Tues 9-10 PM, Sat 8-9 PM

BackStory is a public radio program & podcast 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.


  • Friday, April 7, 2017 9:00am
    In recent years, the White House’s relationship with the Kremlin has dominated the headlines in America --  from Syria to Ukraine. According to CNN, Vladimir Putin denounced last night's U.S. airstrike against Syria (a response to a Syrian chemical weapons attack earlier this week) as "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law." In addition, an FBI probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians in the 2016 election has turned into a full-blown political scandal.  It can be tempting to view these events through the familiar lens of the Cold War, but in this episode, Joanne, Ed and Brian probe the deeper history of our relationship with Russia — and discover moments of comity as well as conflict.
  • Friday, March 31, 2017 9:00am
    It’s been 150 years since Congress passed the first Reconstruction Acts, which paved the way for Confederate states to rejoin the Union after the Civil War. Ed, Nathan and Joanne explore the central questions of this period: how would the country be put back together? Who belonged in it? And what rights would they have?

  • Friday, March 24, 2017 2:21pm
    In BackStory’s second history grab bag, Joanne, Ed, Brian, and Nathan discuss the history behind items in this week’s news. They’ll look at Boston Public School’s decision to ditch the traditional world map for a new one that reflects the true proportions of Europe, Africa and the Americas, and discuss Democrats’ sudden fondness for States’ Rights, as they look for ways to push back against Republicans. The hosts also tip their hats to late rock ‘n roll legend Chuck Berry.
  • Friday, March 17, 2017 9:00am
    In 2015, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly challenged Univision journalist Jorge Ramos on his role as a voice for Latinos in America. In an interview with the reporter on the O’Reilly Factor, he called Ramos “an advocate for people who enter the U.S.A. illegally.”

    In recent decades, however, more journalists have vocally advocated for underrepresented communities. Websites like the are unapologetic about finding stories the mainstream media aren’t picking up.

    On this episode, Nathan, Joanne, and Brian look at the deep roots of advocacy in journalism. They’ll also explore the recent origins of objectivity and debate the duty of the Fourth Estate.

  • Friday, March 10, 2017 9:00am
    President Donald Trump recently announced his plans to crackdown on undocumented immigration. In his first address to Congress, the president claimed: “We are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak.”
    Coupled with his second attempt at a travel ban from Muslim-majority countries and his promise to build a border wall, the president and his team are focusing the nation’s attention on who gets in and who the government will kick out.
    In the second episode of our two-part series on immigration, we explore how the federal government monitors and polices the undocumented. We’ll consider the origins of illegal immigration, as well as how the government’s deportation powers have grown over time.