Pitch a Show! (Winter/Spring ’11)

Published: October 13, 2010

Womens softball game, ca. 1910-1930 (Library of Congress)BackStory invites you to propose a topic for our winter/spring season and let us know why you think it would make for a compelling hour of radio (or half-hour of podcast). Which concerns facing Americans today could use historical unpacking by the History Guys? What do you predict will be on everyone’s minds in 2011? What are the most important questions surrounding your proposed topic?

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, here, here, and here. To find out how we use your input, check out this post. 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 (68)

{Discussion is closed
  1. Tony

    The history of money and banking in the US.

    Also.. the history of homes / homesteads / apartments and suburbs

  2. Janelle

    How about the history of libraries in the U.S.? The American system is markedly different than in other countries. You could begin with Jefferson’s collection, which became the kernel of today’s Library of Congress, and move forward. What better celebration for National Library Week 2011?

  3. David Hogge

    Three Candidates:

    1) History of Transportation – Will our complex inter-state highway system ever appear as laughable as the 18th & 19th century Canal network? Maybe when we all have jet-packs?

    2) History of Food – It may be insightful for those of us today eating fresh oranges in the dead of winter, how innovations in transit, expansion to the west and improvements in agriculture and the scaling-up of farms made that possible.

    3) The Under/Over – Each of the guys could highlight a particular person of event that they found either highly over-rated or highly under-rated by current Historical thought.

  4. Ariel

    Academia and the entire idea of the University as the Ivory Tower is under fierce attack in America today. Just in the past few months there have been numerous articles, including the NY Times, about the futility of becoming an academic, ridcule of the supposed outrageous benefits to tenure, and ideas on how to “reform” higher education to make it less about intellectualism and more about career training.

    However, there has often been an anti-intellectual strain in popular America, even as we developed the best system of higher education in the world. I’d love for the Guys to explore how academics, scholars, and intellectuals were treated throughout the various eras of American history… how perceptions have changed, what caused those changes, and whether or not the pressure being put on Academia today is actually new or not.

    Love, Love, Love the Show!

  5. Neal

    What about the history of unemployment? Particularly prolonged periods of high unemployment for several years, like the one we’re currently experiencing. I’m thinking things like the Depression, the Panic of 1873, and other long financial crises that sent lots of people out of work for extended periods of time.

    I’d like to know what caused and ended these periods (or the various theories on that point), how individuals responded, how the culture changed to cope with all of these new unemployed people (e.g., art, literature, film, music, etc…), and where we see reflections of those periods today (whether in law, policy, culture, etc…).

    I got this idea while listening to NPR’s Planet Money podcast so maybe those folks (or their sources) would be good interview subjects?

  6. Steve

    The History of Spring Cleaning in America, why we are compelled to create a fresh start after the Winter and how has it changed throughout our history or has it.

  7. Laura

    I am so happy to have found this show/ poscasts of the show.  I am from New Orleans, but living in Dakar,Senegal this year.  As a public school educator for 14 years I thought the podcast on public education was fascinating– it was the topic of my masters thesis and I enjoyed your show a great deal, especially as I find my two children in such a different education system from ours ( they go to a francophone Senegalese school).  

    Although you touched on race and those issues as it related to access to education, what about disability. I thought a larger programs about Americans changing understanding of what it means to be disabled might be interesting.  My son has Autism ( Aspergers) and I am very sure that he is the first child like this that his school in Dakar was asked to educate.  The school seems plesantly surprised that differently abled kids bring something to the table that is enriching for all. I know in the U.S. we can’t pat ourselves on the back too much as we are not so many years from the model I see every day in Dakar where the handicapped (physical as well as mental, etc. ) are expected to simply beg on the street.

    Thank you your your time and consideration of this topic.   

  8. Jim

    With the big anniversary looming just over the horizon, what about a show on the use and mis-use of our Civil War memories? Could address any of the many topics that have percolated (or will once again percolate) up over the past century and a half, including:

    — how battlefield, headquarters, camp and other sites can/should/shouldn’t be marked, preserved or re-developed;
    — official commemorations by gov’t at any level, including Confed. history in VA and elsewhere, statues and monuments, flags, etc.;
    — images of “the Old South” that persist in American memory and popular culture, which continue to trickle fuel onto the smoldering embers of racism in this country;
    — modern-day issues related to the power of the Federal gov’t to make/dictate policy for/to the states, or the states doing the same thing to regions or communities . . . “ObamaCare” . . . gay marriage . . . financial bailouts . . . use of Northern Va. tax dollars disproportionately elsewhere in Va.

    Many, many more, or course, but I haven’t had my coffee yet :-)

  9. Heather T

    I recently found this show on iTunes — it’s great! I’m looking forward to listening through the archives.

    This may be late for this year, but with all the New Year’s Resolutions in the air, how about the history of self-improvement? Who were the self-help gurus of the 18th and 19th centuries?

    Another suggestion — the history of health regimens, from “taking the waters” to today’s resort spas.

    Happy New Year! I resolve to listen to more BackStory.

  10. Sarah

    Love the show! Now that Congress has finally repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I’d like to hear a show about the history of different groups being allowed and/or required to serve in the U.S. military. You could talk about racial integration and women in the military as well as the draft and the tradition of allowing people to hire substitutes in order to avoid the draft. It seems to me that one reason why “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been so controversial is that military service is a really powerful symbol of citizenship, and I think there’s a lot to say about the history of that symbolism.

    In particular, I’d like to hear more about black soldiers during the Civil War. In Virginia, there has been a lot of talk about this issue recently because of the controversy over the error-filled school textbooks that say that large numbers of slaves served as soldiers in the Confederate army.

  11. Bruce Guttman

    We’ve talked about unemployment. How about the rise of the large company in America?

    Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho – It’s off to work we go!

    In the 18th century Adam Smith was conceptualizing how capitalism worked and how companies interacted in a market.

    By the middle of the 19th century some rather large manufacturing companies had developed, especially as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

    These large companies started to have major effects on the social life in America toward the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. At this time we begin to see the development of the Labor Union as a voice for the workers against the abusive tactics of Management.

    The first half of the 20th Century was the rise of Labor Unions and the generation of a Middle Class. Probably the highest standard of living for Americans occurs in the middle of the 20th Century. Later we move on to the globalization of the economy and today’s working environment.

    I think there’s a lot of meat (maybe too much!) for all three of you to dig into.

  12. Meredith

    I second ryer paddle’s recommendation of the history of self-improvement/health regimens. Natural health is all the rage now and I was just watching the new movie on Darwin that focused a lot on water therapy. In the 19th century novel, people were always going to spas to recover. What was going on there?

  13. Mark

    How about searching for a labor force. The ways of getting here: slavery, redemptioners, indentured servants, importation, crossing borders. Where they stayed: villes, company towns, ghettos. Who they are: Scots-Irish, Germans, French Canadians, Chinese, East Europeans, Central and South Americans.

  14. Tony (BackStory Producer)

    @Jim: We are currently neck-deep in production of a special two-part Civil War series, scheduled for debut in March. The subject of collective memory will play a role in both of them. Thanks very much for your specific suggestions…
    @Ryerie: From what I’ve gathered from the History Guys in backstage discussions, the history of the mail may be even more fascinating than you can even imagine. Look for a show along these lines later this year…
    @ Heather T./Meredith: We touched on this in our our “American Idle” show a couple of years ago, though I agree there’s a lot more to explore. We’ve been tossing around the idea of a show that would look at cons and confidence men, which would be another way of getting to the subject of “taking the cure”…
    @Sarah: Interesting idea. Such a show could also provide a nice opportunity to look at the Native American contribution to the U.S. Armed Forces. We’ll definitely take this under consideration…
    @Bruce: You have a lot of good company among our listeners in your desire to hear a BackStory episode on the history of the corporation. And you should all know that our guys are chomping at the bit to do it! Look for one, later this year…
    @Mark: I assume you’re suggesting this as a corollary to our “Looking for Work” show? If so, I like it!

    Thank you for all of your wonderful suggestions. Keep ‘em coming!

  15. Chris

    The History of Credit, with a focus on government credit (GI Bill, Fanny and Fredie ). Have an eye towards how credit went from being something for the rich to everybody.

    The History of religion in the United States. From our founding to now. The growth from a Christian only state to the America of today, with a scores of religions.

  16. Cory

    Oh, I definitely agree about the histories of libraries, food, and finding a work force! Those are all such excellent ideas! And the mail carriage system, too! I really am looking forward to that episode.

    What about city construction? Maybe looking at cities that were planned versus those that evolved organically?

    A history of ghost towns might be neat. Maybe looking at places that have seen population booms and busts. I know that Centralia, PA would be a good touch-point for that.

    And, I’m biased here, but I’d love to hear a really good show about the history of occult practices in America, too!

    Great show! Thanks so much for all you do!

  17. Larry Hohm

    The history of religious belief in heaven and hell. When did the idea of heaven and hell originate? Who first formulated it? Which religions include it? What variations are found across various religions?

    A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life suggests that nearly 60% of Americans believe in heaven and hell ( http://pewforum.org/Religion-News/Belief-in-hell-dips-but-some-say-theyve-already-been-there.aspx.) I would love to hear a discussion of the historical roots of this religious doctrine.

  18. Jane

    I just began my two-year service in the US Peace Corps, in Azerbaijan. I love your show, because it helps me feel closer to home (even when your topics have the potential to be depressing), and somehow, I always end up feeling rather patriotic.

    The Peace Crops is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011, and I would love a show about US foreign aid. How have our views changed? What would the founders think about the Peace Corps? What would they think about NAFTA? How have proportions of the budget spent on foreign aid changed?

    Thank you for all of the shows you’ve done!

  19. Mike

    I would like to hear a show discussing what role manufacturing and exporting have on the wealth and standard of living of the American people. I believe I have read that America was exporting manufactured goods and staple crops to Europe from colonial times. Obviously, respect for private property, organization of production, capital from investors, and technological innovation all contributed to growing the US manufacturing capacity throughout our history. Government policies have also played differing roles at different times. The system set up by Alexander Hamilton promoted economic growth through moderate tariffs and by acting responsibly with US debt. How has this changed over the years during the various promotions of strong or weak currency? What changed in the twentieth century that protectionism became a bad word and that free trade was thought to lead to prosperity through cheap foreign labor and lower prices? Why haven’t our trade deficits of the last several decades and wage stagnation caused us to question the reigning free trade philosophy? Are there any other times in American history when trade imbalances were significant policy concerns? Any other cases when wages did not keep pace with inflation? At what times in history was the growth of a stable middle class conscious economic policy? All I can think of are twentieth century examples like the GI bill and income tax clauses. What other time periods have had widening gaps between the rich and poor, the Gilded Age? What causes can you see behind the trends?
    Also (as if this isn’t enough), I have heard from economists that there is a relationship between a people’s productivity and their standard of living. I have also read that at the time of the American Revolution, the colonists may have had the highest standard of living in the world. I think Americans of all eras have prided themselves on their ability to produce and their ability to enjoy the fruits of their labors. I hear a nineteen-thirties sound in people’s concerns today: a “will be ever get to be productive again?”. I think that makes this a timely conversation to have about the causes of productivity and wealth.
    I hope you are able to tie these perennial economic issues together into a coherent show. Good luck!

  20. Jonathan Bergman

    Hello American History Guys, et al.,
    Given my specialization as a Historian of American Disaster and the Relief Process perhaps you could be persuaded to explore our catastrophic past … what disasters befell early American settlers? how did they respond? what happened when the American nation was perfected? early examples of relief … early examples of disaster …. disaster and the rise of the American welfare state — did you know that passage of the New Deal was largely a product of the Fed’s 2 century long lerxst into the field of disaster relief? … a discussion of my baby — the Hurricane of ’38 and how it contained all the elements of modern relief that we perhaps take for granted today …. the rise of civiian defense and omnibus fed relief … FEMA … and much more … I’m sure this would be a great topic to explore with your listeners. And given the recent spate of disasters across the globe, and relief responses, the subject is quite timely. The subject could also be tied in with current debates over industrialization, climate change, the science, the politics, etc. I would also be amenable to contributing in some capacity.
    Love the show!
    The Doctor of Disaster

  21. cm6ay

    @ Chris — Two past shows might interest you: Debt in America (http://tinyurl.com/5ra5lq2) and A History of Financial Crisis (http://tinyurl.com/62jrayv). This year, you can look forward to a history of how religion and science have interwoven through the course of American history. (http://tinyurl.com/4htsfcn)

    @ Cory — A history of The City would be sweet. It’s hard to talk about much in American history without addressing urbanization, so there’s a lot on this subject sprinkled throughout our entire lineup. For example: for a taste of ghost towns/population shifts, check out the end of our new Census show (http://tinyurl.com/4ae9da4). And for the occult, you’re in luck! Last October we did a history of the supernatural (http://tinyurl.com/6kcqvr6).

    @ Larry — See my comment to Chris above!

    @ Jane — So glad you found us, & thanks for your service!

    @ Mike — A history of American trade & manufacturing could be really illuminating…another great suggestion for our list.

    @ Jonathan — I LOVE this idea! (But shudder to think what the news peg might be…)

    –Catherine, Assistant Producer

  22. Sherman Holland

    I would like to here dicussion about how labor unions and other social movements were born during the late 19th and early 20th century had on the living and working standards that we American so appreciate today. Most people don’t realize the impact that these institutions had the foundation our modern life style and safety nets such as water treatment policies, OSHA, Social Security and building codes.

  23. Diane Bumpass

    History of volunteerism and non-profit organizations. How have our organizations changed and the way we see them changed?

  24. Moira Saltzman

    How about the history of psychology in the States, beginning with the impact of Freud- and his nephew who reconfigured his teachings to invent the field of PR in the US- and ending with the saturation of behavioral drugs in the US today?

  25. Scott

    What did people eat back then? How/what did they make it through the winter? How has the american diet changed over the last 400 years both in the concept of an an ideal diet and in practice? When settlers came on the ships, what did they bring to grow and how did that work out in the new land? Is there sufficient information to quantitatively ascertain how diets then are related to recommended diets today and can one see broad changes in health and longevity as a consequence? What were the theories of ideal diets over the centuries? What role did america play in transformational food technologies such as canning and other preservations?

    Might be a multi-part story…

    A related topic— tobacco through the ages:
    the founding fathers as drug kingpins
    how soil depletion by tobacco drove west-ward expansion
    How did the introduction of tobacco change europe?

  26. angus

    love the show. i did just happen to stumble across this suggestion episode page and i’ve got 2 off the top of my head, undoubtedly i’ll have some more when i think on it longer but for now….
    1- a fun summer episode- baseball (or professional sports in general)
    2- a more serious note- the penal system in america

    thanks for taking suggestions and keep up the good work/shows

  27. Tony (BackStory Producer)

    [quote comment="17235"]love the show. i did just happen to stumble across this suggestion episode page and i’ve got 2 off the top of my head, undoubtedly i’ll have some more when i think on it longer but for now….
    1- a fun summer episode- baseball (or professional sports in general)
    2- a more serious note- the penal system in america

    thanks for taking suggestions and keep up the good work/shows[/quote]

    Thanks for your note, Angus. Check out these two old shows of ours, and then let us know what you still want to hear about!
    http://backstoryradio.org/serving-time-a-history-of-punishment/
    http://backstoryradio.org/american-idle-a-history-of-leisure-2/

  28. David

    What were they reading in 1861/2/3/4/5? Top books, magazine authors, lecture topics. We all know about ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ but there must be more than that!

  29. Joseph Ford

    I have two possible ideas.

    1. The banking system but more specific “The Federal Reserve”. I saw that twice in the past presidents killed it and still it comes back. I also found out that although it is called the “Federal” Reserve we the people do not have any stake in it. Supposedly the government does not print our money but the reserve does. Since we the people do not have a stake in the Federal Reserve why do we trust in the money as a valid currency? I remember from my history classes that in the 19th century having one currency we could all believe in was important and that the government who leads us printed it! What happened to this system and how does it really work today?

    2. I read a book by Orson Scott Card called “Empire” and in it he suggests a way in which our country could fall into another civil war. In it the reasons for the war are the Liberal Left and the Conservative Right. With the climate of the country today do you guys see any similarities or differences to the civil war period where this topic is concerned? If we did have a civil war over left and right can you see any boundaries? For example before north and south today from county to county let alone state to state being able to draw a clear distinction is very difficult.

    Thanks,

    Joe

  30. Paula Fallon

    I agree with an earlier post suggesting that you look at education and disability. I think that disability in general would be a very compelling hour, especially in light of returning veterans with TBI and the dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism. Come to think of it…the history of misguided over-placement of minorities and ESL speakers into special education classes, budget cuts to services for children adults with disabilities and the history of forced sterilization are also interesting considerations too. What about the ADA? FDR? PL94-142? The Kennedy/Shriver family work in this area? Maybe you had better do The History of Disability and The History of Special Education in a two part series. I am a veteran special education teacher in the Albemarle County Schools and I would be glad to continue elaborating on why you should address this topic.

  31. Paula Fallon

    Ok, I thought it about and I wanted to give one more interesting reference source for the “history of disability” as a topic. This BBC website has their own run-down of disability topics and history…but you guys can do the New World.

    ..Ouch! is a website from the BBC that reflects the lives and experiences of disabled people. It has articles, blogs, a very busy messageboard and an award-winning downloadable radio show – The Ouch Podcast). It’s aimed at those with a stakehold in disability: family, friends, professionals and, rather importantly, disabled people themselves – without whom all this would be a bit meaningless.

    By the way, the original concern about disability rights and services were driven by returning vets…you guys love to talk about wars.

  32. Sam Ulmschneider

    Hello! As a longtime listener to Backstory, I’ve found your production style and show engaging and fun to listen to, and as a teacher, I’ve found it very useful indeed.

    I’d like to hear a good Backstory looking at…

    1) A History of Censorship In America (a perennial issue in the news)
    2) A History of Political Scandal, its Use and Abuse
    3) A History of Song and Music and its Acceptability
    4) A History of Alcohol in America
    5) A History of Imperial Ambitions (America’s eternal back and forth from expansionism to isolationism, and then back again)

    These would all give you guys plenty of opportunity to range across your centuries, crack some jokes, interview some interesting experts, and address, as is your mission, “The historical roots of contemporary questions”.

    Thanks for all you’ve done!

  33. Jim

    As a member of the US Army, there is always much debate on why we are sent to fight/peacekeep/etc. One thing that fascinates me is our perceptions of who we were and how we immediately translate our beliefs to other, very different societies. That is to say, it took us 200 years to get ‘democracy’ to where it is in America; yet we insist on instant (relativity speaking) transformations of foreign societies to match our own, and are shocked when they don’t measure up in only a decade (or less). Maybe focus the show on our views of our own ‘revolutions’, such as 1776, the civil war, civil rights movement, etc. A show titled perhaps… Through the looking glass: Our perceptions and expectations of Us and Them.

    Love the show
    Jim

  34. Dywana Saunders

    I see that US disasters and disaster relief has been brought up….but I would enjoy hearing about weather in the country, how it was reported, how it was documented, and the history of tornados, hurricanes, and blizzards in our country’s history. With so many weather calamities happening recently, it makes me wonder, are they worse now or more frequently than in our past and how did our ancestors deal with them?

    My 13 year old twins think you all rock! They are even more excited by history after catching your shows.

  35. Blake Caravati

    Hey History Guys. It might be too controversial at this time but how about a show on the History of Franco-American relations. Why do some Americans dislike the French so much that anything French has almost become an expletive? Since the French were in large part responsible for our creation and had very deep ties to our nascent revolution ( particularly in Virginia ), it is odd that the American view of France has fallen so far. Is it because of French Exceptionalism ? Thank You, Blake Caravati

  36. Brenda Trickler

    [quote comment="8790"]… there has often been an anti-intellectual strain in popular America, even as we developed the best system of higher education in the world. I’d love for the Guys to explore how academics, scholars, and intellectuals were treated throughout the various eras of American history… how perceptions have changed, what caused those changes, and whether or not the pressure being put on Academia today is actually new or not.

    Love, Love, Love the Show![/quote]

    I second that motion, with reference to Susan Jacoby’s work on the subject; interview her by all means.

    I’d also like to reiterate an old suggestion: unintended consequences. It sounds like the sort of thing you’re after, and I’m sure there are examples in all three periods.

    I too am an adoring fan of your show.

  37. Brenda Trickler

    BTW, if you go with the antiintellectualism-in-America topic, you should also give a passing glance to pseudointellectuals: both people who show intellectual pretentions without a sound scholarly basis, and those who want the prestige without the bothersome intellectual rigor or debate or freethought (Liberty University, Regents University, et.al.). I grant you, it’s easy to conflate the two, and they are not mutually exclusive subsets. I know this sort of thing is in our recent history (LU and RU were founded comparatively recently), but I don’t know how far back it goes.

  38. Shanda Davidson

    I looked through the archives – twice – and didn’t see a show on the history of religion in America. I think it would be interesting to look at how the dynamic has changed over the years, particularly because of the various groups that identify themselves as Christian yet are not tolerant of other Christian groups (i.e., Protestants and Mormons). Who’s right? Who’s wrong? And where do the other groups fit in now that America is evolving past its “Catholic/Protestant/Jew” trichotomy? (I admit to a mild obsession with Mormon history so anytime there is a story involving them I am all ears!)

  39. Arlynda Boyer

    I want to suggest something that grows out of your anecdote about Gary Gallagher speaking to the Democratic caucus about the Civil War.

    In my experience, historians are not only smart, but _wise_, an all too rare quality anymore. You guys see the larger patterns and the pressures that push our behavior into the patterns that then become history.

    So what are the patterns today? Where are we going? Writer Bill Bishop warns about “the big sort,” that we are cloistering ourselves into like-minded groups and that as a result our opinions harden and we never learn nuances. Are we two Americas? Is the divide, like some have said, as bad as the run-up to the Civil War?

    Financially, are we on an arc toward long-term struggle? Did the economy expand artificially because of the size of the Baby Boom, and is the shrinkage now both natural and irreversible?

    In some ways, I realize that this doesn’t fit your “good story, bad story” examples. But all three of you are more than qualified to weigh in on where we’re going. Would a historian run the country differently than the law and business people who mostly run it now? If so, then different how? That’s a discussion between you three that I sooo want to be a fly on the wall for!

  40. Andy Utech

    A history of agriculture in America would probably be a lot more interesting than immediately apparent. This might be folded into earlier suggestions about food and eating in American history.

    A history of waterways would probably be too much to handle, but perhaps there would be some interest in taking on a couple of important ones – The Great Lakes, the Mississippi, Chesapeake Bay… How these places have been used and controlled in US history.

  41. tewntieth-century guy

    Arlynda,
    Thanks for your kind words about historians. I suspect that we average out about the same as other professions and occupations when it comes to wisdom. But we do have a certain kind of perspective, so I will apply mine to your good questions. I teach a course called “Digitizing America, 1980 – the Present — yes, I am lobbying hard for that 21st century guy slot. I spend quite a bit of time talking about and worrying about “cloistering,” or “echo chambers.” On balance, I think that most Ameircans have far more contact with people who are different than themselsves, and ideas different than the ones they subscribe to than in the past. YES, the ability to slice and dice through social media, and techniques like the RSS mean that we CAN seek out people like ourselves. But in general, I see that as an understandable reaction to the remarkably wide range of data, photos, commentary and “people” available at the touch of a finger.

    Financially, I believe that our sense of decline — excepting the very real and very deep recession that we are currently in — has more to do with the end of a truly exceptional economic moment, that started during WW II, when the US came out of a deep depression due to war time spending at the very time that our real and prospective economic competitors were quite literally, under attack. With the decline of that twenty year exceptional moment — roughly 1945 – 1965 — America has experienced the normalization of its place in the world. Understandably, many americans have responded to this through hand wringing and a renewed belief that the era of American exceptionalism is over. Thanks for writing to us and hope that this sheds some light on your quetsions. Brian, twentieth-century guy

    [quote comment="17853"]
    …In my experience, historians are not only smart, but _wise_, an all too rare quality anymore. You guys see the larger patterns and the pressures that push our behavior into the patterns that then become history.

    So what are the patterns today? Where are we going? Writer Bill Bishop warns about “the big sort,” that we are cloistering ourselves into like-minded groups and that as a result our opinions harden and we never learn nuances. Are we two Americas? Is the divide, like some have said, as bad as the run-up to the Civil War?

    Financially, are we on an arc toward long-term struggle? Did the economy expand artificially because of the size of the Baby Boom, and is the shrinkage now both natural and irreversible?
    [/quote]

  42. Janice D'Sa

    I would love to understand the history of the medical system in the US and how it reached the state it is in now.

  43. Jaime B

    How about a series on the Rubber Barons? Thy are always getting a bad rap, but I believe on balance they did a good thing for America and Latin America.

  44. Carianne

    Maybe this topic could be a zinger: “History of Political Satire”

    I was just looking at this article about Vaughn Meader, who was once known for his impression of JFK: http://deadspin.com/5829643/dead-comedian-of-the-week-vaughn-meader-assassins-victim

    And I came across this sentence: “During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt banned impersonations of the president over the radio for fear of the chaos that might ensue if faux-FDRs ran amok over the airwaves.” I thought that was really interesting!

    In this age, when someone like Tina Fey can seriously injure the reputation of someone like Sarah Palin, listeners might be interested to know how American politics’ relationship with comedy began and has changed since.

  45. Judy

    I would love to hear a show that explores the concept of youth or adolescence in America. What have been the expectations of parents and society in regards to the behavior of teenagers or young adults? How has that changed over time? The riots in England sparked discussions and outrage over the behavior of the young people involved in those upheavals.Most of the comments I have heard about the lack of parental discipline not only ignore many social factors involved in the riots, but carry an echo of the comments I heard about my peers growing up during the turbulent 1960′s and 70′s. It seems to be a very human trait to assume that “back in my day” (whenever that was) young people were better behaved and parents were better at disciplining them. Maybe a show devoted to this topic would remind people that “the generation gap” is nothing new.

  46. TammyB

    I would like you to trace the evolution of the concept/term “Liberal” in America to it’s modern meaning…which, judging from the many books listed at Amazon with the word in their title, seems to be “evil doers responsible for everything that is wrong in the world today.”

    Thanks!

  47. Martha Loomis

    what about an on-going story about the working poor? (such as that done by Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. 4 volumes. Ed. John Rosenberg. New. York: Dover Publications, 1968.) a pre-cursor to Studs Terkel?

    What do the working poor do for a living? how much are they paid? how / where do they live? what do they pay for: housing, clothing, food, transport, and the like? It’s a fascinating story that should be told. From the aspect of blacks, whites, etc.

    also: i was interested in your story of the black experience coming north. as a white, i had interesting experiences with discrimination ca. early 1960s in DC.

  48. Brittany

    The History of Government Employment

    The more I think about this topic, the more I think it might be a bit hefty. Still, I think it could be facinating. The government employs and has employed people for just about everything–from politicians to electricians.

    I’m thinking a good jumping point is how the government has been using jobs bills and stimulus plans and new deals to get Americans to work in crises.

    My particular facination is with the New Deal’s Federal Writers’ Project. Unlike most stimulus plans, this project put people to work writing (pencil pushers!) and focused on cultural observation and preservation. Has anything like that been done before or since? I realize there are cultural institutions that are government run or funded, but the FWP was different.

    Infrustructure is another one–and maybe the one. From the canals to the interstate and green energy, the government has been in the business of building infrustructure.

    I’m sure there are myriad other angles one can take with this, so if you choose it, have fun!

  49. Jeff Majer

    Water!!! and how it has shaped America would make a great show.
    It obviously took water to get the colonist here, they needed to live near water to survive, and at some point we were able to move away from fresh water sources.

    Many battles, Civil War, 1812, Revolutionary and civil were and are fought near and over water.

    It has also been, and is still an important power source.

    http://historyreplaystoday.blogspot.com/

    “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” Attributed to Mark Twain

  50. Tami

    I absolutely love this podcast and am excited for the weekly shows starting in May. One topic that would interest me: The history of miscegenation in the U.S. You mentioned the Governor of Virginia giving benefits to Caucasions that inter-married with Native Americans and it made me think of all of the race-mixing that has happened in the U.S. despite slavery, anti-miscegenation laws, and social taboos. I am more noticeably mixed race, African-American/Caucasian, but many of my caucasion friends give a long list of possible races that make up their family tree. The Loving case in Virginia would also be an interesting subject to learn about. Keep up the GREAT work and be assured that if I ever win the lottery, “BackStory” will be funded for as long as the American History Guys are alive!

  51. Caryn Feeney

    I love your show, and there’s a subject that I’ve been curious about for quite some time. How did the political parties come about? How did they start, and how did they evolve into the form they have now? It seems like both the Republicans and Democrats have had their liberal and conservative eras, what made them change? What happened to the Whigs, and how do they fit on the continuum?

    Thank you for your fascinating shows.

  52. Peter Harley

    History of the concept of judicial review and the proper role of the Supreme Court in interpreting the Constitution and the constitutionality of statutes. Hamilton (Federalist 78), Madison (and Jefferson); Marbury vs. Madison; Lincoln’s views; Progressive Era court; Roosevelt court; civil rights legislation of the 50′s-60′s; present day (Citizens United, HealthCare)

  53. Chuck I.

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

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

    1. A natural assumption is that the amendments serve as a tool for reversing unpopular opinions from the Supreme Court. Yet only a scant few amendments were actually direct responses to Supreme Court holdings. The most notable instance would be the Eleventh Amendment, which was the first “new” amendment.
    2. Out of the sixteen amendments added after the Bill of Rights, seven of them pertain to the electoral process (XII, XV, XVII, XIX, XXII, XXIII, XXIV & XXVI). Of all the fundamental rights held sacred in our country, perhaps history teaches us that the right to vote requires the most protection?
    3. With two notable exceptions, the rights protected under the Constitution only pertain to government actions. The two instances in which the Constitution regulates private behavior are the Thirteenth (slavery) and Eighteenth (prohibition) Amendments.
    4. Most people would argue the Fourteenth Amendment is hands-down the most influential (and perhaps radical) change to the Constitution. I am surprised at how many people are still surprised to learn that, prior to the 14th Amendment, the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government. It would have been perfectly constitutional, for example, for a state to pass a law infringing upon freedom of speech.
    5. The Twenty-Seventh Amendment, the most recent addition, is perhaps the best final footnote you could ask for. Despite being ratified in 1992, it was proposed to the States along with the original ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. It continued to linger for 200 years until it finally received enough ratifying votes 201 years later.
    6. The topic might also address some of the notable “rejected amendments” that have popped up throughout our history, since they too offer a glimpse into various social, economic and political trends throughout American history (such as the Child Labor Amendment, abortion amendments, Equal Rights Amendment, abolishing the Electoral College, ect.)

  54. Chuck I.

    [quote comment="20169"]
    2. Out of the sixteen amendments added after the Bill of Rights, seven of them pertain to the electoral process (XII, XV, XVII, XIX, XXII, XXIII, XXIV & XXVI). Of all the fundamental rights held sacred in our country, perhaps history teaches us that the right to vote requires the most protection?
    [/quote]

    I obviously was not a math major. Seventeen amendments have been added since the Bill of Rights, and eight of them involve the electoral process.

  55. Peg

    In 2010, David Hogge suggested an historical look at Academia and higher education. I would love to see that topic expanded even further. I know we have long (always?) had free public education in this country, but how did our public education system evolve into the “nanny-state” that currently exists? Even with free education largely available, there was a time when not everyone went to school for all sorts of reasons (child labor on farms, proximity to schools, etc.) Now it seems that we expect our schools to be all things to all people, providing discipline, food, training for industry and a myriad of other perhaps laudable, but increasingly inobtainable goals. How did this come about? We now expect much more of teachers than seems to be humanly possible and there now seems to be a movement afoot to oust anyone who does not meet these expectations. I’ve been reading articles and listening to various experts wringing their hands over how to get more kids to graduate. An important goal, no doubt, but when and why did this become so important? And what about the evolution and growth of school administration? How did we go from the one-room school house to metal detectors, standardized tests and zero-tolerance policies?

  56. Jared F

    Hi guys, can’t tell you how excited I am that BackStory is finally a weekly show!

    I’d be very interested in an episode on American intervention in other countries around the world, both overt and covert. Did the 18th- and early 19th-century US government try to effect “regime change” elsewhere? Was there an early analogue to the CIA? And what have been the enduring fruits of our adventures trying to keep the world safe for democracy in Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa and (perhaps especially) the Middle East?

  57. Jennifer

    The evolution of the political parties. Republicans started out with a liberal agenda – how did they get to be so conservative? How did the democrats become the liberal party? What happened to the Whigs? Was there ever a time when conservative republicans and liberal republicans coexisted, and likewise, conservative democrats and liberal democrats?

    The role of organized recreation in American history. The history of bowling greens, organized sports, girl scouts/boy scouts, folk/square dance, etc. And how this has changed. It seems like organized recreation had it’s heyday around the bicentennial. Why was that? I also have heard that George Washington’s favorite dance was the “Virginia Reel”, a contra dance so organized recreation has a long history. I have a excellent source for the folk/square dance history. The Lloyd Shaw Foundation, “seeks to preserve and foster square dancing, contra dancing, round dances, mixers and quadrilles, folk dances of the American people.”

  58. Tim

    I love the podcast, but can we bring it West a bit? The Oregon Trail, Lewis & Clark, Gold Rush, Indian Wars, etc.?

    Just looking for some love for those of us west of the Mississippi. :)

  59. rick kennerly

    I really enjoy the show. Thanks. Two tough ones:

    1. I’ve been thinking about how to research the proposition that it was the passing of social security, the putting of a floor certain, under American working people and families in their dotage that fueled the consumer revolution that drives the American economy. I’m 60 yoa and I can remember my grandmothers and even my older aunts and uncles who ratholed money, every penny they could save, against the uncertainties of old age.

    I would argue, without much evidence, that SSI was actually a springboard for the economy: providing for a meager old age but also allowing Americans to risk more capital on ventures that might fail. Any ideas?

    2. I’m an old white guy from Texas, but I’ve become intrigued with the history of welfare in America and the “dissolution” of the black family. I hear all the time from certain outlets about about how continued modern welfare has contributed to single parenthood and broken families in the black community. But I remember that there is more to the story.

    I remember as a boy growing up that one of the restrictions white legislators (were there any other kind in the 60′s?) passed with the welfare act was the caveat that men of working age could not live in the house where assistance was provided.

    My recollection is that to a great extent, we forced black families to choose between maintaining a family or starving. Am I wrong? Are there deeper issues tied to slavery and broken families that echo even today?

    BTW, I do know that there are and have always been more white people on assistance than black, but I wanted to focus on the black family because that’s always where the complaints are.

  60. Adam

    How about a show about the History of Working?

    What did an honest day’s work look like through the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries?

    How many hours were people expected to work? Could you expect to have holidays off? When did the 40 hour work week become standard? Was there ever a true 9 to 5 workday?

  61. Dywana Saunders

    My dad was a Mason all his adult life and my mom has been a member of the Eastern Star for more than 60 years. My husband pledged Kappa Alpha Order as a freshman at UR. I am very much interested in the history of fraternal organizations in our country and how they have shaped the communities and have evolved through the years.

    Hope I didn’t just suggest something you have already covered in depth.