American history lite

Say you’re in the mood for American history that’s tasty but not too filling. What you need is BackStory with the American History Guys (website, iTunes, feed), a Virginia radio show and podcast featuring three historians who tackle topics from US history in a chatty style reminiscent of TV news magazines.

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The three historians, Edward Ayers of the University of Richmond, and Peter Onuf and Brian Balogh of the Univerisity of Virginia, could use a bit of professional comedy coaching — their jokes are pretty lame — but they do talk about some fascinating history.

A recent show, Early and Often: Voting in America, describes the boozy frat party atmosphere of 18th century voting, and relates how the secret ballot only became a feature of American elections in the 1880s. Perhaps most interesting is the show’s discussion of the electoral college, and how partisan politics led to the “winner take all” system that gives states like Ohio and Florida so much power.

(Hat tip to Anne of Anne is a Man! for pointing out this podcast.)

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