BackStory

The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

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“To My Old Master”

  In September of 1848, Frederick Douglass wrote to his former slave master, Thomas Auld. The open letter, which was also published in Douglass’s newspaper “The North Star,” talked about his life since his escape and inquired about the welfare of his sisters and grandmother. Douglass thought the women were still in Auld’s possession and […]

BackStory and #OscarsSoWhite

  Recently, BackStory co-host Brian Balogh moderated a panel of Hollywood insiders and a fellow academic in a Google hangout discussing inclusion in the film industry. Rather than focus solely on racial issues, the group sought to shed light on issues impacting multiple minority communities in cinema – from the early years through today – […]

The Revenant and the Real-Life Families of the North American West

In the Oscar-nominated film, The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Hugh Glass, an American fur trader. In the movie, we see flashbacks of an attack on a Native American settlement. Glass’s Pawnee wife and family, inhabitants of the Great Plains, die in the onslaught, leaving Glass the sole caretaker of their son, Hawk. Fast-forward to 1823 […]

Consumer In Chief

    Americans have such a unique lifestyle, we’ve given it a name: The American Way. The concept is deeply embedded in our collective identity. We bristle when others attack it and we lament its potential disappearance. Even our military swears to protect the American way of life.  The American lifestyle is frequently criticized by […]

BackStory’s Top 5 Trials of the Century

  In preparation for our episode on “Trial-Watching,” we asked the Guys, BackStory producers, and some of our other favorite historians to choose a trial that defined the century that they study. Here are their top picks for trials that influenced the American public, media, and courts in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. The […]

Murder Was The Case

  A beautiful young woman is seen frequently in the company of a young man who lives in her building. According to her neighbors, the sounds coming from her room also indicate a sexual relationship between the two. She tells her family and friends that they plan to marry. On a December night, the same […]

A Good Fellow

In 1901, on a January afternoon, New York City undertakers buried the body of Murray Hall, a fixture in local politics. One bookseller who knew Hall described him as “distinctively masculine,” if somewhat effeminate. Others remembered Hall as a man who liked cigars, poker, and good-looking women. But Hall was buried in women’s clothing. Born […]

Lottery Fever

  The largest jackpot in PowerBall history got a lot larger when no one selected the winning numbers again on Saturday night, and the nation’s lottery fever continues. The jackpot now stands at an estimated $1.3B, and as Americans gear up for the next round on Wednesday, it’s hard not to wonder how this all […]

Holy Ghosts

  In October of 1842, a Shaker woman named Ruth Green was visited by the spirit of Mariah Wantay, a deceased Native American. Wantay spoke through Green at a church meeting in the Shaker community of Watervliet, New York. She was 175 years old, she said. She had been “killed by the white man” at […]