Jul 29, 2009

That Was Now

For rising juniors looking forward to enduring one form or other of US History during the coming school year, I share your pain. It’s a rite of passage. Even if your parents and I had less US history to learn—it having effectively ended with the Truman administration, we still had to spend at least one full year of high school knee deep in explorers, civil war heroes, WWI battles, and Hitler’s march across Europe.

But I have a plan to ease you into whatever it is you dread come September, be it US, AP US, History of the Americas, or Virginia History. As part of my low stress/no stress summer prep program, I am recommending tuning in to BackStory with the American History Guys. No kidding. There’s no heavy lifting here. In fact you can download a relatively painless dose of history (including back programs) onto your iPod and go about your business of jogging, mowing the lawn, sunbathing, or otherwise zoning out around the house.

Now here’s the secret: BackStory is an entirely enjoyable way to learn US History. These three guys are funny and entertaining. And unlike historical movies like Mel Gibson’s Patriot or Oliver Stone’s JFK, this stuff is true. Starting with topics ripped from today’s headlines, BackStory spends an hour exploring historical context from the point of view of the three “History Guys,” each of whom represents a century in American history. Other historians (including Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust), people in the news, and outside callers provide the show with “color.” You can find the History Guys on Facebook, you can subscribe to their newsletter, or you can listen locally on WAMU, the NPR affiliate.

If an hour is too much of a commitment, you can find 90 second snippets of American history offered by Central Washington University free of charge at the iTunes store. I particularly enjoyed the “Entertainment and Teen Culture” segment since it squarely placed blame for the roots of teen rebellion on my grandmother. Or if you want to dig a little deeper, check out some real university professors in iTunes U. Recommended lecturers include Yale University’s David Blight and Stanford’s Jack Rakove, both of whom offer fairly specific US History courses online. In addition, The Do It Yourself Scholar recommends three survey classes from Temple College (TX), the University of Alaska Southeast, and UC Berkeley.

Why all the sudden interest in US history? “Because that was now…and this is then”—The History Guys.


  1. Love this.......am taking on a trip with us!

  2. I like the 90-second clips--just right for my attention span!