BackStory with the American History Guys, a program of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH), has been awarded two major grants: $125,000 from The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, its fifth grant for the program; and $200,000 from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, their first-ever grant for a public radio program.
Created in 2008, BackStory is a public radio program and podcast that brings historical perspective to events happening today. On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh take a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths. Over the course of an hour, they are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers interested in exploring the roots of current issues.
Enthusiasm for the program is rising steadily, as indicated not only by recent major grants, including an $800,000 grant from a longtime Anonymous Donor in late 2013, but also by growing listenership. BackStory has passed the 5.1 million mark for podcast downloads, with 65,000 downloads/plays per week, 29,000-31,000 weekly subscribers, and more than 797,000 SoundCloud followers. The weekly show is currently broadcast by 49 primary public radio stations, serving 141 communities in 24 states and Washington, D.C.—and more than 40 other public stations, many in major markets, regularly air BackStory episodes as specials.
The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation
During the last five years, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation—named for the legendary American assemblage and collage artist and for his brother—has generously awarded BackStory five grants totaling $525,000.
“Through the good offices of co-trustees Richard Ader and Joseph Erdman, the Cornell Foundation has played a crucial role in ensuring the ongoing development of our weekly national radio program,” says Andrew Wyndham, BackStory’s founding executive producer and director of media programs for VFH. “We are deeply grateful for their support.”
“Anything in history is of particular interest to us,” explains Erdman, reflecting on the Cornell Foundation’s grants for BackStory. “Ader and I are interested in history and historic sites, especially in and around Charlottesville, with the University of Virginia as a central focus.” Directing the resources of the Foundation, Erdman and Ader strive to make a difference, empowering projects and organizations that advance appreciation for the arts and increase historical knowledge and understanding.
The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations
This is the first grant to BackStory—or any public radio program—given by The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, a national philanthropic organization established through the generosity of the late American Industrialist Arthur Vining Davis. The Foundations, dedicated to strengthening America’s future through education, are known globally for their long-standing support for public television, among other areas of focus.
Since 1974, the Foundations have supported national broadcasts for “evergreen” programs with lasting educational value. Regarding the $200,000 grant to BackStory, Nancy J. Cable, Ph.D., the Foundations’ President, says, “The trustees and staff of the Foundations honor the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ strength, the quality and educational impact of this program, and [Wyndham’s] excellent leadership.”
“This support is especially affirming for the BackStory team and VFH,” says Wyndham. “We are honored to be the first public radio program to receive a grant from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and eager to put the funds to good use, allowing individuals to make connections and discoveries around the ideas that have shaped, and continue to shape, our world.”