BackStory

The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

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Hail, Columbia!

What does the United States really look like? You can describe the physical landscape, the rivers, the mountains, the Grand Canyon. You can talk about its citizens, both famous and ordinary. But if you had to choose one person who embodied the whole nation…well, you might pick this guy: Uncle Sam has been used as an allegorical […]

A new home – but only if you work for it

By Andrew Parsons     It seems like the kind of half-baked idea straight off of an internet comment board: let’s round up all the orphan kids in New York City, put them on a train to the midwest and have them work on farms for families out there. But back in the 1850s, orphan […]

Riots and Religion at Mr. Jefferson’s University

College students today might have a reputation for wild parties and late-night carousing. But, as most college professors will tell you, in class, apart from the odd student checking Facebook or Twitter, today’s college students tend to be a fairly well-behaved bunch. Things were a wee bit different during the early years of the University […]

Into the Not-So-Wild

  What is the wilderness, exactly? For most of us, it means land untouched by humans,  allowed to exist in a state of nature. A place “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain… retaining its primeval character and influence,” in the words of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which set aside […]

The report that could have stopped Ferguson

  If you’re a member of the United States Congress, chances are you spend a good chunk of your waking life in meetings. Committee meetings, town hall meetings, meeting with donors, meetings with fellow Senators or Congressmen, special commission meetings. So, perhaps it wasn’t so unusual for Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma to get a […]

Listener Mail: Longtime Listener, First Time Song

We’re always happy to hear from listeners, and a few days ago we received this email from listener Daniel Hornsby giving us some backstory  that we never expected on our own episode : Two nights ago, while lying in bed and listening to your program, I was at once perplexed and pleasantly surprised to hear […]

The Great War’s Forgotten Monuments

Mark Levitch wants you to take a good, hard look around your home town. Is there a small, rusty plaque in an alleyway downtown? A chipped, decaying statue perched in an out-of-the-way square? Chances are, they just might be forgotten relics of World War I. Levitch runs the World War I Memorial Inventory Project. At a time […]

Romance, Passion, and…the War of 1812?

Here’s a little quiz to start off today’s post. Is “Beauty and Booty”: A) Ke$ha’s latest hit pop song B) a British catchphrase during the War of 1812   We’re sorry to say that: A) We tricked you, because B) It’s neither. But if you asked an American that question in 1815, they’d tell you […]

The photograph that changed Earth

When you think of any historical event over the last century and a half, chances are it calls to mind an image. Most likely, that image is a photograph. From the daguerreotypes of Civil War battlefields, to images of the Berlin Wall coming down, we live in an age shaped by photography.  But in the […]

Government for Profit

  It’s an age-old problem: an underpaid government worker tries to get ahead by abusing his job privileges and access to get a little bit of green on the side. Each generation thinks they’ve figured out how to keep government workers honest. For most of American history, this meant making sure that workers were paid to […]