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BackStory

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BackStory is a weekly public podcast hosted by U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly and Joanne Freeman. We're based in Charlottesville, Va. at Virginia Humanities.
There’s the history you had to learn, and the history you want to learn - that’s where BackStory comes in. Each week BackStory takes a topic that people are talking about and explores it through the lens of American history. Through stories, interviews, and conversations with our listeners, BackStory makes history engaging and fun.
201 Episodes
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This week, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was fired for his involvement in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. The incident helped to stimulate the Black Lives Matter movement, and sparked public debate about the limits of and accountability for law enforcement.With these debates once again at the fore, BackStory revisits a segment originally published in 2016. In it, producer Nina Earnest explores how the professionalization of the Los Angeles Police Department ended up putting the department above the law they were supposed to enforce.BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
Today, Americans generally view Buddhists favorably, according to the Pew Research Center (https://www.pewforum.org/2014/07/16/how-americans-feel-about-religious-groups/) . Meanwhile, terms like “zen” and “mindfulness” are often used as buzzwords to evoke the religion. However, over the last century, Buddhism wasn’t always viewed as a peaceful practice by a mainstream population. On this episode, Brian, Joanne, and Nathan, explore the ways the religion adapted and evolved throughout the 20th century into a distinctive form of “American Buddhism.”Image: Lama in meditation, Sikkim, between 1965 and 1979. Source: Library of CongressBackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
On the heels of what may have been the biggest single-day sweep of undocumented immigrants last week in Mississippi, this week the Trump administration released a new "Public Charge" rule. The idea of a public charge – an individual who isn’t considered capable of self-sufficiency – became a part of U.S. immigration law after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The new rule will make it harder for immigrants who fail the public charge test to obtain a Green Card.  Efforts to curb immigration in the U.S. are nothing new. This episode from BackStory’s archives looks at the origins of illegal immigration and how the government’s deportation powers have grown over time. Image: Detention pen--on roof of main building, Ellis Island, where emigrants held for deportation may go in fine weather. Circa 1902. Source: Library of Congress BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
It’s an age-old question: What makes a man? Americans have thought about it for generations. So this week on BackStory, we go back into the archives to look at past segments that explore the changing perceptions of American manhood. We’ll look at why so many men started growing beards in 19th century America, and we’ll explore how ideas about the perfect male body used to be very different from what you might think of today.Image: The “Manly art of self-defense” Newsboys’ Protective Association, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 1908. Source: Library of CongressBackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
At least 31 people were killed this past weekend in mass shootings in the U.S. The violence that took place during the early morning hours of August 4 in Dayton, Ohio was the nation’s 251st mass shooting of 2019.  As the U.S. and its leaders once again debate gun control, BackStory revisits a segment originally published in 2013. In it, UCLA legal scholar Adam Winkler talks to Brian about the day in 1967 that 30 Black Panthers walked into the California State House in Sacramento carrying loaded guns. They were protesting a gun control bill that they said deprived them of their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but ended up being the target of early gun control laws. Image: “The racist dog policemen must withdraw immediately from our communities, cease their wanton murder and brutality ...” from a Black Panther Party poster featuring Huey P. Newton, approximately 1965. Source: Yanker Poster Collection, Library of Congress. BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
Each week, Sean Carroll hosts conversations with some of the most interesting thinkers in the world. From neuroscientists and engineers to authors and television producers, Sean and his guests talk about the biggest ideas in science, philosophy, culture and more. Start listening now at:  http://wondery.fm/MindscapeAB
Whale deaths are reaching record numbers in 2019. According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association, gray whale deaths are “notably greater than the average” and have led the NOAA to declare the occurrence an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-unusual-mortality-events) . In addition, NOAA considers the death rates of North Atlantic right whales an urgent conservation crisis leading the U.S. to begin working with Canada this month to help protect the species. This week, BackStory revisits our two episodes on the history of whales and America. We’re re-releasing part one, “Thar She Blows” on July 31. In this episode, Brian, Nathan and Joanne explore how Native American whalers faced stereotypes within the industry, how whaling went from boom to bust, and learn how a real white whale named Mocha Dick became the inspiration for Herman Melville’s novel. In part two, “Thar She Blows Again” (releasing on Aug. 2), Ed joins the rest of the team to uncover the story of Cabin Boys who were women in disguise, find out why a traveling whale was turned away from a Midwestern Town, and learn all about the Black whaler and entrepreneur who became one of the wealthiest men in America.Images: Ep 1 - Jonathan Fisher woodcut, published in the 1833 book "Scripture Animals," courtesy of the Jonathan Fisher Memorial, Blue Hill, Maine.Ep 2 - "Whalers Heading Towards A Whale" Source: The New York Public Library Digital CollectionsBackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
Whale deaths are reaching record numbers in 2019. According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association, gray whale deaths are “notably greater than the average” and have led the NOAA to declare the occurrence an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-unusual-mortality-events) . In addition, NOAA considers the death rates of North Atlantic right whales an urgent conservation crisis leading the U.S. to begin working with Canada this month to help protect the species. This week, BackStory revisits our two episodes on the history of whales and America. We’re re-releasing part one, “Thar She Blows” on July 31. In this episode, Brian, Nathan and Joanne explore how Native American whalers faced stereotypes within the industry, how whaling went from boom to bust, and learn how a real white whale named Mocha Dick became the inspiration for Herman Melville’s novel. In part two, “Thar She Blows Again” (releasing on Aug. 2), Ed joins the rest of the team to uncover the story of Cabin Boys who were women in disguise, find out why a traveling whale was turned away from a Midwestern Town, and learn all about the Black whaler and entrepreneur who became one of the wealthiest men in America.Images: Ep 1 - Jonathan Fisher woodcut, published in the 1833 book "Scripture Animals," courtesy of the Jonathan Fisher Memorial, Blue Hill, Maine.Ep 2 - "Whalers Heading Towards A Whale" Source: The New York Public Library Digital CollectionsBackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
This month, the US Women’s Soccer Team won the Women’s World Cup for the fourth time since the tournament was established in 1991. But alongside the celebrations were calls for female players to be paid the same as their male counterparts. So, on this episode of BackStory, we’re revisiting past segments that explore the issue of sports and equality throughout American history.Image: Althea Gibson, U.S. and Wimbledon tennis champion, gives some pointers on the game which has brought her international fame, December 1957. Source: World Telegram & Sun photo by Ed. Ford via Library of CongressBackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
On Monday, hundreds of thousands of people surged through the capital of Puerto Rico in the largest protest the island has ever seen. It is the latest in a series of demonstrations calling for the resignation of Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo A. Rosselló, who is expected to finally resign today.While the recent unrest was sparked by the publication of messages between Rosselló and his friends and advisors in which they mocked an obese man, a poor man, a gay pop star, and several women, it was a demonstration of the long-simmering resentment over economic recession, corruption, and the management of recovery since Hurricane Maria.In this segment from BackStory's 2018 show, "After Hurricane Maria," Brian, Ed and Nathan take a look at the historical relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, going back to the roots of the difficulties the island faces today, exploring the politics of the post-recovery process and looking at why many still don't see Puerto Ricans as Americans.BackStory is funded in part by our listeners. You can help keep the episodes coming by supporting the show: https://www.backstoryradio.org/support
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