Pitch a Show

Joe “Toots” Shultz, Phillies pitching prospect (1913, c/o Library of Congress).

Joe “Toots” Shultz, Phillies pitching prospect (1913, c/o Library of Congress).

Last year we received nearly 200 pitches for show topics – some of which made it on the air! Episodes about higher education and the US 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 (162)

{Discussion is closed
  1. Charles C.

    A subject tightly bound, the history of sheriffs, or in early colonial times, maybe bailiffs. How was law held in these very rural, very early periods of America’s history?

    The degree of subtle but persuasive power of a savvy sheriff, it is quite unique.. The typical citizen is completely unaware of it’s influence

    Texas, is awfully proud of their sheriff’s, see “http://www.amazon.com/The-Texas-Sheriff-Lord-County/dp/0806134712” , but in Texas Sheriff’s reach often went well beyond what might be thought of as the standard roles of a sheriff. In some case these Texas sheriffs on no know name were legends in their region, many time with well earned fear and dread.

    We surmise the duties and obligations of a modern sheriff are not much different for years past but is this true? Do they uphold the law and protect the county ? Are they the defacto strong arm of the county’s politically powerful ? Or is it as mundane as the providing court room security functions, serving warrants, issuing speeding tickets and hauling in Otis at 9pm when he’s good and drunk ?

    Joe Arpaio ?


    • backstory

      Thanks Charles! There are certainly many examples of fascinating Sheriffs throughout American History. Perhaps we could include it in a future show about the history of law enforcement in general.

  2. aldadebater

    What about the history of America’s relationship with the Middle East? I don’t think that’s ever been touched upon.

  3. Joe Carlson

    Do politics and alcohol mix? They do with an exuberant high often followed by a head-banging hangover from the Whiskey Rebellion in the 18th century, through the Temperance Movement in the 19th century, to Prohibition in the 20th century.

  4. Heather T.

    I’m going to stump again for a show about the history of fires and firefighting in America, especially as wildfires are back in the news again in California. How have attitudes changed toward this kind of natural disaster — an Act of God or a force we can control with technology? There are so many iconic moments and symbols associated with this topic – from Mrs. O’Leary’s cow (What’s the real story there? Were other immigrant communities blamed for fires elsewhere?) to Smokey the Bear. If you do tackle this topic, be sure to check out Timothy Egan’s gripping book “The Big Burn”, about a massive fire that led to the creation of the National Forests.

    • Joe Carlson

      Q. Do you know how the fire caught?
      A. I could not tell anything of the fire, only that two men came by the door. I guess it was my husband got outside the door and he ran back to the bedroom and said, ‘Kate the barn is afire!’ I ran out and the whole barn was on fire. Well, I went out to the barn and upon my word I could not tell anymore about the fire.

      — Catherine O’Leary, explaining to an official inquiry that she
      did not know how the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 started.

      • R. Harding

        The most credible story was that a person (homeless or a drunk or a neighbor) slept in the barn and set it on fire by accident, either by smoking or knocking over a lantern. With all the wooden structures back then it was surprising more cities didn’t burn to the ground in those days. Thanx!

  5. Alec Rogers

    How about Freedom of Speech? From the colonial times to the constitution’s failure to explicitly protect it (followed rapidly by a first amendment that only applied to the federal government) all the way through the southern states attempts to surpress anti-slavery speech, etc.

  6. Joshua Pierce

    I feel like I mentioned this in an email a while back, but can’t remember if I just thought that I did, but after the episode on home ownership, I’d love to hear an episode on the history of renting, not just as a contrast to home ownership.

    What have been the historical attitudes and issues relating to renting outside of it’s contrasting nature to ownership? Did folks in the colonial era rent? When did rental housing like what we’re familiar with now arise, and how? How did the concept of rent control in larger cities come about? What about the company towns? What of the history of public housing, and how did early intentions lead to what is often urban blight now? It seems like there’s a lot of interesting topics that intersect the history of renting on it’s own outside the discussing of renting vs. home owning.

  7. David Menefee-Libey

    A question raised by the ending of marijuana prohibition in Colorado and Washington state: When Prohibition ended in 1933, what happened to all the people in jail for violating it between 1920 and 1933?

    Knowing the history could help us think more constructively about the current conundrum, which will only grow in coming years as more and more states repeal their marijuana laws.

    There must be hundreds of thousands of Americans in jail and prison now for possession and sale of marijuana, just as there were for alcohol when Prohibition ended. Those people are now in jail because of their actions with a substance most Americans think should no longer be illegal, just as they thought about alcohol in 1933.

    OTOH, those people are/were in jail because they broke the law, and even people against prohibition might not want law-breakers released. Etc.

    Help us, Obi Wan. You’re our only hope.

  8. Denis Sugrue

    I don’t know if you’ve done it already but how about a “History of St. Patrick’s Day”? It covers the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries

  9. aldadebater

    What about the history of feminism or women’s rights? That could be relevant considering “equal pay for equal work” and the 40th anniversary of Roe Vs. Wade.

  10. Patrick

    With the territory of Puerto Rico frequently coming up in the news it seems there exists a lack of understanding of this entity’s particular status within the US system. I believe that a show on American territories would be interesting and would address the wide range of issues related to the transitional status of these “pre”-states through all three of your centuries of US history. Issues relating to the Northwest Ordinance, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Spanish-American War acquisitions, citizenship and territorial representation, could be addressed through this theme. If this is too specific, perhaps an episode on American expansion in general would work better. Either way, love the show!

  11. Stefan Swanson

    Hey Guys,

    Love the show. Now, I don’t know if you’ve done this, I completely admit I didn’t check the backlog of shows before suggesting this show, but I don’t think you’ve covered it since I started listening, which is about a few months now.

    I think all of America is fed up with Congress. And it’s not something that I just think, because we have seen this Congress have absolutely horrible approval ratings, including those funny ratings of whether or not Congress is better than things like traffic jams, brussel sprouts, France, lice, colonoscopies, cockroaches, and even nickelback (and if you haven’t seen the articles around with this, Congress got a worse approval rating than all of these listed items).

    Commentators have noted that this (2013) is one of the most ineffective Congresses to exist, enacting the least amount of laws in the history of Congress. They have also noted this to be (whether it is true or not) because of the rise of the radical right, with the Tea Party essentially taking over the pragmatic end of the Republican party, with people such as Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan taking the reins.

    Now, to finally get to my idea for the show, I’d be extremely interested, as I think everyone else would be living with this reality, to hear a history of partisanship. Surely, everyone is fed up with the government, but I also can’t imagine that this amount of bickering and partisanship has never existed in the past. I imagine the battles between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to be quite similar to this. Has the U.S. government always been a smoothly working system as compared to today’s Congress? In the way that modern commentators have characterized it? It seems that human beings have always thought their time to be the culmination of something, the worst point of this….the greatest time for that….etc. You get the picture, I am interested in the real history, because history, as you guys remind me every week, is always far more complicated than it seems. “There is no surer basis for fanaticism than bad history, which is invariably history oversimplified.” (Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, pg. 12)

  12. Hugh Manatee

    How about the history of grocers in America? You could trace the early days of independent grocery stores that sold mostly local foodstuffs up to the megamart giants that currently dominate the landscape today that sell products from all the over the globe. You could include mention of how different types of grocery stores determined what people ate, quality of goods, food waste, etc.

  13. Janene

    What about the history of piracy in America? You could follow the traditional idea of piracy with America’s involvement with privateers, Barbary pirates and Jean Lafitte through to modern Somali pirates. You could also explore how the term piracy has come to almost exclusively refer to copyright infringement. Also, could the types of targeted cyber attacks on credit card information seen recently on store and hotel chains be considered the 21st century version of piracy?

    • Joel Joyner

      In an episode about Piracy in America, you could cover the Oyster Wars in Virginia during the late 19th century.

      The Oyster Wars were fought over oyster dredging and conservation. Virginia enacted laws to help regulate the oyster industry, which was booming in the years after the Civil War, but watermen from other states began engaging in piracy by ignoring Virginia law and harvesting oysters anyways. Virginia responded by going to war with the oyster pirates and confiscating their ships, thus beginning the Oyster Wars.

  14. Bruce Pencek

    Mascots. With the Washington, DC, football team in the news, I wonder how mascots have been chosen (and transmuted?), by whom, to represent what, to whom? There’s a curious rebelliousness embodied in many that suggests a tension between the people who adopted their mascots and their larger organization or community: animals in military units; devils and demons representing church-affiliated schools and colleges; Cavaliers prancing about Mr Jefferson’s more Roundheaded university (and ritual cannibalism in mine); Redskins in the home city of an oppressive government. What distinguishes a mascot from a marketing gimmick (eg, Ronald McDonald, Smokey Bear)?

  15. Samuel Ulmschneider

    I’d like to submit three show ideas – I was thrilled when you all picked up and used my idea for the history of conspiratorial thinking earlier!

    1) Puttin’ On The Ritz: The History of Appearances. How have Americans used clothes, makeup, and hairstyles in their history to demonstrate social, political, and other statuses? Some suggestions for this show include the evolution and eventual death of the men’s formal hat, the American Revolution reconsidered as a revolution in fashion and class, the ridiculous heights of fashion expenses in the Gilded Age, and the influence of unexpected individuals on everyone else’s fashion decisions, like Mamie Eisenhower.

    2) A More Perfect Union: The History of Joining & Leaving the U.S. of A. We like to think of America as a pretty united place for most of our history, the 1860s excepted. But what it means to “really belong” geographically, culturally, and politically has always been in flux. In the 1760s, plans for an “Albany Confederation” flounder on the rocks of differing identities, in the 1780s Vermont, Jefferson, and other semi-independent states try to define themselves, in the 1870 and 1880s far-flung corners of the nation might as well be a different country – down to their marriage customs! And of course, today the bind in which our overseas imperial possessions like Saipan, Puerto Rico, and others find themselves is politically and culturally vexing.

    3) Here To Save The Day: Popular Heroism In American History. How and why have Americans picked and chosen their popular heroes throughout history, and who were they? In the era of limited literacy and communication, how fine was the line between folk heroes and real statesmen? When did we move people like George Washington from men to myths, and where did the folk heroes of early America come from? Who were the ‘pop heroes’ of the 1870s and 1890s? How has the evolution of superheroes since the early 20th century pointed to political and cultural-social change in our society? Is there really that much of a difference between Iron Man and George Washington, culturally speaking?

  16. Aimee Duffy

    The history of coffee in America? Coming over with John Smith, coffee houses in Boston, “over our cups of coffee” with Eleanor Roosevelt, first item off the ration list in WWII, the anthora cup, Starbucks, third wave coffee.

    Oil is a fascinating one, too. We drank it when it was first discovered! Ida Tarbell went after Standard Oil partially because JD Rockefeller put her father out of business. And now? Oil, oil, everywhere.

    Keep up the great work!

  17. Sylvia

    I would love to hear a show about major public works projects – specifically the massive changes we’ve wrought to the American landscape over the centuries. I think it’s easy to forget that the view our windows today is not only different due to roads and houses, but the very shape of the land that has been changed for commercial, political, and agricultural reasons.

  18. David Dana

    I’ve always been interested in the interaction between African and European music in America, and especially how African influence has often been seen as a threatening, with the magnitude of the threat seemingly proportional to it popularity. I’m most familiar with this phenomenon starting with ragtime in the late 19th century, but I suspect it existed, at least underground, throughout the era of slavery. I believe there are very strong parallels between ragtime, rock and roll, and hip hop, each in turn coming to dominate popular music. Or perhaps a better way to frame it for your show would be to look at how African-influenced music was forced into the shadows until it was liberated by the end of slavery.

  19. Samuel Ulmschneider

    Enemies, Frenemies: American’s Images of Foreign Rivals. With America in the middle of long-term confrontations with China and immediate problems with Russia in Crimea and Syria, re-imagining relations with Europe since the Cold War, and so on, why not have a show focused on how Americans have understood and conceptualized and reacted to the big changes in our foreign relations? How long did it take us to go from seeing the British as a bunch of tyrannical Tories and screaming ’44-40 or fight’ to building the “special relationship,” and why? What about the American image of the “far east,” from Boston clipper ships in the Opium War to American missionaries caught in the Boxer Rebellion to Nixon with chopsticks and cheap ipods and the ‘Chinese Professor’ commercial? There’s a gold mine here, so much so that it make me write a run-on sentence!

  20. Ryan Van Meter

    I’d be interested in the history of the concept of “neighborhood change.” Gentrification is in the news again, with Spike Lee’s comments on the impact of white neighbors in formerly majority-black Brooklyn neighborhoods. This debate — who owns a neighborhood? what steps can/should/shouldn’t be taken to keep it the same? who decides who belongs? — is alive and well in my community. Atlanta and other cities in the South are experiencing growth and racial change in neighborhoods that were largely abandoned during the “white flight” era of the 1970s and 80s, and there’s some resentment in the community about the loss of low-income housing, loss of political power for existing leaders, and the like. I expect these same debates have happened before in communities experiencing rapid social change – I’m thinking of ethnic neighborhoods in the northeast being overwhelmed with new arrivals from other countries, or orange growers watching their orchards get plowed under by suburban growth in southern California. How have these debates exploded, been resolved, and what do they tell us about how to handle these new challenges — which should be signs of a greater integration of society, but are still being pitched as an us vs. them narrative? As an avid listener, thanks for your consideration.

  21. Neil McDade

    Maybe this topic is too pedestrian, but I have recently been seduced by the straight razor to maintain my facial hair. While this tool has quite a learning curve, it occurred to me that men through history have dealt with this chore in evolving ways. I believe the protraits of the U.S. Presidents reflect how this chore has trended through American history.

  22. Alicia Harder

    So you touched on this topic with a caller during one of the more recent episodes, but I think the subject of how we define adulthood would be a really interesting topic given the recent term “emerging adulthood” and the rise of millennial panic. I think it would be interesting especially compared to the rise of the American teenager in the ’50s.

    • K. Adams

      I second this. My interest is the age we use to define adulthood, how that’s changed over time, and how it’s viewed differently by groups in and out of power – seems like a good sequel to the “Young Americans” episode. (Got on here to suggest this, but a quick search found that Alicia beat me to it.)

      There’s the familiar complaint about being able to go to war (18, 16 during the Revolution, 16 with parental consent now) and vote (18, was 21) but not old enough to drink (21, was 18, 21 before that, no restrictions before that). We freak out over teenagers, even college kids, having sex, but several states allow marriage down to 14-16 with parental consent (several with different standards for boys and girls). Underprivileged kids as young as 10 get tried as adults by overzealous prosecutors while middle class and rich “kids” get to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 25.

      This all seems pretty capricious, especially given that we have increasing evidence from fMRI research that the brain and decision-making and emotional regulation evolve well into our 20s. There must be some explanation in our history for the diverging views on the age of adulthood.

  23. Samuel Ulmschneider

    I have to second Neil McDade. Hair and hairstyling through American history would make for a fabulous/hilarious show. There’s a rich and interesting history of free African-Americans in the antebellum world working as barbers (the main high status profession open to them), the 20th century importance of African-American “barber shop culture,” the arrival of Chinese migrants on the west coast and the disappearance of the queue both in China and among Chinese migrants here in the US, the fading and blossoming of modern facial hair from Reconstruction to the modern hipster…man, there’s a lot there!

  24. Bruce Pencek

    History as judgment. Within the past couple weeks, President Obama and associates have said the US shouldn’t be “on the wrong side of history.” Huh? History has a “right” side?

    How has “History” been invoked as some sort of judge, including as a surrogate for notions of diving judgment? There’s sacred/prophetic history in the 17th century and assorted revivals (and the vexed question of how much God is as much inside history as we are, or independent of it).. Then Whiggery in one form or another. There’s Hegelianism imported via Germanic universities and the Progressive movement, culminating in the rhetoric of the Communist movement to excuse various deviations and sins. Conversely, at least among intellectuals, some flavors of Darwin and Nietzsche called the bluff of people who saw meaning and purpose in history, though their manifestation in the dominant culture was spotty at best (cf. Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind)

  25. Jennifer

    The Civil War compared and contrasted to other civil wars. As a modern American, when I hear about a civil war (is, Crimea), I think “Let them secede. It’s the will of the people.” But when I listen to your show and the subject of the Civil War comes up, I don’t have the same reaction. Why is that? Is it my bias as a “Northerner”, the perspective of time…or something fundamentally different about the circumstances of the American Civil War compared with other civil wars? A show like this would not be 100% American history, but would shed important light on American attitudes about our history as well as current foreign policy. Just an idea.

  26. Brian

    Isn’t it time for BackStory and Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” to join forces? DH does a brilliant job of making history come to life in a concise, yet nuanced fashion (much like BackStory) and yet it’s also hilarious! At the very least, the American History Guys should host a DH episode. That would be sublime.

  27. Samuel Ulmschneider

    All The World’s A Stage: Theater, Opera, and Performance in American History: We think of opera, Shakespeare, political satirical stage plays, and so on today as “high art,” removed from the ordinary people and dense or uninteresting. But for most of American history, the stage play and theater format has been front and center (so to speak) in the entertainment and culture of Americans. You could go from the religious plays of the Great Awakening, the patriotic plays (and farces!) of the Revolution and Early Republic. You could explore the culturally loaded anti-English theater/Shakespeare riots of Irish immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s, the changing nature of opera and musical theater as ‘high’, ‘low’, and with the invention of an American middle class, ‘middlebrow.’ You could look at the complex and sometimes groundbreaking history of race on stage, from blackface to Showboat, at new mediums – the radio play still has its fans – and talk about the strange place theater and other performance arts have today in our mass culture, from Disney on Broadway to your local tiny community theater company.

    • Shane C.

      I second this! I’d love to hear about the history of performance arts, or maybe pop culture. I’m curious about celebrity over the years.

  28. kwixote

    Please do something on the history of the middle class in America — or on class in general. I would guess that colonial and early American concepts of class were very different than at present — based on household economies and farming, etc. — while in the South written on top of race. Our Founding Fathers were all “gentlemen” of one sort or another, but rejected aristocracy — while Jefferson idolized the “yeoman farmer” (what class did that represent, by modern understandings?)

    Then industrialization drove men out of the house and into hourly jobs, changing how the economy and class worked. But if you were middle class, maybe your wife didn’t have to work. Eventually, the upper class preference for pale skin was replaced by one for tanned skin, indicating a person’s ability to be outside during the day, etc.

    Eventually, we get mid-20th century America with TV & popular culture’s appeal to a broad but bland middle class taste. (Middlebrow vs. highbrow?)

    Now: how do we determine class? Is it home ownership? A college education? Is it about money or manners? (Many poor people develop “middle-class” values — e.g. future orientation, delayed gratification, emphasis on education — in order to succeed in life, even if they don’t start out with money).

    Theoretically, in the US everyone has always wanted to be middle class — nobody admits to being rich. But now that incomes and prospects in life are diverging so radically, is this changing? The prospects of middle-class children (like mine, just graduating!) are quite a bit dimmer than they once were. What does it mean now — and in the future — to be middle class in America?

    • kwixote

      From today’s news: Rick Santorum doesn’t believe class even exists in America..

      Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told his fellow conservatives on Friday that they should stop using the term “middle class” because it exemplifies ”class-envy, leftist language.”

      Santorum, who failed to secure the Republican Party nomination for president in 2012, described his own campaign as different because it had focused on “those who are working Americans.”

      “Notice I didn’t say middle class,” he said.

      “Why do we use a term I should say that is of the other side?” he asked. “Why do we, as Republicans who believe in the dignity of every human life, who believe in equality of opportunity for everyone to rise, adopt a class-envy leftist language that divides America against themselves?”

      “Do we really accept the fact there are classes in America?” he continued. “Then why do we use that term? Why do we adopt their language? We have to stop that.”

      “We should use the term working Americans,” he added later. “Because unlike them, we believe work is a good thing.”

      Santorum has criticized the term “middle class” in the past, telling a group of Iowa Republicans in August 2013 that “there’s no class in America.”

      “Don’t use the term the other side uses. What does Barack Obama talk about all the time? The middle class,” he said. “Since when in America do we have classes? Since when in America are people stuck in areas or defined places called a class? That’s Marxism talk.”

      Santorum ended his CPAC remarks Friday by suggesting his party take a lesson from Pope Francis, who he described as “maybe the most popular person in the world right now,” in part because he highlights not what Christianity is against, but what it is for.

      “We will win not by further dividing,” he added. “We will win by uniting.”


  29. John Plunket

    Did you know an American artist is considered The Father of Camouflage?

    Here’s a fascinating “Back Story” –one of America’s most brilliant artists of the late 1800s took on *both* Roosevelts, from his studio in the woods of New Hampshire, aiming to convince them that “Concealing Coloration” could hide ships and soldiers and save millions of lives.

    Spurned and ridiculed here in the States, Abbott Handerson Thayer then took his ideas to England and France, where the ravages of WWI had focused military minds more sharply. In short order, “troops” of civilian artists –including several early Cubists– were designing “Dazzle” schemes to paint on ships, painting wild patterns on huge net canvasses to cover artillery banks, and fashioning uniforms in primitive blobby motifs.

    This literal avant-garde of artists put Thayer’s ideas to work. Many other soon delved more deeply into the intricate mystery of “invisibility” in the animal kingdom, as the world’s great military powers –including the U.S., in time– adopted camouflage as the single most efficient means of saving lives in warfare.

    On Saturday, March 15, The Army & Navy Club in Washington, D.C. is hosting a colloquium with The Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian, bringing artists, scholars and historians together for the first time in nearly a century to remind an elite audience of “The Origins of Camouflage”.

    Back Story should be there, too!!

    See more at http://abbottthayer.com/

  30. Jerry Eliaser

    Your show on the color green made me think about the “:color of the prophet of Islam.” What is the relationship of Islam to American History? How is the experience of current Muslims similar or different from other groups that came to our shores with their respective identities? What about Black Muslims? Arabs were involved with the slave trade, though in East Africa. So, how was this reconciled by Black Muslims?

  31. Ken Rosenbaum

    I recently suggested “Trees” as the most important green item in American history. Now I’d like to suggest it as the topic of a show, perhaps for Earth Day.

    In the 18th Century, as I said in my earlier post, the story is trees and tall ships … how from the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony the Crown reserved certain trees to itself, and how enforcement of that led to the Pine Tree Riot of New Hampshire, which some say set the precedent for the Boston Tea Party and led to the Pine Tree Flag of the revolution. Down south, the role of the “Tarheels” is just as important, providing pitch and tar for caulking. This is a really big deal to English shippers, who no longer have to seek supplies from the countries around the Baltic Sea. (I understand, though, that the name Tarheel is really a 19th Century coinage.)

    In the 19th Century we could talk about trees for energy – for the first half of our history, the USA ran on wood fuel – but you covered energy use in a previous show. So let’s talk paper. Paper used to be made from rags and in limited supply, until mid 19th Century people figured out how to make it from trees. I suspect that opened the door for small town newspapers, for mail order catalogs, and many other changes in communication and business.

    In the 20th Century, the story might be the changing attitudes towards our forested public lands. But another, less often told story about our public lands bridges the 19th and 20th centuries. We went from a hugely corrupt land administration in the 1870s to a relatively clean one by the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, thanks to colorful leaders like Carl Schurz, Roosevelt himself, and Gifford Pinchot. Of course, land scandals came back to embarrass the Harding Administration, proving we can never rest on our laurels (hey, a tree metaphor) when it comes to corruption.

    I’m sure we could come up with lots more tree history ideas to explore — Liberty Trees, chestnut blight, the idea that planting trees could make it rain on the arid Great Plains. There’s a show in here somewhere!

    • Kate

      I was going to suggest a whole show on the history of paper. It’s use in political pamphlets and education, currency (anything you didn’t have room for in the money show?), calling cards and business cards, and countless other topics would be fascinating. What did people do before toilet paper? Did the telegraph have a similar affect on the postal service as email has? When did people start wrapping gifts? Who invented corrugated cardboard and why is it more recyclable than other types of cardboard?

  32. Alexa

    Individualism is one of the great American themes. But I bet it hasn’t mean the same thing through all the eras of our history. I know there are religions (Unitarianism in the antebellum era comes to mind) that foster it, and others that don’t. The economic structure made that easier or harder at different times, and what about community anyway?

  33. Samuel Ulmschneider

    I have to agree with Jerry above – a show focusing on America’s relationship with Islam and Islamic nations would have a huge amount of potential for interesting and enlightening discussion.

    There are plenty of scholars to interview – a story with Peter Onuf and Denise Spellberg about some of the parts of her book Jefferson’s Koran could be fascinating, for example. Peter Balakian’s book, Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and American Response is also very revealing about American attitudes towards Islam in the early 20th century. Jane Smith, author-editor of Muslims In America, could also point you towards other interviews or provide stories galore. The diasporic importance of Islam could be an opportunity to bring on board important scholars of slave culture or tell a memorable story like that of Omar Ibn Said, who became a celebrity because of his religion and education in the 1820s. Then there are the obvious modern applications – from an examination of the Sikh temple shooting from a few years ago and American’s tendency to conflate minority religions to the elephant in the room of 9/11, Iraq, and Guantamo.

    There are so many potential routes in such a show, it’s really very exciting to think about.

  34. suraygo

    I’d like to hear a show about the history of tenure and other employment policies (such as some union and government jobs) that confer a life-long or “work life”-long guarantee to the person holding the job. I hope the show would include the arguments, past and present, for allowing or prohibiting life-time employment guarantees. Given current political discussions to change teacher unions or to allow non-union charter schools, an episode on this topic would be very interesting.

  35. Megan

    In the same vein as “freedom of the press,” I would really like to hear about the history of “the news.” You covered it a little bit within the Postal Service episode, but I feel like you could expand it.

    There would be so many different subjects to cover-
    -How colonial Americans got their news from the crown and how long it took news to travel.
    -The first news papers and their readers- and any big rivalries that might arise from them.
    -Various forms of “niche” newspapers/magazines
    -How the idea of “freedom of the press” has evolved.
    – How news has been manipulated- either intentionally or unintentionally (like in the children’s game of “telephone”)
    -How delayed news might have caused problems over time, and how new technologies have been utilized to transmit stories.

  36. Rya

    There are two subjects I’d be interested to hear shows on.

    1) The history of public diplomacy conducted by other nations in America.

    2) The history of legal immigration requirements. How have the requirements and options changed over the years? What would a person need to do to get here legally then /now?

  37. Andrew Conkling

    I had come here a few weeks ago thinking to pitch a show about the Electoral College, but decided to search the archives and found the episode “Early and Often” covered most of my question about the existence of—and objection to—the Electoral College.

    However, in the wrap-up discussion, Brian mentioned the evolution of the Presidency, particularly in the 20th century. I’d be interested in exploring that and its potential causes: the President as our international voice, particularly during wartime? stronger Executive as a more unifying presence in the growing country?

  38. Jason

    I would be interested in hearing about the history of charity and welfare in America. There are the New Deal programs and the Great Society programs, but what institutions, both public and private were there for the poor, disabled, extremely young and old (to name a few groups) before these programs existed? How have the programs evolved since they were created? Were there state-level programs that existed before the federal government stepped in? How much were private charities able to help and how did they do so?

  39. aldadebater

    How about the history of midterm elections, with 2014 elections coming up? How did lame duck sessions of Congress develop? Speaker of the house?

    Heck, a show on the history of CONGRESS ITSELF would be appreciated! Was there ever a time when our national legislature was popular? If so, then when? What was the most productive Congress in history? The most ineffective? The most important?

  40. Susan Osborne

    So, as the ACA makes its own history, I am thinking of the history of doctors in the US. In medical school, I was researching the start of the AMA, the Flexner report, DOs and Mark Twain (there’s always a famous literary figure weighing in). Doctors were not always a privileged class. Now, as we wonder where we are going, would it help to review our past?

  41. Tony

    While sitting here (abroad) doing my US taxes and contemplating requesting my absentee ballot, I would love to hear a show about expats and exodus… essentially, why do people choose to leave the US and what has their experience been at the time?

    Recent events include banking regulations have cracking down on international bank reporting, making it difficult to hold international accounts in some countries (some turning away people from the States). On the one hand I still have “representation” in government and can vote, but their focus is more internal.

    I’m also interested in the reasons that led groups to leave en masse; be it missionaries, adopted ideologies that led them abroad, or escape.

  42. Rob Lucas

    I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a show about games. I work in the fields of history education and educational technology, and I’d like to help historicize students’ experience of video games. I’m not a gamer, but I’m perpetually looking for ways to contextualize the things that are important to today’s students, and there is surprisingly little historical attention to video games. I believe the industry is now larger than the film industry, and it deserves more. I’m also interested in how historically themed games might reflect and/or shape students’ historical understandings…but I digress.

    I really liked Jill Lepore’s piece on transformations of the Mansion of Happiness and the Game of Life. Henry Lowood at Stanford would probably have something to say. He was on 99% invisible once talking about related issues. Mimi Ito has an anthropological/historical book on genres in educational video games.

    Seems like there are plenty of interesting angles: Right now, Silicon Valley types are running around talking (ahistorically) about the “gameification” of everything.

    When I mentioned my idea to a friend who’s in Henry Jenkins’ group at USC, he brought up the idea of histories within games (e.g. the backstory in the Legend of Zelda or the histories that are built up through gameplay in a World of Warcraft.

  43. Jeffrey Sammons

    Blacks and the military or blacks and war and peace within the context of the US and war.

  44. Beth Cottam

    Recently in Eastern Nevada there was a conflict over a ranger not paying BLM grazing fees, resulting in the BLM attempting to round up and remove his cattle. This brings up a lot old issues of land managment, and states or individulas rights to use federal lands. I would love to here a show on a history of Federal land in the US. How did the BLM get started and how did the West end up with so much public land, and how did that shape the economies of the West, and what does that look like today. How has the Federal goverment’s role in the ownership of land change: from giving it away to buying it up?

  45. Megan

    I just saw a really good question in the AskHistorian message board on Reddit: “Why are salt and pepper the traditional condiments on the table in the United States?”
    You could take that even further. I feel like ketchup is THE American condiment- though some people would make the same argument for mustard, mayo, or even ranch dressing. Is this purely regional? How have these additives and spices changed over time?

  46. Kyle Comanor

    Hello Backstory, A couple of very different topics from the news had me thinking of how things were different through our history. The first is trade. Right now there are negotiations going on for the Trans-Pacific Partnership mostly in secret and by agents from the Executive rather than Legislative branch under “fast-track” authority, which I believe is a result of the reciprocal trade agreements act (1934). But how has trade evolved with the nations? Who did we trade with after the revolution, and how has that shaped out international relationships (like lend-lease)? It seems a fertile topic and maybe too large for one hour.
    The second topic from the news is our aging public infrastructure. Again, how has this changed? Who owned the first roads in colonial America? Who owned and ran water distribution and sanitation systems? Most cities today have a public works department – when did that start? When did the notion of “public works” come into being (it sounds vaguely British)? What was the progression to the mega-projects of the 20th century, and by that I mean the giant dams, canals, bridges often built by the federal government. In the 19th century the large infrastructure – I’m thinking of railroads – were private. With so much aging infrastructure out there privatization is coming back as an idea. That’s also a big topic!
    History of Trade, history of infrastructure – either would be fascinating as both touch on the lives of so many though our history.
    Thanks for all the wonderful work on your show!

  47. Dan

    I would love to hear a show about the history of Infrastructure in America; from the point when the government took an active role in developing an infrastructure, to the roles of state, local and the federal government in its improvement. With the recent report on Global Warming, and it’s impact on infrastructure, it would be a relevant topic.

    • Dan

      You could also discuss infrastructure’s role in trade (the Erie canal for example); or how it impacts preparation for war. Internal improvement projects also helped keep people employed during the Great Depression. The impact of an aging infrastructure on modern America can also be discussed, along with the political implications of spending money on it’s improvement.

  48. Neil Robertson

    I would like to learn more about the history of language in America. Here are a couple questions I have:
    -At what point did everyone stop speaking other languages and start speaking English? Was this a challenge for the early American governments?
    -Why doesn’t anyone sound like JFK anymore?
    -Has the loss of native american languages always been perceived as a negative?
    -I always hear about Cajuns speaking French in Louisiana. Is that the only example of a European language still maintaining a regional foothold in the 20th century?
    -I live in a Mexican border state and there has been a perception with a lot of people that English is part of the American identity and that an influx of Spanish weakens that. When did states like California transition from Spanish to English, and how long has English been part of our identity?

    • Laurie Sims

      Great topic Neil! I’d like to add the story I’ve heard that Appalachian dialects are said to be closer to Elizabethan English than Than even modern British.

    • Shane C.

      I agree. I think changing accents and sentence structure is interesting. Why don’t people write in super-long sentences anymore? And what events had the intentional (or unintentional) effect of creating the English we speak today?

  49. Lisa

    My fiance and I are always finding ourselves in discussion about the pros and cons of social media. We wonder why Americans are so hooked on connecting over the internet (computer, video games), and we wonder if it has something to do with the increasing size of houses, the lack of time people spend on their front porch, the paranoia that makes people stay inside; which comes from moving to the suburbs; or just the general growth of cities and towns.
    I would love to hear your take.
    Granted, this is a bit of a sociology topic – but what history if not a pathway to understand sociological phenomena in the present?

  50. Ben Williams

    Hi, I can only listen occasionally to your show which is aired early Sunday morning at our local VPR site. I have listened to a few pod casts of shows that I missed. I enjoy them very much.

    I suggest doing on a show on the history of American Summer Camps. Summer camps are a uniquely American invention and originate from the same confluence as Kellogg, C.W.Post and others broadly interested in health and leisure. The early summer camps are tinged with all sorts of exotics spices however. There were E.T. Seton inspired camps that featured a hodge podge of Native American dance, art, crafts and skills. There were Jewish summer camps built on reviving the shetl’s of eastern European in the midst of an experience of the great American wilderness. There were women’s camps run by ardent members of the women’s movement. Dance camps, baseball camps, Girls and Boys club camps, Settlement house camps, and juvenile delinquency camps. Summers from the 1890’s-1930’s are filled with great educational and practical experiments done under the umbrella of the summer camp.
    I studied progressive education which was really the container that most programs used. I found in the camp movement a much wider range and more interesting range of experiments than I ever found in traditional educational settings of the same period. In fact schools were actually quite repressive and stubbornly hanging on to their traditions. Most of the summer camps were started by and staffed by teachers who needed money for the summer. The summer camps became a hot bed of progressive ideas as well as a palpable direct experience with the frontier and the wilderness.

    What did people do with their experiences of wilderness and community? I couldn’t count the number of former campers that are still meeting with their camp friends sometimes fifty or sixty years down the road. The influence of the summer camp is largely silent but in many instances profound. I talked to Pete Seeger once about camps. The Hudson Valley was full of summer camps and Seeger regularly attended leftist and communist camps, often Jews from New York who used the camps as a retreat while the children attended camp. Seeger was a great collector as well as a musician and he collected songs, rhymes, stories and dances as he travelled from camp to camp.

    So, I think the story of the summer camp is largely untold. It would be timely to do it soon or perhaps at the end of the summer when people were usually returning.

    Thanks for your show and good luck with future endeavors. Best, BW

  51. Laurie Sims

    I have been binge listening to your podcasts and have a couple of suggestions that I haven’t seen covered.

    Number one is Spinsters and Bachelors. There is a lot of talk about the role of family building in a number of your stories, but not much about loners.
    – By choice or not?
    – How do they make a living?
    – Relationships with their families?
    – Boston marriages?
    – When, if ever, was it a desirable situation?

    Number two is Clothing.
    – Where does the fabric come from and who makes them?
    – Boughten vs homemade?
    – Line, cotton, wool, hides?
    – Styles and how they differentiate social classes?
    – Underwear?
    – Uniforms?
    – Cross-dressers?

    Thank you all for such a fascinating and informative program!

  52. Elizabeth

    Water Works: A History of Water In America; making water safe to drink, changing uses of water, water wars and preservation of waterways and lakes and oceans.

    Sweet Home Havana: U.S. – Caribbean relations

    Can’t keep a good woman down – changing views of what a “good” versus a “bad” woman is over the course of American history.

    How about a history of currency in American History? Regional currencies in the colonial era, confederate money during the Civil War, the Gold Standard, the making of the mint and the rise of credit cards.

  53. Randy Borkowski

    Proposed Topic: The history of adoption/care for unwanted children. It appears that our attitudes toward children who for whatever reasons are not able to be raised by their biological parents has varied over time. At times we had homes for children and “orphan trains” of children shipped from the large eastern cities to the Midwest for adoption. In early American history children were often taken in by extended family and treated as family. Often they were referred to as step children or, later, foster children. But the concept of formal adoption did not seem to be in common use until the 20th century. Then there was a long period of provisions for formal adoption but the details were treated as deeply held secrets with sealed court records and agreements by all the parties involved to hide the fact that an adoption even took place. To effect this, revised birth certificates were issued to create an official document giving the appearance that the adoptive parents were the birth parents. This resulted in many children growing up either not knowing who their birth parents were or perhaps not even knowing they were adopted at all. Recently, groups advocating for the rights of adoptive children have succeeded in bringing about legal changes (in some states and not in others) giving adopted children rights of access to their birth records when they are adults. A sub category of this situation is what is referred to as LDA – late discovery adoptees – for adults who are 40, 50 or more years old before they discover that the people they thought were their birth parents were not. Related topics include the history of acceptance of single parent families, and more recently, the legal implications of births resulting from high tech interventions such as in vitro fertilization and the use of surrogate mothers.

  54. Bernard Ross

    Here’s what I believe is a story that fits your excellent narrative style:
    The history of the American lottery.

    Going back to the Louisiana Lottery Co. (which was created in Virginia) with its connection to Generals Early and Beauregard.

  55. Hru Khuenaten

    What about, Hoodoo, Voodoo, Witchcraft, a story of Paganism in America. Stories from Native Americans, Salem Trials and Hoodoo of New Orlean and Voodoo of Haiti, how they play a role in America’s History.

  56. aldadebater

    Well, with it being the 100th anniversary of the shooting of the Austrian archduke, a show on World War I would be nice. How did it start? How did it progress? How did America get involved? And what are the lasting consequences of the War to end all Wars?

  57. Angala

    How about a show on how cleanliness morphed over the centuries, from bathing and hairwashing once a month (or less), the introduction of the toothbrush, why so little cleanliness became daily+ rituals; the cleanliness lifestyles of peasants and the privileged, how it affected their health, happiness, love life, if body odor was considered a phermone (up to a point of intensity) – I have read that the introduction of wedding bouquets and flowered head pieces were originally used to mask the smell of body odor due to the lack of ability to bath regularly; I would also like to know more about how products were introduced based on efforts for greater cleanliness, how cleanliness changed healthcare/concerns about health; there are a series of episodes in this concept, nationally/internationally.

  58. Anastasia

    I’m totally biased as a history PhD student doing her dissertation on a related topic, but how about the idea of home food production. Although the modern industrial food system only comes with the second industrial revolution of the late 19th century, Americans outsourced or communally worked to produce the most labor intensive foods for many years prior — think of mills, bakeries, butchers, etc. What does making your own food mean at different points and places in American history? Thrift? Poverty? Patriotism? Self-sufficiency? Masculinity? Femininity?

    Another idea I’ve been thinking about as I head into exams is regionalism in American history. Always a factor, how has the dominant relationship oscillated between north verus south, east versus west, rural versus urban — and what about the midwest, which used to be the frontier and now is “flyover” states? What about states that are culturally part of many regions – Pennsylvania comes to mind? Thanks for an amazing show that I can listen to with equal enjoyment whether it is a historical topic I have written on, or that I am completely unfamiliar with!

  59. aldadebater

    In light of the news of the house speaker’s lawsuit against the president and of the Supreme Court’s ruling limiting the ability of the President to make recess appointments, I would be interested in a show detailing the history of checks and balances between the three branches of government.

    When was Congress on top? When was the President? Which branch was the most powerful in the 18th century? The 19th? That would be an interesting topic to tackle.

  60. Bill Kurland

    My brother recently emailed me a photo of an 1803 ‘ad’ in the form of a ‘Trade Card’ –
    -interestingly, in both English and German – that “INFORMS the public in general and his friends in perticular[sic] that he has removed his STORE of dry goods and crockery-ware, to No. 255, North Second-street …”

    This started a discussion of the use of the word ‘store’ and when it came to mean a place where things are sold at retail [ first American use, 1721]. That led to how retail trade has changed over the last two or three hundred years. Were there retails stores in colonial America and were they patronized by all classes? I know a lot of retail was conducted on ‘push carts’ and wagons up until the first half of the last century and there are still lots of food carts and sidewalk vendors in many cities today.

    I know a number of the 19th century department stores were established by an earlier wave of German and German Jewish immigrants and, I think, they recognized and catered to different classes of consumer, from Woolworth’s to Saks Fifth avenue. And, of course, there were the mail order giants Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. Today, retail is moving online in a major change. Indeed, in Manhattan at least, retail rents are so high it’s hard for a small retailer to succeed in a Brick and Mortar store.

    This is a topic that appears to be right in the Backstory wheelhouse.

  61. Jason LaBelle

    I’d be curious about the history of markets – perhaps specifically stock markets – in America. This comes to mind as the point of markets seems to have shifted over time. I imagine they once served the purposes of businesses that needed capital and people invested because they believed the business could be good and, of course, wanted to make money. And now with automated trading, speed trading, day trading and the like – and the wild market swings that accompany so many people laying bets – it seems the tail has begun to wag the dog if you will. Now it’s all about the investors betting and chasing profits and skimming and doing things that may often be at odds with the good of the businesses themselves and the country.

    I wonder how they came to be, how they functioned, how they’ve changed and who was instrumental in their origination and evolution. And if particular changes led to the Great Depression or other economic ups and downs throughout American history.

  62. Kyle Sweeney

    Somewhat relevant due to the internet debate. What about the history of common carriers and utilities. In the history of corporations episode you mentioned how a water utility was turned into a bank. How did utilities begin? Where did common carriage begin and how has it been applied since its inception?

  63. Sean

    I wanted to suggest a show on literacy and reading in US history– what with the rise of Kindle and a fear that newer technologies are replacing reading.

  64. Larry Hartzell

    I’d love to hear a podcast on the history of shopping throughout American history.

    Who did it?

    Where and how was it done?

    How has technology affected shopping?

    Has there been a historical distinction between shopping as necessity and shopping as, well, not necessity? That is, grocery shopping, say, vs. “hey, Dad, we’re going to the mall–back in a while” shopping?

    General stores vs. department stores vs. specialty stores?

    Has shopping tended to unite or separate Americans?

  65. Rose Berger

    The history of “private education.” I think you’ve done a great show on public education, but the history of “private schools” whether religions, military, or other would be fascinating.

  66. Jonathan Robie

    “A History of American Capitalism”

    How and when did America develop into a free-market capitalist economy? What is the relationship between capitalism and democracy? What did markets look like during the Colonial Period, the Gilded Age, and after World War II? How did we move from being primarily a subsistence economy (for most) with limited markets for mostly luxury items to a primarily market economy? What was the role of the government in the development of capitalism?

    I suspect a lot of people have studied comparisons between the Gilded Age and the Golden Age of American Capitalism – I’m particularly interested in understanding what we had before the Gilded Age, whether and how the Gilded Age was the first dawn of a modern capitalist economy, the degree to which slaves and the ability to steal land from American Indians and neighboring countries fueled American prosperity before the GIlded Age, how much of the economy was based on subsistence farming and handicraft vs. traded goods in the Colonial Period, the transition from Mercantilism to capitalism, etc.

    You could probably find a lot of good people to interview starting here:



  67. Jonathan Robie

    “A History of American History”

    What did Americans learn about American history in each century? When we study the same events today, how does the narrative differ from what students would have learned 100 years ago or 200 years ago? How does American history differ in the North and the South – 50 years ago? today? How does our portrayal of the American Revolution differ from what is taught in Great Britain?

    • Tom Roche

      @Jonathan Robie: How does our portrayal of the American Revolution differ from what is taught in Great Britain?”

      Along those lines, I thought the most interesting bit of the War of 1812 show was the bit about how the war was (differently) taught in Canada. So I’d like to propose instead “American History outside America”: a show about how historians in our time but other places view/teach significant events in US history. Mexicans on the Mexican War, Japanese on “the black ships,” Filipinos on their occupation, Chinese and Russians on our role in WW2 and the Cold War, Vietnamese on how we got into Vietnam, etc.

      • Tom Roche

        @me: ‘“American History outside America”: a show about how historians in our time but other places view/teach significant events in US history. Mexicans on the Mexican War, Japanese on “the black ships,” Filipinos on their occupation, Chinese and Russians on our role in WW2 and the Cold War, Vietnamese on how we got into Vietnam, etc.’

        Actually, now that I think about it, it might be even more interesting to hear about how foreign historians and teachers discuss aspects of our history that *don’t* concern them directly. E.g., what do Vietnamese think about the American Revolution? Chinese or Russians on our Great Awakenings or religiousity? Japanese on US slavery and race relations? Mexicans on Plymouth or Jamestown? There’s a lot of American Studies departments out there …

      • Shane C.

        I agree. I think this would be great! I used to have my dad’s old 1946-era geography textbook, and looking at how it described British India was a complete eye-opener for me in high school. I suddenly realized how differently people can interpret information across time. I’ve had the same experience reading non-American travel accounts, and I bet other nations’ impressions of the US would generate similar ah-ha moments.

  68. Yury

    “History of Technology in America”

    I think how technology has been perceived in the American culture over the history of the United States would be an interesting topic to delve into. In the past few decades, technology has become an integral part of the American (and much of the world’s) way of life. Here are some possible subjects:

    – Was technology always an important part of the “American Experience” or is this a recent trend?
    – Was technology “welcome” by the American populous or were people “hesitant” of the changes that technology would inevitably bring?
    – Were there any world events or any other country’s sentiments that affected the implementation of technology in America?
    – Generally, the government/laws are “behind the times” in embracing technology (either for their own use or for the public’s). Was this always the case?
    – Are there different parts of the country that tended to embrace technology faster than others? Why? Currently, one could make an argument that the “coasts” have taken a recent “lead” in this, as compared to the Mid-West or the South.

  69. Jonathan Robie

    “Domestic Unrest, from Shay’s Rebellion to Ferguson”

    Americans have always feared an all-powerful government using military power against its own citizens. How has it balanced concerns about domestic violence against the need to avoid becoming a police state?

  70. Randy Kirkbride

    I would suggest a podcast on economic cycles and how they affected the country. As an example, I was fortunate to keep my job through the recent economic downturn compared to my grandfather and great-grandfather who had to sell a Nebraska farm at auction in 1937. They borrowed against the farm in the depression and didn’t have a crop to sell to pay the debt because of the drought from the dust bowl. They moved to a small town in the coast range of Oregon to start over. Part of my interest in this question stems from trying to trace my family history to determine why they moved from New Jersey to Illinois to Nebraska, and to Oregon.

    One of my ancestors, a Joseph Kirkbride, came to the colonies in the 1680’s with the Quakers. Part of his motivation was associated with religious liberty and part likely came from the economic opportunity presented in the New World. He worked with William Penn and by 1706, had settled in New Jersey. The family stayed in New Jersey until sometime between 1854 and 1857; my great-great-grandfather was born in Illinois in 1857. The Nebraska land grants brought the family to southwest Nebraska in about 1881. My great-grandfather was born in Stratton, NE in 1881. According to Wikipedia, Stratton “sprang up” in 1881 as a railroad town. By 1910, the family had moved to Trenton, NE. This move resulted from my great-grandfather meeting and marrying his wife (in 1906), and eventually taking over her parents’ farm in Trenton.

    Thank you for your consideration of my idea.

    • Emily Gadek [BackStory Digital Producer]

      Thanks, Randy. With our recent show on the history of corporations, it may be a while until we tackle economic history again. But your idea is an interesting one, and we’ll certainly keep in in mind.

  71. Melinda Morang

    Please do a show tracing the evolution of urban form in America. Why are our cities shaped the way they are? Urban form has a huge impact on how we interact with each other and how we live our lives, and the way our cities are shaped results from rebuilding and reshaping previous layers of history. Topics can include the rise and fall of streetcars, the invention of skyscrapers and elevators, highways and the rise of the automobile, redlining and racial segregation, immigration from outside of and within the US, etc.

    • Shane C.

      I like this idea. I think a show looking at the thinking behind public parks, public transit, zoning, etc., could actually be really interesting.

  72. Frank Gillum

    I find a notable lack of programs on American Indians in US history. The one program I found in the Archives dealt with Indians in Virginia in the colonial period. Why not do a show tracing the Shawnee or Cherokee and their interactions with Europeans and Africans from the 18th century to the present?

  73. nancy noteman

    I live in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Yesterday we had a block party and I met and new neighbor. He is a philosophy professor at a local university who specializes in political philosophy which allows him to visit Yellowstone National Park each year to work on the “philosophy” of something to do with attitudes towards wolves. Way to go. Anyway, he referred to local attitudes in Montana that he calls a welfare economy. I got to thinking about how lands in the west were designated as public and individual uses of these lands were exploiting a sort of community held resource for individual gains (he called a form of welfare.) I’m a so prepared to agree with this guy, but I wonder if there isn’t some history to this. Maybe some need to get buy in to create national parks and public lands that required unholy compromises with big business? I think you are talking about wilderness soon. Maybe the national parks and public lands in the west can be addressed in that show. PS Love you guys!

    • Tom Roche

      @Nancy Noteman: “exploiting a sort of community held resource for individual gains (he called a form of welfare”

      As a NYer who lived for a time in AZ, I would hafta agree: westerners have had pretty much everything handed to them on a plate. The Federal government genocided the aboriginals, gave the aboriginals’ land to the railroads to bring the settlers west, carved up the remaining land for the settlers, built vast amounts of infrastructure for them, and they still get net fiscal inflow (i.e., mountain states get more in Federal expenditure than they pay in taxes). Yet they see themselves as rugged individualists under the jackboots of an occupying army … including those who live in Phoenix suburbs, irrigating their lawns with not merely Federally-provided but heavily-subsidized water.

      Maybe a show about changing attitudes toward government on the (former) frontier? Probably too politically incorrect for BSR, though–calling a spade a spade is not your forté 🙁

  74. Josh

    1. Prisoners of War in American history(ours and the enemies)and their treatment.

    2. The superheroes place in American mythology over the last 70 years.

  75. Stan Woodard

    As part of my professional work advising artists, the idea of crowdfunding keeps coming up. People wonder if their project is a likely candidate for internet platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, among others. Some of the reasons that they are appealing are also reasons to avoid crowdfunding. Artists have to consider how much perceived ownership, or participation, in the creative process a donor might acquire with a donation. (Internet sites typically require a premium be offered to donors, but recently a Kickstarted concern, Oculus, met a backlash when the company sold to Facebook for billions. I assume that all of the contributors, of up to $5000 each, got their premium, but some had developed an emotional attachment to the project they had helped fund.)

    There are other examples of farflung crowdsourcing online. The SETI@Home project recruits internet users to participate in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence through a distributed network.

    My question is about the different ways ways people have used crowdsourcing across the centuries, and how much of that continues today. The barnraising comes to mind, and connotes a traditional rural coming together. How have urban dwellers cooperated and supported each others’ efforts and what as their “premium”?

    Part of the same conversation is the rise of the disruptive business models like Airbnb and Uber, among others, which establish a trend toward enabling contractors to operate within previously regulated space, like hospitality and chauffeuring.

    These internet-based approaches are attempting to recall the time before regulations were established in the industries they are challenging. The hospitality and taxi companies object because the new comers adhere to none of the rules and regs that the established have to. Many regulations relate to health and safety, etc. but users regulate the system through the rating system in place; that is the disruptor’s argument. Is this an empowering of the common man over government interference, or is it a subversion of the governing process in place to protect consumers?

    What is the history of business disruption in America? How have individuals and government clashed regarding regulations that either allow or disallow a person’s ability to participate in the economy on his or her own terms? How does that impact those who work within the established system?

  76. aldadebater

    I’d like to see something on football, baseball, or any of our favorite pastimes. Bonus points for issues concerning violence inside or outside the field, and the subject of subsidies by the government.

  77. David

    Thank you for the show. I very much enjoy listening to and learning from the various perspectives presented. I’d love to see you guys recommend a list of books that covers what you think every citizen should know.

  78. Adam Kutnar

    Growing up in post-Eastern Bloc Europe, one of the most iconic things about the States are its tall buildings. I think it would be an interesting topic for you to discuss the development of the American metropolitan skyline.

  79. aldadebater

    In light of the recent fights over AP History standards in places like Colorado, I’d like a history of fights over how we teach American History to our kids.

    • Emily Gadek [BackStory Digital Producer]

      We’ve been watching the conflict in TX and CO with interest – definitely on the radar.

      • Don M

        I like this idea too. I have some history and geography textbooks from the early 1800’s and their portrayals of native peoples and the relationship of whites to them is really interesting. One of the most interesting aspects of this topic is the assumptions that guide our portrayal of history. One of them is exceptionalism, of course. Related to that is the assumption that the U.S. never acts with bad intent. So, for example, despite the fact that decades of surveys show that most Americans believed that the Vietnam war was immoral (a result that is almost never discussed), the public discussion of the war among the critics describes the war as a noble effort that failed.

  80. Rebecca Hughes

    Listening to Columbus Day program, i wondered about the book “1421: The Year China Discovered America”, and the very persuasive argument by the author that Chinese explorers best the Europeans to the New World – including the west coast of south America and north – and how your explanation in the podcast as to why we celebrate Columbus in lieu of the other Spanish explorers is the same reason the author argues we ignore the evidence of Chinese mediation to the Americas. In fact, what prompted me to write is the fact that Columbus is very likely to have encountered Chinese descendants of the early explorers in Greenland if not elsewhere, which would have hardened his conviction that he found Asia! Please take a look at the book and website, and consider to augment your podcast to include thus discussion, for next year. Thank you!

  81. Andrew Edwards

    With the recent hysteria regarding Ebola, it would be interesting to do a “History of Epidemics” in America. The 1919 Influenza Epidemic would be an obvious topic, but I’d be curious to learn whether there were colonial epidemics, or if this is more of a “modern” construct. Contrasting the rather serious 1919 epidemic with hysterical epidemics would be interesting as well. Were there epidemics that were moralistic in nature instead of medical?

    • Andrew Edwards

      Never mind; I saw that there is already an epidemics show under the medicine tab…I was looking under health

  82. Danielle

    In light of the volatile state legislation (TX, NC, ND, etc.) relating to reproductive health, I was curious if there is interest in a show that traces instances like aggressive clinic closings beyond the 1990’s Planned Parenthood vs. Casey ruling. How has the political, social, and legal history of America impacted our attitude towards reproductive health? Additionally, how will these histories continue to shape our national healthcare system, as in the case of Hobby Lobby?

    • Danielle

      Looking back over previous submissions, I there’s opportunity to tease out other suggestions like the middle class (as consumers of health services), history of adoption (as an alternative to unwanted pregnancy), birth control and pregnancy, feminism (as advocates), and more. Thank you!

    • Shane C.

      Related to this, I think a show about the history of ideas about women’s sexuality could be interesting. It could include Puritan ideas of women, some of the weird medical practices of the 1800s, aspects of the development and fights over access to birth control (and access to birth control), etc.

  83. Ron Durham

    When I hear a reference to a reservoir or other man-made waterway, I’m curious to learn all aspects of the change. I live on Lake Harding, an impoundment of the Chattahoochee River. A river recently returned to its former “whitewater” state for recreation purposes. Several old dams were removed to accomplish this huge project.
    Please consider the history of “harnessing the hydro”.

    I love your show and spread the “history guys” with everyone!

  84. Rob Collins

    A question I’ve heard from immigrants to the U.S.: Why are there so many different kinds of churches? They’re referring to the great number of denominations in the U.S. compared to, well, anywhere else. In western Europe I believe there’s generally a simple division between Catholic and “evangelical” or protestant. In the Mideast there are churches such as the Coptic, Syriac, and Armenian that are all but unheard of here, but not such a huge number of finely distinguished Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Churches of God, Churches of Christ, and the Church of God in Christ. Africa seems to have the most intimate ties with American churches, not just because of imperialist-era missionary activity; today there seems to be a two-way street, with African Christians “saving” Americans, as when conservative Episcopal congregations affiliated with African Anglican dioceses to preserve their rejection of gay clergy. I think even many Americans are confused about what distinguishes, say, evangelicals from pentecostals, and some may lump them all together dismissively as “Baptists,” or else view all “conservative” Christians as a unified “fundamentalist” force dedicated to bringing back the Middle Ages. What a surprise it would be to hear about eras when “evangelical” Christians have been the progressive, reforming forces in U.S. society, or when “charismatic” Christians defied the rigid racial norms of the early 20th century. I’d also like to hear an exemplary account of one of the many spin-off denominations in our history. Mencken (in _The American Language_) claimed to have seen for himself a Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptist Church, but I’m not sure I believe him. As a young reporter I once visited and interviewed members of Christ’s Sanctified Holy Church in Houston County, Georgia, a separatist Wesleyan holiness church that had originated on a coastal island in Virginia and eventually founded its own exclusive compound in Georgia. There are probably many other well documented examples, and a member might be available to talk. Having taught at a C.M.E. (African American) college in Alabama, I’m also curious about efforts to reunite denominations, like the C.M.E. and A.M.E. churches. The most successful example may be the United Methodists, whose union healed one of the several regional splits that occurred before the Civil War. Finally, where do the parallel megachurch and house church movements of today fit into all this innovative/schismatic history?

  85. Rob Collins

    Come to think of it, you could probably do a separate show simply on denominations or religions that *originated* in the United States, including Wesleyan spin-offs, Mormons, pentecostals, and syncretist groups blending Christianity with African or Native traditions.

  86. Jesse

    I would like to hear about the history of Hawaii and how it became the 50th state. While I do know some of the history I want you guys to find “the rest of the story”.

  87. karen jackson

    thought i saw a note somewhere about a show about vikings, but my computer/google skills can’t find if it was ever done? i would love to hear what you all have to say. i have always thought about what those among viking people who were women did, since they must have been at home doing domestic stuff in the summers while the men were out far-traveling and gathering what they could find. i know cloth was a big commodity and even a medium of exchange in europe at that time, and the women had great looms and did some fine weaving. sometimes i wonder if they sent the men off in the summer to get them out of the way so they could get the chores done in peace?

  88. Stephen Payne

    Hey, guys! Love the show each week and the quirky way you handle your topics! I’d like to share a book I co-edit, the Anthology of Louisiana Literature, which you and your listeners can access here: http://www2.latech.edu/~bmagee/louisiana_anthology/navigation/index.shtml

    I’m contacting you to plug our book, (hey–it’s over 3 million words and counting!), but also to mention that the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans is coming in January 2015. My co-editor Bruce Magee and I would like to pitch this idea to you: the Battle of New Orleans and American memory, that is, ways (in literature, music, history, memoir, etc.) that we, as a nation have remembered and celebrated (not to mention disregarded) this battle. To that end, our Anthology includes a narrative (memoir) by New Orleanian Major Arséne Lacarriére Latour, the Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15, believed to be the first text of its kind to come out of the battle. We’d love to speak with all of you about Latour’s work (and his credit in designing some of the city’s defenses), in addition to the memoir of soldier James Roberts, an enslaved African-American whose work also appears in our Anthology. You might feature Roberts’ work under the heading “Lies of General Jackson,” or “False Freedom” (a play, of sorts, on President Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech from WWII). Just a thought. Keep up the good work and all the best!

  89. Michael J Rudominer

    How about the history of the oldest bigotry, Anti-Semitism in America. It can be traced from colonial days, discrimination and prejudices against the Jews in places such as New Amsterdam to present day manifestations of Anti-Semitism. Also how Anericans have viewed Jews and how their opinions over time have changed can also be examined.

  90. Rudy

    How about an episode dealing with our relationship without oldest Ally, France. This is a country that has been pivotal in American history, from even before we were a country. At different times we have admired, feared, hated, disdained, pitied and even envied France and the French. We have also waged war both with and against France, and have seen it as ally and adversary.

  91. aldadebater

    How about a history on riots? From race riots to ones against immigration or religious or political minorities, an overview of protests gone violent might be apropos right now.

  92. Megan

    How about “A History of English in the United States”? This semester, I’ve been teaching a class on teaching methods for English language learners, and we have spent some time discussing various models for teaching English language learners, the evolving demographics that make this a pressing question, as well as practical strategies for teaching these students.

    I believe, however, that these aren’t new issues, and that the issues that keep coming up–American identity, foreign language learning (many people who would argue against bilingual education programs in which children of immigrants learn in English and their first language would also advocate teaching American students foreign languages), immigration, and education.

  93. Tom Roche

    Secrecy in US history. I realize there is already a BS tag=secrecy[1], but, as is historically so often the case with classification, the one show with that tag[2] is much more about privacy and surveillance. What I mean by “secrecy in US history” (and which I’m pitching) is more like what Matthew Connelly[3] is discussing in his current series of LSE lectures[4]: how the US government has sought (and not) to keep secrets. Connelly’s recent second talk (audio here[5], metadata here[6]) is particularly àpropos on this topic, and (IMHO) of interest. E.g., I had no idea Jefferson was a cryptographer[7]! But I guess being a slavemaster greatly increases one’s spare time …

    … and, unfortunately, BS’ WordPress implementation includes a poorly-configured “spam filter” that prevents me from here providing the links referenced above 🙁 So instead, see the links in this GitHub gist: https://gist.github.com/TomRoche/3f4dbbe6f376ea36ad10

  94. Jeff Ewener

    As a foreigner (Canadian), I may have a peculiar take on US history, so I offer this comment with the grain of salt pre-added.
    But given the constant references to the US Constitution in the wider American national dialogue, I’m surprised at how rarely it has formed the centrepiece of one of your shows. The same is not true of national politics, where disagreements on policies — on voter rights, law enforcement, immigration, taxes, insurance, education, healthcare and I can’t remember how many more — are defined and seemingly determined by one’s position on the hermeneutics of this 18th century document.
    Yet of course when it was first devised it was something astonishingly new in the world — basically a contract that defined a country. No country, I think, had ever had one before, yet every country today would feel distinctly second-rate without one.
    Yet the most salient thing about it today (at least from this side of the border) is the heavy hand it lays across any attempt to modify the way the US government … uh, “works” would be the wrong word here, but that’s actually the point. The need to remain true to the provisions of this crumbling parchment leads scholars and jurists into agonizing logical contortions and intricacies that seem less political than rabbinical (or maybe jesuitical, or fatwavid). What we foreigners would like to know is, why don’t you just change the dang thing?
    Well, of course, this very state of affairs is what makes that idea seem like a preposterous dream. But — and here’s the history part — it wasn’t always so. The amendments passed since the document was signed must now be longer than the original articles. And those are just the initiatives that succeeded. Of course secession and the Civil War enabled the passage of some of the most dramatic, and that does seem a high hurdle to leap today. But even the creation of the document in the first place is something hard to imagine from a modern vantagepoint. How did so many American politicians agree on anything, let alone on everything in it?
    So what can the history of the modification of the US Constitution tell us about the possibility today of fundamentally reforming the way the US government is run? Are there any common factors in the reforms of the past, or is the history of each amendment completely sui generis? Are Americans doomed forever to try and tease out what the Founders (in their 3-corner hats and stockings) intended to be, say, the proper regulation of the internet in a Great Republic? It’s a big subject, I grant you — but I think the implications for Americans, and for America, are even bigger.

  95. Lauren Supplee

    I work in child and family poverty policy. We’ve been talking a lot about the lack of intergenerational transfer of wealth in the US, a trend that has steeply been growing worse, and the growing instability of family formation and economic basis in the lower income populations. While the data are very compelling to the presence of the trend, I wonder if this is a new phenomena based on a middle class, which may not have truly existed in the US prior to the New Deal. Are assumptions of a solid middle class in the US based on one blip in history which otherwise shows very wealthy and poor/working class in this country?

    • Don M

      I like this idea. There is so much talk today about income inequality. I’d love to find out more about its history. Was it worse or better during the time of the “robber barons,” the time of slavery, or the colonial period.

  96. Tom Roche

    Great/notable wills in US history? Why I pitch:

    Just got done listening to an excellent interview[1] (highly recommended to my fellow BS fans!) of your co-Virginian Melvin Ely[2] about his book “Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War”[3]. Its focus is a community founded by blacks not only freed but given land by the will of Richard Randolph (previously discussed in the BS scandal show[4]) in central VA’s Prince Edward County. Among many other things, Ely stresses (IMHO, successfully) that court records are excellent primary sources on ante-bellum race relations; one of several reasons is how white wills (such as Randolph’s and George Washington’s) dispose of their human property.

    So I’m thinking, US history is (to coin a phrase 🙂 “chock full o’ nuts,” and they all die, so there have gotta be lotsa interesting/significant “last wills and testaments.” Better yet, they’re often litigated, which generates yet more documents, which the history graduate student has evolved to consume. Am I missing something?

    … but again, BS’ WordPress’ aggressive “spam filter” that prevents me from here providing the links referenced above 🙁 So instead, see the links in this GitHub gist: https://gist.github.com/TomRoche/58b1dd8e877c85f1b4b8

  97. Shane C.

    I love your show! In the spring you did a shout-out to me at the request of my students, which was about the nicest leaving-teaching gift I could imagine. Even though I’m not in the classroom now, I still listen to every podcast, and I have a suggestion.

    I know Peter Onuf is more of a Jefferson man, but I’d like to make a pitch for the legacy of Alexander Hamilton (my favorite founding father, by far) in American history. There’s not much better proof of the extent to which his contributions have been excised from the American imagination than the fact that in 2004 some members of Congress tried to get Hamilton’s image on the $10.00 bill replaced by Ronald Reagan. If anyone deserves to be on our money, it’s Hamilton. And consider some of the other things that he did, or contributed to:

    1. He fought in the war against the British, including bringing about the first promotion of an enlisted man to officer, working on prisoner exchanges, leading part of the attack at Yorktown, and (of course) being an aide to Washington throughout the war.
    2. He helped found the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves in NY and – unlike many of the other founders, didn’t own slaves.
    3. He helped establish judicial review in Rutgers v. Waddington.
    4. He attended and spoke at length at the Constitutional Convention in favor of strong central government. (I think he gets a bad rap here as being monarchical, when a lot of what he said sounds to me like wanting the government to have adequate powers of lawmaking and taxation to actually govern).
    5. He authored *51* of the 85 Federalist Papers, including some really enjoyably snarky lines.
    6. As Sec’y of the Treasury, he got Congress to establish a national bank and assume the states’ debts.
    7. He wrote (the first draft of) Washington’s Farewell Address.

    Most of these have obvious repercussions across time. I think you could also argue that his recognition of self-interest in both individuals and corporations suggests a government structure that ensures more protections than Jefferson’s (in my view) idealistic, neo-Roman conception. This is especially so given a future in which most people are not independent land-owners and the economy is instead – as Hamilton got closer to predicting – based on manufacturing and finance.

  98. Beth

    I would love to hear a show about the history of “land”. I live in Utah and the fight over public land is a supper hot political topic in my state (and a few states around us ID, NV, AR all of which have lots of federal control land). In fact Utah just demanded the federal government give up control of 31 million acres of land to state control. I think it would so fascinating to see how the US has viewed land in the past from something to be owned and “tamed” to something to be protected. How did we go from giving away land such as the Georgia land lotteries, to designating National Parks and other protected lands. How and why did the BLM get started? How does battles over land spill over into other battles like state vs federal control?

  99. Robert L

    I would like a show about USA’s tax avoidance desires and how they have faired over the years. Our revolution was partly due to tax avoidance. Today businesses are set up with tax shelters in mind. Along the way we have probably had some interesting schemes to not pay Uncle Sam. 🙂

  100. Bruce M

    I tutor my high school aged granddaughter in history. She is a willing student so it is not difficult, but I would like to motivate her beyond just getting a good grade.

    How about a podcast section on the importance of studying history that will resonate with someone under the age of twenty.


  101. Donald W. McCormick, Ph.D.

    Hoodwinked. I would like to hear a history of U.S. government lying to the public. It certainly is a behavior that has happened in the 18th, 19th & 20th centuries and it is inherently interesting. In his book “Secrets,” Daniel Ellsberg discusses how, when he was part of the Johnson administration, he and his colleagues regularly deceived the American public. He said that the idea that government deceptions can’t hold up because eventually the public will find out the truth was a very naive idea. This was eye opening to me. How pervasive is lying to the public? I know that Carter felt constrained by his campaign promise “I will never lie to you.” Is a certain amount of lying necessary for a president or politician to function? Can we ever expect to see a completely honest administration? Was “Honest Abe” totally honest? “Enquiring minds want to know.”

  102. Tom Roche

    How ’bout red/black relations in US history, aka the history of interactions between African- and Native Americans? Arica Coleman’s “That the Blood Stay Pure”[1] (about a state of interest to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities 🙂 is a recent (and listenable) work directly on this topic. Jace Weaver’s “The Red Atlantic”[2] is more “red-focused,” but introduced me to red/black figures like Paul Cuffee[3] (about whom I had not heard–nor did I know that Crispus Attucks[4] was mixed-race).

    … but again, BS’ WordPress’ aggressive “spam filter” prevents me from here providing the links referenced above 🙁 So instead, see links @ https://gist.github.com/TomRoche/48bfa777448121a44a42

  103. Robert L

    What about a show on communication in America and how it had changed over the years (letter, telegraph, party phone, private phone, cell phone). I think it would be interesting to see how people reacted to the change and show the reactions are different/similar to today.

  104. Don M

    Howard Zinn’s “Peoples History of the United States” has been a very influential book. I’d love to know what you American History Guys thought of it. And to know if there is any kind of consensus about how Zinn treats the 18th, 19th, and 20th century in the book. I think this would make for a fascinating show.

  105. Don M

    How wars start. You did a great show on how American wars end. I’d like to see a show on how American wars start. I am particularly interested in wars that were started on flimsy grounds. Many Americans believe that we would never trump up an excuse to start a war in order to grab some land or to punish a country that defied us, and I think it would make for an excellent show to cover the many times in U.S. history that this happened. I also think it would be a contribution to civic responsibility if , the next time our government proposes to start a war, such a show led more people to closely scrutinize the case for it.

    • John

      I second that motion. “Spotty Lincoln” and his resolutions at the start of the Mexican War, Johnson and McNamara and the Tonkin Gulf incident, Bush and the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Obama and the “Khorasan” group in Syria in 2014… all these, and many more, are rich topics for conversation.

  106. Karen Call

    Last week the Grateful Dead announced that they will re-unite for a final series of three concerts in Chicago this coming 3-5 July. This got me thinking about how and where my own `long strange trip` has traveled — from seeing The Dead at the Avalon Ballroom in SFO in 1967 all the way to living in Europe, five years studying Buddhist philosopy and teaching English to tibetan monks in India up to where I now live, a few blocks from the beach in The Hague, NL.

    So, my suggestion is — What´s happened to the “real” hippies from San Francisco since the Grateful Dead played at the Avalon and the Fillomore Ballrooms in San Francisco with tickets selling for $2 a concert up to today? Where are they now? And where have they been in the intervening years? How do “they” experience the approach of their Golden Years.

    • Don M

      I like this idea, but I’m concerned that it doesn’t have 19th and 18th century topics to go with it. Perhaps if you also looked at 19th century counterparts to the hippies, such as the aesthetes, the bohemians, or the transcendentalists. I’m not sure what the 18th century version would be (Johnny Appleseed?) but I’d love to find out.

  107. Don M

    I’d like to hear a show about the history of American propaganda. I know a little about 20th century propaganda during WWI and how it led to the creation of the public relations industry from Chomsky’s book “Manufacturing Consent” and it is really fascinating, but I’d like to know more about propaganda in the 19th and 18th century. Perhaps something on Confederate propaganda.

  108. Don M

    I’d like to hear a show about the history of American war crimes. The father of a friend of mine suffered fairly major post-traumatic stress disorder his whole life because in WWII, one of his jobs in the navy was, after his ship sank a Japanese ship, to shoot Japanese sailors who tried to swim to his ship to surrender. The book that came out a couple of years ago that was based on official Pentagon investigations of war crimes in Vietnam is another very interesting case. And of course, Ronald Reagan was the only president who was ever indicted by the World Court for terrorism because of his active support of the Contras and their acts of torture, focusing on “soft” targets like hospitals, agricultural cooperatives, etc. Certainly there are also historically interesting examples of war crimes in the 19th and 18th centuries as well.

  109. Karen

    Who decides what is best for the health of the people in the United States – collectively? What comes to mind is the recent problem with vaccination for measles. Individual parents have decided that the risk of measles vaccination for their child is greater than the benefit – whether or not that is true. Society suffers because these kids are vulnerable, can become infected, and can infect kids even kids who were vaccinated because no vaccine is 100%. But if enough kids are vaccinated a “herd” effect reigns and the incidence of the infection goes down stopping an epidemic – sparing many kids from becoming infected.
    One important spokesperson who could rally the will of the people to address such important public health issues was the US Surgeon General and his team – the US Public Health Service (PHS). The PHS was founded in 1798 – yes, they are that old. Originally founded to provide health care for the Merchant Marines hence their bases were along the coastlines of the US (Carville, LA for example – that later became the Leprosy Sanatorium) and the reason they wear Navy officer uniforms and have Navy ranks. In the beginning they provided health care for the military and then later became a mobile medical corps for civilian catastrophes. They founded the NIH, CDC, and the FDA. During the Nixon administration the power of the PHS diminished – it was an “anomaly” of government and there was movement to dismantle the organization. SG Jesse Steinfeld held on, but just barely.
    The plusses of the PHS is that it provides a buffer between academia and commercial endeavors for medical concerns – e.g. tobacco use. Academia recognized that there was a connection between tobacco and cancer but the tobacco companies insisted the benefits of tobacco outweighed the risks – and the risks were small. SG Luther Terry provided an independent but authoritative view and sided with academia (though there were some academics that sided with tobacco company) – hence the Surgeon General’s warning on tobacco product packaging. In the negative it fuels the flames of Libertarians and others who want a smaller government – less intrusive and especially less intrusion on our personal health care issues.
    Surgeon General’s powers wax and wane (mostly wane in recent history) but is there a place for this voice today? Would it be too much government oversight on individual healthcare decisions? Would medical professional societies disagree with SG pronouncements? Who can be the independent spokesperson for US public? SG Koop who won his battle with Pres. Reagan over HIV-AIDS and brought the issue to the public and SG Carmona who lost his battle with Pres. Bush and rarely could bring his concerns to the public. It is an “anomalous” group of professional healthcare scientists and providers whose identity waxes and wanes.
    The history of the Surgeon General and the US Public Health Service spans almost the entire time of the United States and it would be interesting to hear a show about this as it would mirror the state of public health throughout this time – sanitation of the privvies in the South, exams of immigrants coming into the US via Ellis Island, TB control, founding of the CDC, NIH, and the FDA. Today they provide health care for the people living on Indian reservations, prisoners in federal penitentiaries, and for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
    The Tuskegee syphilis fiasco. The current attempts of Congress to block Pres. Obama’s choice of a Surgeon General.
    A complicated topic for a complicated subject.

  110. Brian

    Slipper Slopes.

    Pundits frequently criticized their opponents’ policies by using slippery slope arguments: If we adopt this one kind of reform, where do we draw the line? Examples include ObamaCare –> death panels; the “domino effect” strategy during the cold war (if we let Vietnam go communist, then that will launch a cascade of communist revolutions everywhere); and permitting public school prayer –> the collapse of the separation between church and state. But are slipper slopes an authentic historical process? Does American history contain examples of slippery slopes that we should study in order to better assess the validity of those kind of arguments today?

  111. Rachel

    I feel like one interesting subject would be about female sexuality throughout American history. Topics could range from how they were expected to behave pre-twentieth century to when women started to openly express their sexuality in the 1920’s. I’m not sure if it’s accurate, but I read that some women used their sexuality to help in the Revoltionary War.

  112. Curtis K.

    Water. From the Erie Canal and the Corps of Discovery to water rights range wars in the Wild West, the TVA, the Colorado river, pollution of the Great Lakes to fracking. Potable water across the eras to bottled water. “Magic” water from mineral springs to today’s ion infused, celebrity hawked magical thinking potions. Someone already mentioned infrastructure, e.g., water works. And of course, fluoridation.

  113. hank o'donnell

    Hi Guys,

    How about a show “against the grain”…the voice of dissenters in the America’s past. What has been the message proclaimed by those who are viewed as “heretics” in one generation only to be applauded as “prophets” in the next. Love your show..thanks

  114. John from Vermont

    Zephyr Teachout has compiled a comprehensive view of corruption in her recent book: “Corruption in America: from Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens’ United.” Given the pervasiveness of corruption across the centuries, this topic would be a provocative, entertaining, and informative subject for an upcoming show. (I could picture a fascinating counterpoint between the author and those voices disputing how embedded it is in 18th-20th century American history.)

    Here are 2 short snips describing the arc of Teachout’s argument and the significance of corruption through the centuries:

    “At last someone has written a book that puts a name to what is perhaps the most significant factor shaping American politics today: corruption. In a masterly work of scholarship, Zephyr Teachout…traces the history of American approaches to what was long considered a mortal threat to the republic. She demonstrates that recent jurisprudence, which has whittled down the definition of corruption to encompass only a contractual exchange between briber and public official, represents nothing less than ‘a revolution in political theory.’… Teachout calls for a return to the Framers’ preference for across-the-board rules to help prevent corrupt acts before they are perpetrated, rather than relying on punishment after the fact.”—Sarah Chayes, The Wall Street Journal

    “In Corruption in America, an eloquent, revealing, and sometimes surprising historical inquiry, Teachout convincingly argues that corruption, broadly understood as placing private interests over the public good in public office, is at the root of what ails American democracy.”—David Cole, The New York Review of Books

  115. Michelle Brown from New Orleans

    I’m thinking about the history of how Americans deal with “bad places” or “places marked by atrocities.” A common debate here in the deep south is about the use of plantations as wedding venues. Is it a horrifying dismissal of the history of slavery? Or a celebration of a beautiful setting and important heritage? For example, I (a black woman marrying a white man) apparently got married in the house the notorious Madame Delphine LaLaurie was raised in – it’s now a beautiful and well-run bed and breakfast. That’s pretty weird.

    The episode could consider big deal locations like plantations and battle grounds all the way to specific houses with famous murders. When does the history wear off a bad place? When does it stick? How is this commodified? And how do bad places resist commodification?

  116. Jeff McArthur

    This might not fit into your concept of wide ranging topics, but I’ll throw it out there just in case. It’s a wild enough story you might like it.

    Al Capone had a long-lost brother who was a Prohibition officer. He dressed up like a cowboy, rode a horse, and wielded two six-shooters. He was also a war hero, a stuntman, and a presidential bodyguard.

    I have a book coming out about it called Two Gun Hart, which I can send you if you’d like to read a bit about it. In the meantime, you can see a little more at the website: http://www.bandwagononline.com/Two-Gun-Hart.html