BackStory with the American History Guys

BackStory is a public radio program that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths. Over the course of the hour, they are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers interested in exploring the roots of what’s going on today. Together, they drill down to colonial times and earlier, revealing the connections (and disconnections) between past and present. With its passionate, intelligent, and irreverent approach, BackStory is fun and essential listening no matter who you are.

Latest Content
James Talbot

Leave it to Gilbert

Filmmaker and former child actor Stephen Talbot, who played Beaver’s friend Gilbert on Leave it to Beaver, tells the History Guys what it was like growing up in the quintessential American family.

Grades 6-8 | 9-12
History-Social Science
Mark Summers

When Voting was Fun

Historian Mark Summers tells 19th Century History Guy Ed Ayers about voting in the days before the secret ballot, when party came before the man, and vote-buying, intimidation and 112% voter turnout were par for the course.

Grades 6-8 | 9-12
History-Social Science
Paul Van Riper

General Education

Retired Marine Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper tells the History Guys what it’s like to have civilian bosses, why he spoke out publicly in favor of Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, and what the study of history has to teach the soldier.

Grades 9-12
History-Social Science
Louis Hyman

(Not So) Personal Debt

Historian Louis Hyman talks about the structural changes that led to record levels of personal debt in the late 20th century. It’s not that Americans are more willing to go into debt than they used to be, he says, but rather that they are no longer able to pay that debt off.

Grades 6-8 | 9-12
History-Social Science
Peter Norton

Taking it to the Streets

Historian Peter Norton speaks with 20th Century History Guy Brian Balogh about how automobile companies in the 1920s managed to re-define streets as a space for cars, rather than pedestrians. And he explains the little-known history of the term “jaywalker.”

Grades 6-8 | 9-12
History-Social Science
Pauline Meier

Declaring Independence

For years, the Declaration of Independence sat untouched in a dusty archive. So how did it become one of America’s holiest documents? Historian Pauline Meier talks about how the meanings of “independence” have evolved over time.

Grades 3-5 | 6-8 | 9-12
History-Social Science
Stephen Mintz

Traditional Family Values?

Historian Steven Mintz busts some myths about “traditional” family values and their so-called “Golden Age” – the 1950s. He argues that contrary to popular belief, American families are more stable now, on the whole, than they’ve ever been.

Grades 9-12
History-Social Science
Susan Rugh

No Vacancies

Historian Susan Rugh describes the discrimination black families faced on America’s highways in the 1940s and 50s. Many of those travelers recounted their experiences in letters to the NAACP – letters that eventually helped convince U.S. Senators to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Grades 6-8 | 9-12
History-Social Science