Pitch a Show! (Summer ’09 Ideas)

Published: January 1, 2009

"Forging Ahead," WPA Poster Collection, Library of CongressThe American History Guys are hard at work on a new season of shows for Spring ’09, including histories of motherhood, death and mourning, and the farmer. But the summer of ’09 is still uncharted territory and we need your input! Propose a topic below and tell us why you think it would make for a compelling BackStory episode.

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. Or, you can read what others have pitched in the past here and here. Basically, we’re looking for topics we can trace over the entire course of American history, rather than single episodes or chapters from history. So….

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

To suggest a topic, either “Join the Discussion” below OR send an email to backstory@virginia.edu.

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Comments (63)

{Discussion is closed
  1. James S. A. Brown, III

    A fan of American history, I’ve long been interested in American organized labor history, especially that of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Unfortunately, literature is often hard to find– it seems that nobody ever heard of Joe Hill (I tell you, he did not die!), Mary Harris Jones (“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!”), Wobblies, Matewan WV, Lawrence, MA, or Ludlow, CO.

    The eight hour day, the 40-hour week, and overtime pay are sacrosanct, and nobody ever thinks about how they came about. In school, survey courses talk about rich robber barons and world wars, not poor, grimy workers and the Coalfield Wars. Even the reformation of child labor is given only passing attention.

    I’d like to hear what you fellows have to say about it, even back into the 18th century (can’t very well leave Pete out, eh?). As we listen to news from Washington about something called “card check,” teach me something about the American working stiff.

    LOVE the podcast!

    JB

  2. Brenda Trickler

    These might seem like vague ideas, but I’ll throw them out anyway:

    1) The Law of Unintended Consequences
    I suppose Prohibition is the most obvious example of this, since the “drys” were telling everyone that removing alcohol from American life would solve poverty and every other social ill, yet it brought about the rise of organized crime. Are there other examples in our past and present? I can’t really prove it, but I wonder if the rise of corporate power, aside from the usual consequences, also promotes equality (Follow: surveys tell corporations that LGBT people have a large amount of economic clout and are loyal to brands and companies that treat them well, companies reach out to LGBT people in hiring and marketing, their straight employees find themselves working in cubicles adjacent to LGBT people, and those watercooler interactions humanize LGBT people and may contribute to rising support for LGBT civil rights.) Pursuit of one goal, be it a remedy for social ills or a corporate bottom line, can bring about unforeseen changes.

    2) The Pendulum of History
    This one might seem vague, but doesn’t it seem like American history, especially social history, pitches from one extreme to another? Are appearances deceptive in this regard? Did the repressive 1950s give way to the liberal 1960s and 1970s, only to go back again in the 1980s? Is it generational?

    Thanks for your time.

  3. Brenda Trickler

    Not to belabour the point, but the whole pendulum metaphor seems to be back. NPR used it to describe the changes in policies over torture within Bush 43′s administration, and it shows up again in a recap of Elizabeth Warren’s recent career (before she came to preside over TARP) that I read on Slate. Perhaps when things are slow, you can discuss the pendulum matphor in American history?

  4. Julie

    1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: American as tourist

    2. A meta topic: The study of American history – delve into why and how history has been studied in this country

    3. Doing Good or Staying on Top?: Philanthropy and Capitalism in America
    The motivations of philanthropists from Andrew Carnegie on down is a fascinating topic. Was it a method of class control? Was it a way to keep the work of social service outside of the hands of government and thus rein in taxes?

    One piece of fallout from the vast network that the nonprofit sector has become in the U.S. is the attitude of charity and poverty. In my professional life, I am a management consultant who works with nonprofit organizations. Time and again at my firm, we come across both staff members and nonprofit trustees who believe that charitable work can and should be done with no money at all, which makes for weak and ineffective organizations — counterproductive to the endeavor to do good.

  5. Steve Anderson

    Looking ahead to the fall, how about an October episode on the history of superstition and/or beliefs about the supernatural? From the witch trials in the late 1600s (was it really about rye bread?), to official investigations like the Fluckinger report on vampires in 1731, to the Gothic movement (this year is Poe’s 200th birthday), to the mass hysteria surrounding the War Of the Worlds broadcast, to the rise of the modern fascination with UFOs and “crypto-zoology.” As you demonstrated with your discussion of the first penny newspaper’s coverage of the “man-bats” living on the Moon, the cultural history of even the most ridiculous content can tell us a great deal about ourselves.

    Such an episode might also be a terrific opportunity to have a multi-century discussion on the recent phenomenon of ghost tours at historic places. What do they do to our experience of these places, for good or for ill? Or perhaps, for good AND for ill?

  6. George Scott

    All great suggestions posted above! I especially am interested in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: American as tourist” since Mark Twain and Bill Bryson are two of my favorite authors on the subject.

    I’d like to propose a show on “This Role of the Military in America.” This was inspired by the recent Civil War Sesquicentennial conference moderated by Dr. Ayers. I would love to know the history of the draft, nepotism in the ranks, natural disaster relief, and relationship with the media. I searched the archives and couldn’t find a comparable topic.

    Many thanks and keep up the EXCELLENT work! I look forward to Richmond’s NPR carrying the show.

  7. Ben Hoyle

    Now that piracy is in the news (the real kind with weapons and death on the high seas), I am interested in how this has affected the discussion of copyright piracy (the non-life-threatening kind, branded by media industry lawyers to give a criminal tinge to just about everyone with a computer and the internet). I think a focus on the music industry and how the business model has changed over the centuries would be good. At one time, musicians made money by performing and or composing for rich patrons. Of course music was also circulated among the unwashed masses, but I doubt there was much money in it. And then we get a middle class with purchasing power; families gather around the piano to sing the latest songs with their purchased sheet music. Opera Houses and Vaudeville circuits played a part in making money for musicians. But ever since the invention of the phonograph the music industry has been urged forward by technology to become a behemoth, making many millions for some of the musicians lucky enough to be swept up by it. But at the same time, the music industry has run a continual war against recording techology in fear of losing control of the content it uses to make money. Copyright laws have been strengthened and lengthened to make it harder for the consumer to actually own, use and/or share the recordings they have purchased. A few years ago it appeared that the concert performances were money losers designed to promote a new album and now I hear that concerts are the only way for performers to make money since their recordings no longer make as much money as in the past. I would love to hear the history of music and how it has changed not only the professionals who make a living at it, but also the musical literacy of our society as we have outsourced our own ability to enjoy music from singing or playing someone else’s compostions to passively listening to someone else’s performance.

  8. Brian

    I would like to hear a Backstory issue about the Mormon influence on the United States.

    The influence of the establishment and spreading of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is far and wide and has had a profound effect upon our country even though most history textbooks only give it a cursorily nod.

    Interesting points:

    Mormon influence on national government and local government.
    (Early on Congress wished to control the Mormons, later Mormon influence has become more mainstream, but still “special”.)

    Mormon influence on women’s suffrage.
    (The women’s suffrage movement started near the location and slightly after the time that the church was established, and appears to have followed the movements of the church. Perhaps due to non-Mormon communities observing women being asked to vote in Mormon churches, and the church’s emphasis on women’s education and being just as valuable and worthwhile, maybe even more so, than men.)

    Mormon influence on the temperance movement.
    (The temperance movement started in towns near other towns that were heavily influenced by Mormon occupation. Perhaps due to non-Mormon women observing how productive and gentile Mormon towns were and blaming the alcohol in their towns for their low productivity and low security.)

    Mormon influence on the settlement of the west, especially the Rocky Mountain west from Canada to Mexico including special settlement influences in California all of which are continuing. (Another related issue is how large Mormon families, comparable to Catholics, are creating a larger and larger “settlement” influence.)

    Mormon influence on main stream Christian doctrine.
    (Early American Christians believed in a specific salvation, Mormons believed in a more universal salvation, with time mainstream Christianity has trended toward a more universal salvation, and beliefs in family relations beyond the grave which originated with Mormons.)

    Mormon influence on agriculture.
    (In the beginning, the Mormon’s had based their culture around agriculture, one of the church’s presidents was the Agriculture secretary for a President of the United States. In the present day the church has become one of the largest agriculture land holders in America.)

    Mormon influence on disaster relief activities.
    (Mormons send more aid per capita to disaster relief activities than any other group of peoples.)

    Mormon influence on current events.
    (An example is Proposition 8 in California. But the current events of states and localities have been influenced throughout the church’s history.)

    I left out plural marriage issues on purpose as they are not ongoing influences. That was mostly a one time blip on the pages of history, but feel free to have at it if you see a reason to include it.

    Thank you for considering my suggestion.

  9. Jared

    One I’m thinking of is the history of torture in America. With all the talk over the past few years about our usage of waterboarding and other forms of torture to battle the “War On Terror,” I wonder what the U.S.’s conduct during war has been over the centuries.

  10. John

    The most recent report card on American Public Schools indicates that after 40 or 50 years of Federal Government meddling, we have not improved education much at all, but have raised costs significantly. When did the funding of public education become widespread? How did it evolve from locally run, one-room, one “teacher lady” schoolhouses of yesteryear to the huge bureaucratic institutions we have today? And when did the states decide localities couldn’t properly operate them, and when did the feds decide the States couldn’t?

  11. Tony (BackStory Producer)

    A fan of American history, I’ve long been interested in American organized labor history…I’d like to hear what you fellows have to say about it…

    Thanks belatedly, JB, for your suggestion about a labor history show. You may have already noticed, but we’ve just decided to do a show on the flip-side of work: unemployment. And since you can’t very well talk about unemployment without talking about employment, perhaps this could be the show you were after. Stay tuned!

  12. Gail Wilde

    When I was in high school in the tiny town of Glenns Ferry, Idaho, our history teacher was the coach, and he presented history as the boring subject he thought it was. Then, he had a heart attack, and a replacement was called in while our teacher recovered. But this guy was not a coach, he was a retired author who live in the area. Suddenly, history was fun and fascinating. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the author. Our regular history teacher recovered and came back to work all too soon, as far as we were concerned.

    My suggestion for a topic is: How has history been taught over the centuries, and by whom? Was the knowledge of history valued enough for them to hire great teachers, or just considered something the govt required…

  13. Cat

    Why not a show on the history of tourism? Tourist destinations don’t just come out of nowhere. They have distinct histories that speak to the times in which they were created. Sites marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution, for instance, seem significant for their role in the Revolution, but such sites are the product of late-nineteenth-century obsessions with ancestors and desires to assert that “real American” identity originated in the Revolution and not with the immigrants flooding into the United States at the end of that century. The Freedom Trail in Boston, another example, appears to be about the Revolution as well, but what we see on the Freedom Trail is a historical artifact of the 1950s that, I suspect, speaks more to anti-communism than to Paul Revere. Such a show could also examine the relationship between cars, tourism, and the development of national parks. You might also look at Americans partaking in the “Grand Tour” in eighteenth-century Europe.

  14. Bing McGhandi

    “Veterans’ returns.” What happened to veterans when they returned from America’s numerous wars? How did they and their society cope with their experiences? I think that it is fair to say that the age of industrial warfare (starting with the Civil War) transformed what it meant to be at war and to fight in a war, and I wonder if soldiers’ returns from, say, the Revolution were markedly different from, say, those of folks had come back from WWII or Vietnam? As guests, I recommend Vincent Casaregola (re: post-WWII), Ben Shepherd (author of A War of Nerves) possibly Eric T. Dean Jr. (I have not read his Shook Over Hell). I feel this is a current topic that would put current events in their context. It seems right up your alley!

    HJ

  15. cm6ay

    @ Gail: Great suggestion. Someday we’d really like to do a “History of American History”…I think the Guys could really do a superb job with that topic…Stay tuned!

    @ Cat: We touched on SOME of these themes in our “American Idle: A History of Leisure” (http://www.backstoryradio.org/2008/08/american-idle-a-history-of-leisure-2/)–check it out! However, that show focused more on vacations, the invention of the weekend, how we mark leisure time, etc., and less on tourism per se.

    @ HJ: Wow, you anticipated the themes and questions in our “Coming Home” show with remarkable precision. Enjoy!

    –Catherine, Assistant Producer

  16. Kathy

    History of presidential scandals?

    Native Americans throughout US History?

    Influence of Art/Music

    Urbanization/Transportation

    Imperialism/Manifest Destiny (Space?)

    History of Backlash – 1920s (flappers/prohibition, scopes/religious zealots), 1960s (counterculture/silent majority)

    political culture (red/blue a new thing?)

    lobbyists

    power of congress

  17. Lou Fancy

    I’m 27, as a child I was always told that I was special and to have self esteem by my childhood entertainment/teachers/parents/culture. I see a trend in my generation today feeling too good to do common work. We’ve got an idea that we are special, just a little more special than everyone else. I can’t help but wonder if our collective childhood experience is to blame.

    My question is, how has childhood experience (whether it be radio, books, classrooms, current events, etc.) left it’s mark on the generations of this country. Are we as a generation of Americans doomed to see the world through childhood colored glasses? Do we go off on our own with no regard for our collective childhood culture? Is it somewhere in the middle?

    I just found your show and I’ve fallen in love with it.

    Keep up the good work!

  18. Bing McGhandi

    OK, I got one that is well suited to radio, is transgenerational, and has the potential to draw together and shed light on many of the shows that you have put together. I am thinking about the history of America Oratory–the power of the spoken word in American history. It feeds into a lot of topics that you have touched on (lycea, education, politics, technology, populism/politics, preaching). What has “eloquence” traditionally meant? What about American folksiness in political speech, certainly something that grew out of a need to connect with a newly expanded constituency of the new states? Some things that come to mind immediately: I am thinking about female speakers and how they were often seen as “monstrous,” primarily because they had transgressed the traditional role of the woman, moving into the “masculine” public sphere. (That public sphere might have to be set up and defined and explored a little.) The phenomenon that was Frederick Douglass, and how he established “ethos” (for a criminal fugitive slave…it’s truly remarkable), and the variety and spectacle that he brought to his oratory…something lost on modern audiences. Gary Wills, of course, did excellent work introducing some of the classical principles in Lincoln at Gettysburg. Roosevelt’s fireside chats comes to mind as a transformation of the word. The “rivalry” between the visual image and the spoken work in the modern era. I think that now that we have a president who seems to embody eloquence, a reflection on how we got there. Also raises the possibility of inserting great American speeches in between the segments. I would recommend Jesse Jackson reading “Green Eggs and Ham” on Saturday Night Live as an illustration of the disjunction between message and delivery, mostly because I have an impish nature.

    HJ

  19. Rachel (BackStory Assoc. Producer)

    OK, I got one that is well suited to radio, is transgenerational, and has the potential to draw together and shed light on many of the shows that you have put together. I am thinking about the history of America Oratory–the power of the spoken word in American history. It feeds into a lot of topics that you have touched on (lycea, education, politics, technology, populism/politics, preaching). What has “eloquence” traditionally meant? What about American folksiness in political speech, certainly something that grew out of a need to connect with a newly expanded constituency of the new states? Some things that come to mind immediately: I am thinking about female speakers and how they were often seen as “monstrous,” primarily because they had transgressed the traditional role of the woman, moving into the “masculine” public sphere. (That public sphere might have to be set up and defined and explored a little.) The phenomenon that was Frederick Douglass, and how he established “ethos” (for a criminal fugitive slave…it’s truly remarkable), and the variety and spectacle that he brought to his oratory…something lost on modern audiences.

    Gary Wills, of course, did excellent work introducing some of the classical principles in Lincoln at Gettysburg. Roosevelt’s fireside chats comes to mind as a transformation of the word. The “rivalry” between the visual image and the spoken work in the modern era. I think that now that we have a president who seems to embody eloquence, a reflection on how we got there. Also raises the possibility of inserting great American speeches in between the segments. I would recommend Jesse Jackson reading “Green Eggs and Ham” on Saturday Night Live as an illustration of the disjunction between message and delivery, mostly because I have an impish nature.

    HJ

    HJ/Bing-

    Ah– You’re singing our song! It was not so very long ago that “The History of American Rhetoric” was in line for production, and many of your excellent ideas were part of our plan. We may have just been waiting for a “news peg”– although you’re quite right that the buzz surrounding Obama’s speaking style would make the topic timely. Your mention of “monstrous” women speakers reminds me of Mary Kelley’s book “Learning to Stand and Speak,” about how access to education literally gave women a voice. It’s a perfect topic in a lot of ways (sonically, thematically…) but the chance to end the show with Reverend Jackson’s “…not in a box…not with a fox…” makes it a BackStory must.

  20. Tom Mason

    1) I have a strong personal interest in “variable truth”. That is, FDR was isolationist to get elected and spent his first term convincing the American people that we cared a little bit for the demise of the British people and culture.

    I suggest an hour relating examples of total-reversal of public stance of Presidents. Maybe include Obama and “transparency”.

    2) The study of economics has changed since 1964. Back then, we were taught that “Schumpeter curves” describe the cycles of the stock market, and inflation and recession. I was very interested in this computational approach to history and extremely interested to learn that we have had depressions at regular intervals in the history of America – often associated with massive social changes.

    2A) Why have “Schumpeter curves” disappeared from economics today? I was explaining the concept to my son and searched the web extensively to find the most minimal references to the concept. [demonstrate variable truth]

    2B) I suggest a “time-line” associating depressions and surrounding social events in American history.

    3) I ask for a comparison between “hard history” and “soft history” applied to major events in American history. My definition of “hard history” is physically verified events, such as arrowheads and bullet cartriges and medical autopsies. My definition of “soft history” is personal accounts, from Civil War diaries and the current voice recordings of WWII survivors.

    How to the “hard facts” reconcile with the recollections? [demonstrate variable truth]

  21. Tony (BackStory Producer)

    The most recent report card on American Public Schools indicates that after 40 or 50 years of Federal Government meddling, we have not improved education much at all, but have raised costs significantly. When did the funding of public education become widespread? How did it evolve from locally run, one-room, one “teacher lady” schoolhouses of yesteryear to the huge bureaucratic institutions we have today? And when did the states decide localities couldn’t properly operate them, and when did the feds decide the States couldn’t?

    John — thanks, belatedly, for your suggestion. You will be pleased to learn that we have decided to go ahead with a show about the history of public education. We’ve only just started, but already we’ve started to tackle a lot of the questions you proposed in your comment. Have a look (in the “In the Works” section) … and let us know what you think!

  22. Nancy Griesemer

    Hi!
    I am a northern Virginia-based independent college admissions counselor. After discovering your show through The Chronicle of Higher Education, I pitched it for rising juniors considering the prospect of one form or other of American history in the 11th grade:

    http://collegeexplorations.blogspot.com/2009/07/that-was-now.html

    It occurs to me that there could be an audience (well, my particular audience) for a show on either the college-going experience through the centuries or more narrowly the question of college admissions–who went, how they got there, who was excluded, and what benefits were derived for college-educated citizens. I’m also very interested in the evolution of standardized testing, but that may be limited to only 20th century consideration.

    You guys are obviously up close and personal with today’s college student and are no doubt familiar with the barriers many continue to face in college admissions. Timing for the show would seem right for “back to school” or in the spring as admissions decisions are arriving in student mailboxes (electronic these days). There are a zillion opportunities for bringing in expertise in the area of college admissions and/or admissions counseling.

    In any event, I’ve added your show to my toolbox for high school students. Thanks for making American history so enjoyable!

    Nancy Griesemer
    College Explorations

  23. k

    hi guys,

    My suggestion for a topic: sex education. How did sex education get to be such an explosive and divisive issue especially towards the end of the twentieth-century?

    Sex ed in the early twentieth-century promoted health and hygiene, “right living” (along the lines of temperance education a la WCTU) and specific social and gender relationships to similar (but modified of course) topic areas in the late twentieth-century. Of course, there’s a lot of other stuff happening in between and within these topics (scienctific knowledge, health promotion, the modern “invention” of dating, war, changing familial and gender relationships, etc.) that have influenced our changing sexual mores and ideals. Not only has the content changed over time but our rationales for providing/seeking information have changed.

    However, late twentieth-century programs such as abstinence only education (as recent research is showing) aren’t working. There is a more general social and political puritanism that is hurting both kids and adults (for example there have been recent attempts to deny funding to health organizations (both domestic and foreign), and the clawing back of sexual health research funding, public health, increasingly bad information is being traded in for fact, etc.). Needless to say all of this topic is highly charged on all sides. So what has happened over the twentieth-century to get us to this point?

    I know this is a wide ranging topic but it could be interesting to have a discussion about the historical changes in twentieth-century sex education (not just the content but the periods around them).

    Have a good summer guys,
    k

  24. Tim

    I’m fascinated by the way roads have evolved over time and shaped our communities—from Indian trails to the National Road to “Good Roads” to interstate highways. This touches on issues of infrastructure that we still struggle with today.

  25. Tom Mason

    I have observed from several cross-country trips that everywhere is upgrading their roads, except Chicago.

    When you report on historic highway development, please explain why Chicago chose not. There is a critical underlying principle – which I do not understand.

  26. Michael Johnson

    Hello all. Considering the recent plethora of Senatorial ethical charges, immigration policy practices, drug law enforcement / relaxation, prison over-crowding and Guantanamo issues – how about a show on “The History of Crime and Punishment” in America?

  27. Tony (BackStory Producer)

    Hello all. Considering the recent plethora of Senatorial ethical charges, immigration policy practices, drug law enforcement / relaxation, prison over-crowding and Guantanamo issues – how about a show on “The History of Crime and Punishment” in America?

    Thanks for your suggestion, Michael. Seems to me that there are several potential show topics in there — congressional corruption (see Julie’s comment above), immigration, & drugs. As for the Punishment half of “Crime & Punishment,” it’s already done! Check it out: http://tinyurl.com/6z2c2l

  28. Bill Jesdale

    Great show! I’ve been ripping through podcast after podcast.
    I love the idea of looking a tourism over time.

    And to throw into the ring…
    Effects of disease on the country & impact of the country on diseases.

    With all the hype about H1N1 going around, it seems timely to talk about what the last few battles with H1N1 (1973, 1918) were like. The 1918 flu has so many interesting historical tie-ins – obviously the death toll relative to combat deaths in the Great War, but also the role of government censorship (why it got called the Spanish flu, not the Massachusetts flu or the Fort Devens flu), the struggles between different theories of disease at the time and a great push in the direction of treating medicine as a profession with restricted admission and rigorous training (as opposed to being open to any (wealthy) body who couldn’t succeed in a more noble profession), to name a few.

    So, while the H1N1 flu is unlikely to fundamentally alter much of anything in our country, that is certainly not true of many diseases in the past – yellow fever, smallpox, cholera and polio. And by affect, I don’t just mean how many people died, but also the calls for systemic changes and infrastructure that were the direct result of dealing with contagious diseases.
    A quick example of that is that in the late 1800′s the annual City Report for San Francisco had, for several years, a front cover displaying not the mayor and supervisors, as had been the custom, but proudly displayed images of the sewer system being installed across the city.

  29. Kettle2

    The forgotten SENIORS, 2009…..the Cola is not keeping up with problems and finances of seniors in the 20th Century….do a story on that and nursing homes…..

    Seniors who’s only income is Social Security….are in a Depression, not a Recession and the
    Soc Security, Medicare, and Insurance Companies, and Pharmacutical Companies are way out of touch with those Seniors and the financial problems.

    Our country is always taking care of other countries…when they s/b taking care of their own SENIORS, disabled, and VETS.

    Do a show on That!!!

  30. John

    But that’s not a “history” question. If you want to complain about politics, try a different show. Maybe you could phrase it as a historical question, like “discussing the history of government largess to the elderly. How did that happen, and why do families not take care of their elderly the way they did in colonial days?”

    The forgotten SENIORS, 2009…..the Cola is not keeping up with problems and finances of seniors in the 20th Century….do a story on that and nursing homes…..

    Seniors who’s only income is Social Security….are in a Depression, not a Recession and the
    Soc Security, Medicare, and Insurance Companies, and Pharmacutical Companies are way out of touch with those Seniors and the financial problems.

    Our country is always taking care of other countries…when they s/b taking care of their own SENIORS, disabled, and VETS.

    Do a show on That!!!

  31. Tony (BackStory Producer)

    Maybe you could phrase it as a historical question, like “discussing the history of government largess to the elderly. How did that happen, and why do families not take care of their elderly the way they did in colonial days?”

    Thanks, Kettle2, for your contribution. And thanks to you, John, for nimbly re-casting Kettle2′s idea in BackStory-friendly terms.I think both of you are right that the topic could provide some fertile territory for us. We’re already planning a show on Childhood (and will be tipping our hands on that a bit in our upcoming History of the Holiday Season show), and
    should probably think about doing one on the Elderly, too. If anybody out there has ideas about good places to start, send them our way!

  32. Shannon Riggs

    Since April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I’d love to hear a show on the history of childhood sexual abuse in America.

    A few questions central to the topic:

    How have “abuse” and “sexual abuse” been defined (if they even have been defined) in each era of American history? How have laws about child abuse changed over time?

    How has the media’s portrayal of child abuse cases changed throughout these eras?

    Possible interviewees: Scholars studying the work of Louise Armstrong (late author of Kiss Daddy Goodnight and Rocking the Cradle of Sexual Politics), or anyone on the board of Darkness to Light (online at http://www.d2l.org).

    Considering that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused or assaulted by the time they reach age 18, an understanding of the history of child abuse seems important, not only for awareness, but also for prevention.

  33. A. Conda

    I stumbled on this website and love the idea. I didn’t see this as a topic which could be 2 topics:
    Retail sale of goods.
    I have seen newspaper ads in the early 20th Century in the want ad section with no pictures or extensive descriptions – merely providing information that this store/location has these items for sale.
    Also the change in the store’s method of handling the sale to 20th Century self serve (which increased the need for security), and ultimately internet sales which decreased the need for retail security.

  34. Jack Smith

    Great podcast – a great concept and great execution!

    I’d love to see a show on the history of retail establishments over the course of America’s growth. Specifically, local “general stores”, how credit was given to customers, things that were sold. Also – how has transportation changes the face of retail sales – both in transportation of goods to be sold, but also transportation of the customer to different stores.

    Some questions:
    When did the ‘big box’ concept hit the U.S.?
    How have people reacted to the change in these tendencies – the move-in of larger stores, etc.?

  35. Christopher Topping

    I would like to suggest “What’s in a Name?” How has our history affected how we name our children. (How many baby boys were named George Washington Something?) What has shaped the popularity of names? Have some names disappeared because of an association with an unpopular person or event? How many Adolfs do you know?
    How has the various stages of immigration affected how people name their children; do names jump ethnic bounds and does that help bond the various groups together? How has popular culture affected naming? Nicolas Cage named his son Kal-El (Superman’s Kryptonian name).
    How have naming conventions changed over the years? I have found several instances in my family’s past where the name of a child who died in infancy was reused for a later sibling. I even found one where part of a name was given to a new child several months before his namesake died. I don’t know if the older was expected to pass on or not. But, it’s curious nonetheless.
    How many times has a name been repeated in a family. We have one name that has been used for three or four generations. But, there hasn’t been any awareness of the earlier uses of the name until I started researching our genealogy.
    These are the main ideas related to the topic that I would like to see examined. Thanks for considering it.

  36. Justin

    Pitch: History of Innovation in America

    I heard a story years ago that the first fridge was created by an ice-delivery boy. The story goes that his boss, the owner of an ice company, told him that “no one would ever want an icebox inside the house!”

    Has innovation, rebellion and stubborness been a key factor in our history as a nation or have we told and retold these stories as simply motivating narrative to give ourselves hope?

  37. Paul Chapin

    Writing from Spokane, WA—I listen regularly, and I really appreciate the thoughtful conversation stimulated by BackStory. I travel a lot for my work, and I always appreciate hearing new viewpoints beyond the Pacific Northwest point of view.

    My theme to pitch: the history of social class in America, and how it has evolved.

    A quick outline, which I know for :

    18th century: what counted for social stature in Colonial America, which mixed the second and third sons of wealthy landowners of England with the lowest class of British society? How did views of societal heirarchy change after the American Revolution? Has money, lineage, or accomplishment formed the major definition of who are the movers and shakers?

    19th century: writings of de Tocqueville, Jacksonian era, rise of immigration, gilded age (robber barons to the social registers of Manhattan to summers in Newport, RI). How did we see ourselves? What were the male and the female perspectives of this? How did the different ethnic groups (African-American, Irish, Italian, Jewish) engage with social mobility? How difficult was it to jump your social level? In the westward migration, was it different in each region?

    20th century up to present day: the writings of Thorsten Veblen (conspicuous consumption as part of your social stature), the tension within F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories about wealth, humble beginnings of Presidents like Lincoln, Hoover, Eisenhower, Reagan as a big part of their political appeal. The Roosevelts: how did they turn their social positions into a political benefit? The ultimate generational class jump: the Kennedy family.

    In other words, how has this morphed over three centuries? Have we been different than any other nation in our evolution?

    What is the newest definition of social class?

  38. Carol Becker

    Political prisoners in America? The use of police and courts and jails to suppress dissent against the government?

  39. Carol Becker

    Changing communications tools in campaigns – how did people actually communicate about who to elect as president, first in a world of just horses then with trains then telegraph then automobiles and radio then TV and then the Internet? How did we get people to come together, especially when the communications were so difficult? How have key opinion leaders been part of this story? Who was the Rush Limbaugh 100 or 150 years ago? And how did they come to be in these positions of persuasion given the communications tools? And how did these people change as the tools changed?

  40. Kally Mavromatis

    The gentleman’s suggestion of the law of unintended consequences makes me think of my favorite rant, one that comes to me while sitting in traffic on my way to/from work: The effect of Henry Ford, the automobile, and mass production.

    The consequences are many:

    - The rise of mass production, which extended to other industries
    - The rise of the automobile, which created our “car culture” and subsequent development of highways at the cost of of intercoastal mass transit
    - The squashing of the nascent electric car industry at the turn of the last century
    - Our subsequent reliance on oil (and its unintended consequence of reliance on the Middle East)

    Could be interesting! Thanks for considering.

  41. Kally Mavromatis

    D’oh!

    …and wrap it in a history of transportation: wagon train, railroad, automobile.

  42. Lauren Supplee

    I was having a discussion with a friend today about immigration around the new Arizona law and now the South Carolina Senator’s statement to alter the 13th Amendment. I know from my educational policy history and social work history classes how people viewed immigrants and the negative things they thought the immigration wave would do at the turn of the last century. Recently I saw a graphic showing this current immigration wave from Central and South America is similar to the proportion of the people arriving in the previous wave. How did the last immigration wave truly change America and do we have indications of how the current one may shift America?

  43. Tiffany M.

    Suggesting a show on “fad diets,” or social diet movements, everything from pre-Graham crackers to South Beach.

  44. Tiffany M.

    The U.S. Census, as the new numbers come out later this year. The idea that political representation is based on an actual count, and that we count ourselves as part of the consistently largest peacetime mobilization efforts every 10 years, how different Census results have shaped America, like the “closing” of the frontier in 1890, the changing ethnic majorities in the past century, litigation over miscounting … all kinds of roads one could go down.

  45. Jason Power

    Has no one yet suggested Marriage? Seems pertinent to me, even if perhaps too hot-button. Surely the ‘institution’, it’s practice, associated laws and crimes, attitudes – how they’ve slowly changed and how reactionary some developments might have been.

    Thanks for the opportunity to suggest!

  46. cm6ay

    Has no one yet suggested Marriage? Seems pertinent to me, even if perhaps too hot-button. Surely the ‘institution’, it’s practice, associated laws and crimes, attitudes – how they’ve slowly changed and how reactionary some developments might have been.

    Thanks for the opportunity to suggest!

    Thanks for suggesting, Jason–I was just thinking about marriage as a topic the other day. We’re topicked out through October, but I don’t see this issue going away anytime soon…What do you think would be the best time of year to air such a show?

    In case you missed it, our history of courtship…http://backstoryradio.org/2010/02/love-me-did-a-history-of-courtship/

    For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,
    The BackStory Team

  47. Kally Mavromatis

    What do you think would be the best time of year to air such a show?

    February, of course!

  48. Derrik McGee

    How current Federal, State, and Local laws take away our inherent right of the pursuit of happiness, and the right to bear arms. Im presuming for most that this means getting a great job/military, college education, and a family. One such law which takes these rights is marijuana law. I feel if I can be presumed uniteligent, lazy, or just all around a bad person then this presumption should be justified. I have tried and tried to find an actual scientific report that provides evidence of these presumptions to no avail. Yet hundreds of thousands of people are convicted each year under these laws. The jury is allowed to presume something of someone they dont know personally without any scientific evidence to prove there presumptions and in many cases there presumptions have nothing to do with why the law is in place to begin with. If the law enforcement officers, public officials, the judge, prosecutor, and the jury do not know the actual reasoning behind the law in the first place how can anyone recieve a fair trial? I view LAW as a tool of JUSTICE and feel that I atleast deserve the right to know why. The only answer that I get is that its law. OBVIOUSLY. My question is why is it law. I dont believe opinion to be evidence but i believe it can lead to evidence.

  49. Kally Mavromatis

    Here’s a couple of topics that might be interesting:

    1. Childbirth and children – when did childbirth start happening in a hospital, and not at home? When did the medical profession even get involved in the birth of babies? And what was life like for children throughout history (given that “teenagers” are a more recent invention)? Were they truly little workers for the family, seen and not heard?

    2. Leisure and amusements – how did the Puritans relax (if they ever did)? Pioneers and pioneer families? Amusement parks were big at the turn of the last century; was this in response to the rise of the middle class and leisure time?

  50. Kally Mavromatis

    Oops – I see you’re already planning one on children.

    What about home ownership, that which got us into the recent recession: How has the concept of owning a home changed over time? Certainly pioneers went west to establish homesteads, but in the cities, prices put owning a home out of reach for all but the wealthiest. When did the concept of owning a home become so central to the ideal of American dream? And how has the pursuit of owning a home, which resulted in the birth of the suburbs, changed us politically and socially?

    (I seem to be an idea hamster today.)

  51. derrik mcgee

    Do laws determine the morals of society? Or do the morals of society determine its laws? Which of these is the best course of action? Also which is the course we as society are currently on?

  52. Brenda Trickler

    History of Backlash – 1920s (flappers/prohibition, scopes/religious zealots), 1960s (counterculture/silent majority)

    I like this one. The pendulum trope in social and economic history recurs a lot. I saw an interview with Robert Reich (on his new book Aftershock), and he mentions the concentration of income to the top in those terms, citing circa 1880 to 1929 and the New Deal through the mid 1970s as examples of the extreme swings of the pendulum, with 1928 and 2007 as comparable statistically speaking.

    i wonder if we are doomed to repeat this cycle of extremes in our history, and if we are unique in this regard (Weimar Germany and Naziism suggests we’re not).

  53. Brenda Trickler

    It’s packed with unintended consequences, which, come to think of it, would make a great title for a BackStory spin-off…

    I suppose that’s why I worried about it being too nebulous when I suggested it.

  54. Ty Morgan

    With an election year coming up, what about the politics of children’s literature? This doesn’t necessarily have to encompass just books like “My Mommy is a Democrat”, but the way that juvenile literature addresses social inequalities. Childhood is a rather modern concept, but propaganda and indoctrination attempts have always begun at an early age. I would point to the political undertones of Dr Seuss as a modern example with the Butter Battle Book or Horton Hears a Who (please discuss the controversy surrounding the fact that the story is NOT about abortion). I would also like to point out Babar and ask why he was selected to be the leader of the elephants (because he wore clothes and lived with The Old Lady is still my best theory and his top general got his post because he wore a monicle). Older examples could be primer books teaching virtues and when did juvenile fiction really come into its own. The revelance to today could be the increasing amount of screen time that children are exposed to and candidates reaching out to kids more.