The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


Best of BackStory – Ed Ayers’ Playlist

Ed Ayers smiles next to the words "The Best of BackStory"

An image of BackStory host Ed Ayers with the text “The Best of BackStory” in the background. Photo: Sanjay Suchak

As BackStory moves towards the end of its production, we’ve asked our hosts – both past and present – to select memorable moments from the show that we’re publishing as episodes once per month.

As a founding host, Ed has had hundreds of conversations on a huge variety of topics. But some of his favorite BackStory moments touched on anniversaries and events related to his own field in American history: slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. They are conversations of pain and struggle, change and triumph. 

Here, Ed gives us additional insight about his favorite segments as a BackStory host, including the ones that didn’t make the cut for this week’s show. Click the links to hear the original episodes his selections came from.

  1. Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel from “1865: United States of Uncertainty
    As it turns out, much of my time with BackStory overlapped with a series of events and anniversaries closely related to my own field in American history: slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.  While doing the show as radio and then as a podcast, I was active in public history: helping in the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the war and emancipation in Richmond and around the country, the creation of the American Civil War Museum, the shaping of Fort Monroe’s story of African landing and slavery’s end, the commission about Confederate monuments in Richmond, and so on.  Not surprisingly, the BackStory moments most memorable for me came in conversations about those issues. In April 2015, BackStory staged a powerful live show in Virginia’s State Capital, and the former capital of the Confederacy, on the anniversary of the liberation of the city.
  2. Seeds of Doubt from “Contested Landscape: The Battle Over Confederate Monuments” (repackage)
    In June 2015, I spoke with Waverly Adcock, a long-time reenactor who had bravely written editorials and posts about why he could no longer celebrate the Confederate cause. 
  3. A New Vision from “The Civil War in the 21st Century: A New Museum Marks an Old Conflict
    In May 2019, I spoke with Christy Coleman, the CEO of the American Civil War Museum, in an intimate interview just days before the museum’s opening. 
  4. Where It All Began from “1619: The Arrival of the First Africans in Virginia
    I interviewed Terry Brown, the superintendent of Fort Monroe National Monument, in August 2019. Fort Monroe is where the first Africans landed in British North America in 1619 and where enslaved people made themselves free during the Civil War.  
  5. Whitman, The American Redeemer from “Song of Ourselves? Walt Whitman and the American Imagination
    Also in August of 2019, I interviewed the eminent critic Harold Bloom, 89 years old, who spoke eloquently about Walt Whitman’s devotion to the wounded in Civil War hospitals.  It was a powerful coda.

Listen to “Best of BackStory: The Time Ed Ayers Marched Into Richmond