BackStory Podcast Receives NEH Grant

History  •  News

Virginia Humanities at the University of Virginia received $460,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for its award-winning program BackStory. The award is part of the $18.6M in grants announced by the NEH on Monday.

BackStory, the American history podcast, will produce a new series of episodes with accompanying resources for K-12 educators, and a workshop for high school teachers with the award. The series, called “Classroom Connections,” features three categories of shows:

  • “Telling Texts” – an exploration of topics that are grounded in historical texts with words and phrases that require context and interpretation
  • “History Connections” – a look at primary source texts to help determine how historical events are connected to subsequent outcomes
  • “History as a Foreign Country” – an exploration of topics grounded in primary sources that reveal a world and culture unrecognizable to students and listeners

“We are thrilled to expand our development of hands-on humanities resources for teachers thanks to this significant investment by the NEH,” said Virginia Humanities executive director Matthew Gibson. “A long-time catalyst for the innovative work of state humanities councils, the NEH has helped programs like BackStory thrive and reach many thousands of citizens across the Commonwealth and the nation.”

Each episode in this series also has a two-to-five-minute-long video and an accompanying lesson plan. Every “Classroom Connections” package—audio, video, and lessons—will be searchable by topic and era within BackStory’s educator hub. These additional resources provide instructors with another accessible teaching tool and align with BackStory’s digital first publishing strategy.

“Educators are vital to BackStory‘s mission to make great history available to the widest possible audience,” said BackStory senior producer David Stenhouse. “The Classroom Connections series will offer teachers added value from the podcast while giving the show exciting new editorial opportunities.”

The award also supports a workshop for high school teachers planned for August in Charlottesville. According to data gathered from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) U.S. history examination (designed to gauge fourth, eighth, and twelth-grade students’ proficiency in U.S. history), “the share of American students demonstrating proficiency in U.S. history is small—but slowly increasing.” During the two-day workshop, teachers will learn to conceive and create a podcast so that they in turn can teach this to their students. Participating teachers will gain the tools necessary to teach students how to collect family oral histories and use the audio to create podcasts that engage with living history.

BackStory’s “Classroom Connections” is one of only 199 humanities projects from around the country to receive funding in this round of NEH grants.

About BackStory

BackStory brings historical perspective to the America of today. Each week, U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, Joanne Freeman and Nathan Connolly look at current issues and trace them back to their roots in American history. From the days of the Early Republic to the 21st century, BackStory reveals the connections (and disconnections) between the past and the present. BackStory makes history accessible for listeners – not only in the United States, but around the globe.

BackStory is freely available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and other favorite podcatchers.

About Virginia Humanities

The mission of Virginia Humanities is to connect people and ideas to explore the human experience and inspire cultural engagement. As the state humanities council, Virginia Humanities reaches millions in its estimated annual audience through community programs and festivals, grants and fellowships, websites and digital initiatives, publications and teacher institutes, radio programs and podcasts, the Virginia Folklife Program, and the Virginia Center for the Book. Virginia Humanities is able to do this work thanks in part to a unique partnership with the University of Virginia. To learn more visit

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: