Tag Archives: Backstory

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“Columbus’s long and twisted journey through history.”

For centuries, Christopher Columbus has been a screen on which Americans could project their interpretations of history. The Backstory podcast describes the history of Columbus in American history.

The real Columbus was not the only man to believe the Earth was round. Educated people knew that during Columbus’s time, and for nearly 2,000 years before. Columbus believed he could find a transatlantic route to Asia, because he believed the Earth was smaller than his contemporaries believed – smaller than it actually is. Columbus based his belief Scripture. He was not the first visionary of the rational Enlightenment – he was in many ways the last visionary of the mystical Middle Ages.

Columbus went to his grave believing he’d found Asia. And in later years, he stopped believing the world was round. Instead, he thought it was pear-shaped, that he’d sailed uphill, and that the Garden of Eden was at the tip of the pear.

For centuries, Columbus was remembered as one of many Spanish explorers of his era. During the American Revolution, he loaned his name to Columbia, a robed woman meant to represent the American spirit.

Then in 1820, Washington “The Headless Horseman” Irving wrote a popular biography of Irving that encapsulated the qualities we learned in school: A lone visionary who went against the common wisdom to make a great discovery.

50 years later, New Englanders were uncomfortable idolizing a Southern European Catholic, and presented an alternate narrative, that the Vikings colonized America long before Columbus, bringing Northern European Christian values to the New World.

By the 20th Century, Columbus was a folk hero and idol for Italian-Americans and Catholic Americans. Around the time of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage, that story clashed with native Americans and liberals, who cast Columbus as the progenitor of centuries of American oppression and genocide of brown-skinned people.

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Serve & Protect: History of American police

American police departments were founded in the early 19th Century not to control crime but to combat civil dissent, which took the form of riots. Since then, relationships between police and the communities they’re chartered to serve has been fraught.

The Backstory podcast:

For many Americans, the storyline that played out on August 9 [2014] in Ferguson, Mo. — when an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer — is not a new one. But the sustained protests that followed, in which Ferguson police used military equipment for crowd control, have generated a new round of questioning about the role of local police in their communities.

So on this episode, we’re looking at the history of policing in America, and how the police departments we’re familiar with today began to take shape. And we’ll consider what happens when the police don’t protect those they serve….

Scholar Khalil Gibran Muhammad talks with Brian Balogh about how many ethnic groups have shed their criminal reputations through police service, and the more complicated legacy of early African-American officers.

Many ethnic groups, including the Irish and Italians, saw many individuals become police officers, which aided assimilation. African Americans have been blocked from that route.

Also: Technology has shaped the police from the beginning, from the invention of handcuffs to handguns to two-way radios to bodycams.