'BackStory' History Public Radio Show Wins National Award

November 17, 2008 — "BackStory with the American History Guys," a radio call-in and interview program featuring three historians with University of Virginia connections, isn't quite six months old, but already is receiving national airtime and now a national award.

The Federation of State Humanities Councils has presented "BackStory" with one of its Helen and Martin Schwartz Prizes, given annually to the nation's three best humanities projects.

In awarding the prize, federation judges described "BackStory" as "refreshing and entertaining," and highlighted the program's potential "to reach large, nonspecialist audiences through national broadcasts and podcasts." 

Produced by VFH Radio at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities since June, "BackStory" is a public radio program that brings historical perspective to contemporary events. Each week, renowned U.S. historians Peter Onuf, Brian Balogh and Ed Ayers 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.

In receiving the award for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, executive producer Andrew Wyndham cited the work of "BackStory" producer Tony Field, associate producer Rachel Quimby and assistant producer Catherine Moore, along with "those three brilliant and gregarious American History Guys," as "taking 'BackStory' from strength to strength, moving it to a position where major market stations are starting to take note."

The "BackStory" team's latest program, a special for Veterans' Day titled "Coming Home," was aired by WGBH in Boston and KUOW in Seattle, as well as by the three Virginia public stations — WMRA in Harrisonburg, Radio IQ in Roanoke and WHRV in Norfolk — that have partnered with VFH Radio to launch the entire series.

BackStory's previous episode, "Early and Often," on the history of voting in America, was broadcast by the principal public radio stations in Washington and Boston, and by Connecticut Public Radio. It was also carried by a major public news talk station in Seattle.

Wyndham noted that Field and his associates are developing a “specials” strategy with forthcoming episodes focusing on Thanksgiving, financial panics and energy in American history. “This is getting 'BackStory' airtime on top 50 stations, making the program familiar and appealing to a broad audience,” he said. “We’re hoping the networks will start to take notice, as well. But in any event, it’s exciting to see 'BackStory' gaining this kind of traction.”

More about "BackStory" and Its Hosts

The three American History Guys are:

• Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond and former dean of U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences. He is a scholar of 19th century U.S. history and has written and edited 10 books, including "The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction," which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

• Peter Onuf, U.Va.'s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History, who is an expert on the federal period. He is spending the 2008-09 academic year as Harmsworth Professor at The Queen’s College, Oxford University.

• Brian Balogh, U.Va. associate professor of history and co-chairman of the Governing America in a Global Era Program at U.Va.'s Miller Center of Public Affairs. He studies the 20th century experience in America.

BackStory programs can be streamed at the show's Web site or downloaded as a podcast via iTunes.

— By Rebecca Arrington