The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


Smoke gets in your eyes

By Andrew Parsons Taboos are tough to overturn in American society. It can take generations, and sometimes court decisions, for Americans to accept such transformative social change as interracial marriage, or to adjust to others as simple as wearing shorts in public. Or maybe all it takes is a really good ad campaign. That’s what […]

Where’s My Jetpack?

By Andrew Parsons When you think about the future,  what are the first images that pop into your mind? If Sleek, futuristic homes in the sky? Flying cars? Robot maids? You may owe it all to The Jetsons – even if you’ve never seen the show. Despite an initial run of just one season, Americans have been […]

Black History Month 2015 Playlist

In preparation for this year’s Black History Month, we’ve put together a selection of BackStory episodes and segments that illuminate the African-American experience in the story of the United States. You can easily browse and download these Black History Month segments on our SoundCloud page, where we’ve put them together as a playlist. Episodes   Legislation Impossible: […]


The business of managing oil prices is a tricky one. One the one hand, producers benefit from having high prices. On the other, prices that are too high discourage consumers from, well, consuming.   By the 1950s, the many American companies that had set up shop in the Middle East had perfected this balancing act by […]

Spirit wells

In the 150 odd years since Americans first discovered how to get oil out of the ground, we have come to rely on the stuff in nearly every aspect of our daily lives. We’re extraordinarily dependent on a steady supply of it, but you only have to look to the recent huge drop in oil […]

Here’s How Oil Workers Lived 100 Years Ago

By Andrew Parsons At the turn of the 20th century, Texas found itself in a gold rush… well, a black gold rush, actually. Just like gold rush towns in the Sierra and the Klondike, Texas oil towns bubbled with an influx of workers – and the vices they attracted. Gambling, saloons, prostitution, and high murder […]

Apocalypse Always

By Andrew Parsons In 2014, New York news blog Gothamist noted that New York City has the distinction of being destroyed more than any other American city in Hollywood movies. Take 2007’s I Am Legend, 2008’s Cloverfield or even 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, which featured a plot about a sunken and glaciated NYC on an earth ravaged by sudden climate change. […]

BackStory Listener Challenge: Sell Us!

  Consider taking part in on a brand new experiment we’re launching. For our upcoming show on the history of advertising, we’re creating ad spots  for BackStory in the style of bygone eras. Perhaps it’s something in the style of a toy commercial from the 1950s? A movie trailer from the ’90s? Or even a campaign song […]

Dreaming of the Year 2000

  Towards the end of the 19th century, Edward Bellamy looked forward just over a hundred years to a very futuristic sounding time indeed: the year 2000. But his Y2K was nothing like the apocalyptic scenarios that were actually in vogue in the final weeks of the 20th century, when many Americans worried that Y2K would […]

What We’re Reading

As we put together each show, we producers read… a lot. Here are a few of the books and articles that helped us put this episode together from our guests, and on background. When Ladies Go A-Thieving: Middle Class Shoplifters in the Victorian Department Store. Elaine Abelson Oxford University Press, 1992 Abelson’s research is set […]