agree! Especially after the election, when two states voted to legalize marijuana, I’m curious to know more about the history of drugs — when and why certain ones were made illegal, the extent to which various drugs have been used, and how these actions and ideas have reflected broader historical trends. I was recently intrigued to learn about the effort (from about 1890-1920) to make cigarettes illegal, culminating in bans in 15 states just before World War I — when use by soldiers then made the idea of smoking irresistibly to many, even distinctly American. Seems there must be many more surprising stories to tell about drugs.

  74. Christopher Marston

    With the Petraeus scandal going on, alot has been written about extramarital affairs in politics. How about a show on the History of Adultery? How have both the men and women in extramarital affairs been treated? Both among the powerful and common man/woman? How has the crime of adultery been prosecuted and perceived over time? How have different people coped, recovered, or been shunned after such traumatic events?

    Subjects could include:
    Adultery amongst Masters and slaves
    Adulterous presidents, congressmen and generals who survived
    Contemporaries of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
    Current day scandals undone through new technology

  75. Bo Blackburn

    Guys, I have just found the show and I am devouring podcasts. I have just listened to the Contagion podcast and turning to domestic terrorism. I have some family ties in this area as I am a direct descendant of Governor Luke Pryor Blackburn (my brother’s namesake). He was a hero who fought yellow fever and a villain who many claim thought of modern biological warfare. I know across three centuries and into our 4th America has put both labels of HERO and VILLAIN on the same person, my ancestor included. It would be fun to explore these people and see how it can determine how we will remember those who may currently wear any of these labels. Just a thought.

    Also, my family has the 5th tallest Continental US Mountain named after it and it is an extinct volcano, but now I am just bragging.

    Enjoy the show. Keep it up.

  76. Tom Roche

    [quote comment=”46929″]”Where the Cold War Was Hot”[/quote]

    Actually, the Cold War was hottest … at its beginning, when we dropped “the bombs.” It has long been known, though considered bad form to mention in mainstream media, that Truman atomically-bombed Japan not to demonstrate American power to the Japanese, but to the Soviets, who in 10 days had rolled over the Kwantung Army in Manchukuo. And now Peter Kuznick from American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute is collaborating on a documentary and 10-part Showtime miniseries, “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States,” which will include this topic: hear (starting from 35 min in) the 16 Nov 2012 edition of (the invaluable) Democracy Now! @


    or see the transcript and links @


  77. Christian Trosclair

    Love the show.

    Libertarianism in America from Georgism to the Koch Brothers.

    Corporations from Charters to Personhood.

    The Right to Work: Indentured Servitude, Free Labor, Pinkertons, the Coal Miner Wars, Unions.

    Freedom of the Press: Thomas Paine, Henry Adams, Randolph Hearst, Rupert Murdoch

  78. David Arehart

    How about an episode of how social organizations have changed and shaped the American narrative over the last three centuries? Veterans groups from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World Wars; the Freemasons, the WCTU, the KKK, Phi Beta Kappa, etc… How has Americas relationship with social clubs changed from the earliest groups that met in colonial taverns to today; and do they contribute a distinctly “American” quality to our national character?

  79. Rachelle Ankney

    I love the show, and here’s something I’d love to know more about from the three centuries the History Guys cover:

    Individualism in the US

    I’ve been taught the narrative that our “spirit of individualism” arose from the pioneer experience, but I’m not convinced. Individualism that prevents people from working for/contributing to the good of the collective has not always been the norm. For example, people united to make major changes such as protesting until they got the New Deal, or protesting for civil rights in the 1960s.

    When people don’t unite, or when they believe that the only change they can make depends on their being super heroes, rather than strong pieces in a collective, this provides a great space for an elite few to prosper at the expense of the many. Given that individualism is so profitable for some, I’m suspicious that it has been a cultivated part of the image of the American, rather than an actual part of our history.

    I’d love to learn more about this and the role that the narrative of individualism has played in the different centuries the American History Guys cover.

  80. Tom Roche

    [quote comment=”52916″]I’ve been taught the narrative that our “spirit of individualism” arose from the pioneer experience, but I’m not convinced.[/quote]

    IMHO, “American individualism,” in the ideological cartoon form known to the world, takes off with Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” Which raises another opportunity for collaboration with public-radio colleagues (in this case, Philosophy Talk


    ): how ’bout one or a few programs on the most influential American philosophers? Some candidates include Emerson, the pragmatists (Peirce, James, Dewey), Du Bois, Quine, Kuhn, Rawls, Rorty, Plantinga. 18th century not so much, unless you count theologians …

  81. Billy Wolfe

    I wonder about the process whereby our current day political parties (Republican and Democratic) evolved. People say, for example, that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, but then suggest that the Republican party of Civil War-era America was essentially more similar to the contemporary Democratic party (in terms of philosophical underpinnings, I guess?). What does that mean, exactly? Is there any constant that has defined the split between whichever parties constituted the American two-party system? I imagine that the size of the federal government is the big one, states’ rights being another, but it seems likely that there are other significant less obvious factors. Those, anyway are questions I have. Though I admit I’ve not listened to the quite the whole archive of your shows, so maybe my question is redundant.

  82. Walter Mayne

    Roads, highways, freeways footpaths and all that transportation infrastructure, who can use it and how do we share it?

    I know that my usual trip to work includes private streets built in the 1960s roads and avenues dating back to the 1600s and and all trolley track now a bike path.

    The current users of all this infrastructure don’t agree on how to share it and who it was built for. I’d like to know more. How did horses interact with pedestrians, how was the automobile integrated into this system? How do the competing industries of trucks and trains compete for support from the government?

  83. Julie M

    I’d be interested in a show about American forces stationed (not simply deployed for combat) overseas. While this stems from my heritage of being an army brat in Germany during the Cold War, I’m curious about the longer history and popular attitudes towards American participation in the world stage. Off hand I can think of our neo-colonial period in Latin America and the South Pacific, and maybe extend a little bit to our adventures in Libya during Jefferson’s administration. What would Americans in the 18th and 19th century make of our permanent “sleepovers’ today?

  84. Erik Petersen

    I’ve seen a couple really good suggestions about the history of statehood, and I would also really love to hear something on that – particularly with the relevance added by the recent vote in Puerto Rico. You could have subjects including East and West Florida’s loyalty to Britain during the Revolutionary War, the Missouri Compromise, protests and civil disobedience in 1950s Hawaii, etc. Plenty of fascinating topics to go at!

  85. awasky

    I’d love to hear a story about the Peshtigo Fire. Everyone’s heard of the Great Chicago Fire, but on the exact same day, the Peshtigo Fire wiped out entire towns. The damage was so extensive, word didn’t get out that it had happened for several days–and when it did, the governor of Wisconsin had left for Chicago to help with relief efforts there.

    This could be part of a look at fire fighting or wildfires through history. At the time, railroad workers used fire to clear brush and just left the fires burning, which is perhaps why the Peshtigo Fire happened. It seems like with every disaster, our attitudes about fire safety, and our laws, have changed.

  86. Josh Rutstein

    There are so many great ideas here, but I have to throw mine into the mix. We always hear about how Russia and China block resolutions and other actions at the United Nations, I always wonder why that is and how that came to be the norm and the official policy of those countries. Where does their desire for a complete lack of enforcement of international norms come from?

  87. Denise

    Everyone here has brought up such good social and political topics that I almost feel frivolous tossing my hat in the ring. I would be interested in knowing the history of American fashion. sorry about the hat pun. For quite a while Paris and Milan where the only places known for good fashion. No proper lady or respectable man was dressed unless the clothing came from Paris or Milan. However it seems now the labels on everyone’s backs seem to be American names. In Asia people clamor for Levi’s, in central and south America it’s Ralph Lauren/ Calvin Klein. Back home no true fashion loving clothes hoarse is complete without a Coach something, Kate Spade, Anna Sui or Todd Oldham. Let’s not forget no fashionable wedding party can walk down the aisle without a touch of Vera Wang. I know fashion is a fickle topic, with an ever constant parade of designers and trends. So when did our American born sense of style become the go to look book ?

  88. Erik Petersen

    Obviously this would be a good one to save to spring, but how about something that looks at the real history of baseball in America?
    I’m an American journalist who lives in Britain, and I’ve written about and become a fan of cricket since moving here nearly a decade ago. I’ve also learned some things I was genuinely surprised to know – such as how George Washington was an avid cricketer, how Philadelphia’s Bart King was among the world’s best late-19th century cricketers or how the first international cricket match was played in 1844 between the US and Canada. Cricket’s early popularity in America, and its ultimate demise to baseball in the late 1900s (with one last gasp after World War I) is an interesting and largely overlooked part of US sporting history.

  89. Nick Hunter

    Having been adopted from Korea nearly thirty years ago, I think it would be fascinating to hear about the history of adoption in America- especially involving interracial adoptions and adoptees from other countries.

    My parents are white, I and two siblings are Korean, one sibling is black, and two are white (my parents’ biological children).

    I’ve always felt like a white person trapped in an Asian body, and I’ve always wondered about similar circumstances in American history.

  90. Kevin Lehmann

    I suggest a show that considers 2nd presidential terms. It seems to me that almost all (if not all) second terms have been judged less successful than the first (with the exception of those who rose to the Presidency by the death of the previous President, i.e. T. Roosevelt and L.B.J.). This is perhaps surprising as no job truly prepares someone to be US President. A show that discusses the judgement of Historians about second terms would be timely.

  91. Jerome Dyson

    A few ideas:

    How public opinion on either law enforcement or soldiers changed over the centuries?

    The history of law enforcement/any other major institution such as hospitals.

    Perceptions of academia in America.

    Counter-culture in America.

    American conspiracy theories.

    Forgotten social movements in America.

  92. Laura

    A while ago, my husband jokingly asked me to “turn off the candle,” meaning to blow it out. It struck me that his usage of the word “off,” and so it follows, a usage of “on,” only makes sense in a world where electricity exists. 300 years ago, “turn off the candle” would make absolutely no sense.

    There are some inventions that were so monumental that they completely shifted our perceptions of reality, language, and society- electricity for one, photography most certainly, and perhaps the printing press or the telegraph. I’m interested in the mundane but pervasive ways these inventions changed our worlds. The ways that my brain is utterly different from someone who had, for example, never seen an advertisement.

    Before we were able to record sound, when you heard a piece of music being played, that would be the only time it will ever sound like that, ever, in the whole of existence. You would take home a fan or a tchotchke from the symphony to remind you of the experience or the artist, but you could never actually hear or feel it ever again.

    I guess it’s a bit ethereal, but it fascinates me.