BackStory is a public radio show and podcast hosted by Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers, and Brian Balogh. We take a topic and try to find the most interesting stories to help give that topic context through three centuries of American history.

The show is broadcast weekly. Check us out on iTunes, Facebook, or at backstoryradio.org.
Do the ends justify the means?That’s what we’d like to know. We want to hear your stories. Have you ever exposed corruption in your town or workplace? Did you vote for a candidate you knew wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up because they get the job done? Drop the Guys a line at backstory@virginia.edu with the details. Your story could make it on air in our upcoming corruption show!Photo: Cartoon of Boss Croker from Puck Magazine, October 1901.

Do the ends justify the means?

That’s what we’d like to know. We want to hear your stories. Have you ever exposed corruption in your town or workplace? Did you vote for a candidate you knew wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up because they get the job done? 

Drop the Guys a line at backstory@virginia.edu with the details. Your story could make it on air in our upcoming corruption show!

Photo: Cartoon of Boss Croker from Puck Magazine, October 1901.

From its earliest days, the zoot suit was about far more than fashion. Depending on when and where you wore it, a zoot suit could be sophisticated or degenerate; a symbol of youthful independence or unpatriotic rebellion; a badge of ethnic pride, or the sign of a criminal character. Find out more on our fashion episode.

“The habit of wearing the beard is a manly and noble one. Nature made it distinctive of the male and female; and its abandonment has commonly been accompanied not only by period of general effeminacy, but even by the decline and fall of States…. Those, assuredly, blunder, who ridicule the wearing of the beard. Silly affectation, or the contrary, is imputable only to those who, by removing the beard, take the trouble so far to emasculate themselves and who think themselves beautiful by an unnatural imitation of the smoother face of women.”

-Alexander Walker, Beauty (1836)

What was it that spurred the growth of beards across America in the mid 19th century? Ed gets to the root of the trend on our fashion episode:

Photos: unidentified daguerreotype portraits from the studio of Matthew Brady, mid 1840s-1860s. Library of Congress.

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The three-story high Lincoln Book Tower is made of 6,800 replicas of books written about Abraham Lincoln - “just a fraction” of the 15,000 plus titles written about the president. 

You can find the tower, a symbol “that the last word about this great man will never be written,” at the Ford’s Theater Center for Education & Leadership in Washington, D.C.

Have a question or story about water you’ve been reflecting on? Drop the Guys a line at backstory@virginia.edu to ask them on air during our upcoming show.
Photo: July 4th, 1939: Independence day celebrations in Washington, D.C. mirrored in the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Via the Library of Congress.

Have a question or story about water you’ve been reflecting on? Drop the Guys a line at backstory@virginia.edu to ask them on air during our upcoming show.

Photo: July 4th, 1939: Independence day celebrations in Washington, D.C. mirrored in the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Via the Library of Congress.

Happy birthday, Detroit!

It’s been 313 years since Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit.  We’re celebrating with some photographs from the early 20th century - around the time of Detroit’s 213th anniversary, in fact!

Pictures of early 20th century Detroit via Library of Congress

Summer might mean taking off the layers, but what Americans wear reflects so much more than the weather. In our next episode, we’ll explore what our self-presentation can say about our society and culture, and what they reflect about moments and movements in American history. Can fashion statements make political statements? How does fashion evolve, or does it revolve? And just where does the United States stand in the style stakes? Just some of the questions we’ll be asking as we explore the history of fashion in America…Stay tuned!