On the eve of Barack Obama’s second inauguration, BackStory with the American History Guys took a look back at the previous fifty-six presidential inaugurations. Besides the History Guys’ regular weekly broadcast and podcast program, released on January 18—which focused on several of the most high-stakes presidential inaugurations—the BackStory Guys hit the road for inauguration weekend.
With sponsorship from the History Channel and cable and web coverage by C-SPAN-3—American History TV, the BackStory Guys presented a special live show in the Flag Hall of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on January 19. Those who missed the actual event can stream the action online.
Hosts Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers, and Brian Balogh explored the history of inaugurations from the perspective of their centuries of expertise—Onuf, a University of Virginia historian, is BackStory’s “Eighteenth-Century Guy”; Ayers, president and professor of history at the University of Richmond, is the show’s “Nineteenth-Century Guy”; and U.Va. historian Brian Balogh, also on the staff of the Miller Center of Public Affairs, is the program’s “Twentieth-Century Guy.”
Throughout the hour-long show, Brian, Ed, and Peter focused on why, and for whom, inaugurations really matter. Beginning with America’s first inauguration, for which there was no precedent, the Guys considered what presidential inaugurations reveal about the social and political forces at work around them. With characteristic irreverence, they plumbed the meaning of Andrew Jackson’s raucous inauguration in 1829, the contentious events surrounding the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inauguration at the height of the Great Depression.
The fun didn’t end with the live show. The BackStory Guys were also featured on CNN at several points throughout the weekend. On January 19, CNN’s Don Lemon interviewed all three Guys on the history of inaugurations, and the next day talked with Ed Ayers individually on the symbolic uses of the Bible in inaugurations. On the evening of January 20, CNN’s John King and Erin Burnett interviewed the trio again. Balogh also contributed to a CNN opinion piece on January 21.
Did You Miss It?
Did you miss the live show? Didn’t catch the guys live on CNN? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with the clips and links below. To stay updated on events like these in the future, follow VFH on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to our e-newsletter.
More on BackStory
- C-SPAN recording of the live event
- Event slideshow from the Smithsonian presentation
- Brian Balogh on why Obama’s inauguration speech matters—via CNN
- Four More Years: Presidential Inaugurations in America – Prerecorded BackStory Radio show on Inaugurations