Radio program on American exceptionalism


Radio program on American exceptionalism.


I’ve discovered  a radio program on American exceptionalism wherethree top historians give a really interesting and  informed discussion of this topic. So much on American exceptionalism is confused by poor thinking, illogicality, irrationality, lack of historical knowledge, avoidance of historical fact, and sheer political/ideological obfuscation. No so the  program called BackStory from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.   The  three historian-hosts–Peter Onuf and Brian Balogh of the University of Virginia and Edward Ayers of the University of Richmond— do the “story behind the headlines”  approach to reaching public audiences. (This idea reincarnates a radio program in the 1930s that I discussed in my book Historians in Public (Chicago, 2005).


The three experts take an idea in the news,  and explore  its history for the 17th/18 century, the 19th, and the 20th in turns. No concept in American history has  undergone such as sudden boom in use as  American exceptionalism. Political opponents of Barack Obama have  declared him (wrongly) an apostate on the topic of American exceptionalism.  At that point, the use of the word went viral. 


But here is sanity, reason, and interesting detail. Topics include discussion of the etymology of the term; an interview with Dr. Mark Peterson on John Winthrop’s notion of the “city on a hill”;   a talk with Dr. Katherine Meizel about the origins of the song “America the Beautiful;”  plus an interview with Prof. Paul Kramer on Empire and American Exceptionalism.


Great stuff.  You can catch it all at


One response to “Radio program on American exceptionalism

  1. Spot on. I heard this on NPR and was trying to find it. Thanks for posting the information.

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