BackStory is a weekly 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

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!

"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.”

IN THE EVENT OF A MOON DISASTER, a speech written for President Nixon before the Apollo 11 mission. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins all returned safely to Earth and the speech was never delivered.

Reblogged from todaysdocument  519 notes


The Apollo 11 Moon Landing was televised worldwide and watched by 500-600 million, becoming a major cultural touchstone of the 1960s. Crowds from across the globe were mesmerized by the event, as shown in this clips from the film “Moonwalk One,” recently digitized by our colleagues in the National Archives’ Media Preservation Lab.

Moonwalk One, ca. 1970

From the series: Headquarters’ Films Relating to Aeronautics, 1962 - 1981. Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1903 - 2006

via Media Matters » Stepping Stones to the Moon

A peek at “an uncommon biography of legendary iconoclastic author (and garden fence expertHunter S. Thompson, revered as the father of Gonzo journalism and reviled as an addict, a bum, a liar, a thief, a sociopath, a hedonistic outlaw.”  The images come via Brain Pickings 

Thompson is best known as the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which is (more or less) about a writer abandoning his work for more hedonistic pursuits in Las Vegas, but his work as a journalist was prolific and packed quite a punch. Prisoner of Denver, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depravedand his classic Richard Nixon obituary He Was a Crook are all great introductions to his work available online.

Our latest episode: States of Mind: Mental Illness in America

Recent estimates suggest that more than 50% of Americans will suffer from a “mental disorder” at some point in their lifetime, making the once “abnormal” - well, normal. So in this episodewe look back over the history of mental illness in America - exploring how the diagnostic line between mental health and madness has shifted over time, and how we’ve treated those on both sides of it. We’ll hear how the desire of slaves to escape bondage was once interpreted as a psychological disorder, how a woman’s sleepwalking landed her in the state asylum, and how perspectives on depression altered in the 1970s. Plus, the Guys walk us through a mid-20th century quiz that promised to identify a new kind of mental “disorder” - our susceptibility to fascism.

Morris Island, SC July 20

My Dear Amelia: I have been in two fights, and am unhurt. I am about to go in another I believe to-night. Our men fought well on both occasions. The last was desperate—we charged that terrible battery on Morris Island known as Fort Wagoner, and were repulsed with a loss of 300 killed and wounded. I escaped unhurt from amidst that perfect hail of shot and shell. It was terrible. I need not particularize the papers will give a better than I have time to give. My thoughts are with you often, you are as dear as ever, be good enough to remember it and I have no doubt you will.

- A letter from Lewis Douglass, eldest son of Frederick Douglass, to his fiancee Amelia Loguen. Douglass served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first black regiment raised in the Civil War. Their actions at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863 became a concrete rebuttal to racist assumptions that black soldiers would not stand and fight in battle. Lewis was appointed sergeant major of the regiment, the highest rank that black soldiers could achieve at the time, and went on to marry Amelia Loguen.  

Letter via Library of Congress , picture of Lewis Douglass via National Parks Service, picture of Amelia Loguen via Onondaga Historical Society

In the colonial period, there’s a reference to sport being a question of whether or not a man could smoke a hundred pipes in the course of a day. Which a man does in a Philadelphia tavern, and promptly dies before he can walk out.

 They sure played rough down in Philadelphia. Historian Kenneth Cohen tells us about the contests that paved the way for America’s national sports on the latest episode of BackStory