The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


Inventions People Thought Would Change the World for the Better (but didn’t)

  The Candy Bar. In BackStory episode  “Sweet Talk: A History of Sugar,” guest Steve Almond explained that products like the “Chicken Dinner Candy Bar” were sold and advertised as meal replacement bars. “The essence of the idea of the candy bar,” said Almond, “was that it’s quick, and it’s portable. You can eat it […]

The Language of Transgender History and Visibility

From the 1850s to the early 20th century, newspapers wrote sensationalist stories about people who were born female but lived and “passed” as men. When someone’s birth sex was “discovered,” they were often outed by the press. Although their circumstances and motives varied, the people whom newspapers reported on were generally white, and usually were […]

The Mythology and Misrepresentation of the Windigo

If you’re a fan of Stephen King, horror movies, science fiction novels, or the show Supernatural, there is a pretty good chance you’ve heard of the windigo. But do you know where–or more importantly, from whom– this story originated? Hint: It was not in a writers’ room at Warner Bros. The windigo originates from spiritual […]

‘Natural’ or ‘Acquired’ criminality?

  In BackStory’s show “Bridge For Sale,” Geoff Bunn, a professor of Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, explained that by the late 1800s, “European criminologists were trying to discern what made somebody a criminal. They had a very biological view of that,”  Bunn said, “They thought that there were born criminals, and that if you […]

Shouldn’t Have Said That

Throughout the  2016 presidential election, candidates and pundits have pushed boundaries and raised questions regarding speech. “Political gaffes” made during speeches are often pointed to as the beginning of the end for many careers. The idea of political gaffes and political correctness is not new. In BackStory’s “Politically Incorrect,” you can hear about the efforts of […]

Q&A with Yale scholar

Brian Balogh, University of Virginia and Beverly Gage, Yale University FBI interference in U.S. elections is nothing new. Last week, FBI Director James Comey reopened an investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. On Sunday, Comey announced the investigation was complete, and that there was no evidence that warranted […]

A Thing Of Beauty

  Porcelain teacups might not mean much today, but in early America, “porcelain was something as luxurious and expensive and desirable as sterling silver,” said Alexandra Kirtley of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Porcelain looked, felt, and even sounded different from more affordable, heavy earthenware pottery. Beginning around 1500, porcelain art and tableware was produced […]


History is full of unsung heroes. Consider Samuel Prescott, the Revolutionary colonel who actually completed the midnight ride to warn colonists that the British army was marching towards Concord (Paul Revere was captured). Or Claudette Colvin, an African-American teenager arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus nine months before Rosa […]

Baldwin v. Buckley

  On Oct. 26, 1965, James Baldwin and William F. Buckley debated at the Cambridge Union debating society for and against the following motion: “The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro.” Each man was allotted 15 minutes to make his argument. Although both speakers exhibited rhetorical mastery, Baldwin, a writer and […]