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PAST FORWARD: Conversations with American Experience

PAST FORWARD is a monthly virtual conversation series with historians and experts that explores enduring themes across the American Experience film archive. These conversations seek to illuminate hidden or less understood history still playing out in today’s America, and tackle the tough questions that connect our past to our present.

Sign up for our events newsletter at the bottom of this page to learn about upcoming conversations first.


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    Command & Control: The Uterus

    Professor of Law Renée Landers and Professor of Law and Theology Cathleen Kaveny speak with Historian Adriane Lentz-Smith about the history of reproductive rights and future of bodily autonomy in a post Roe v. Wade America.

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    Pandemics & Pop Culture

    Epidemiologist Ian Lipkin speaks with reporter and author Marilyn Chase about what pandemic books, movies and TV shows get right, and wrong, about real pandemics.

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    Flood in the Desert | Clip

    Water Wars

    Environmental scientist Peter Gleick and CEO of the U.S. Water Alliance Mami Hara speak with historian Jessica Marie Johnson about access, availability and conflicts around clean water in the United States.

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    The American Diplomat | Clip

    Pale, Male, and Yale?

    Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the U.S. Department of State Gina Abercrombie Winstanley and former U.S. diplomat Christopher Richardson speak with historian Adriane Lentz-Smith about the history and present day diversity problem in the State Department.

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    Riveted: The History of Jeans | Clip

    The History of Protest Fashion

    Historian and author Tanisha Ford and Dean of Fashion at Parsons School of Design Ben Barry speak with fashion historian Cassidy Zachary about how fashion has contributed to many of the most influential social movements in American history.

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    Test Tube Babies | Clip

    Fertility Science

    Fertility rights advocate and America’s first IVF baby Elizabeth Carr, and university professor at Rutgers University Margaret Marsh speak with historian Monica Muñoz Martinez about the evolution of fertility science—from a niche opportunity to an accepted norm.

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    The Blinding of Isaac Woodard | Clip

    A Hero’s Welcome?

    Co-founder and board chair of the Black Veterans Project Richard Brookshire, and deputy director of the VA Center for Women Veterans Elizabeth Estabrooks speak with historian Adriane Lentz-Smith about the experiences of Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Women Veterans returning home from service.

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    Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory | Clip

    Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

    Musical director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers Paul Kwami, and producer and director of Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory Llewellyn Smith speak with historian Lerone Martin in a conversation celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  

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    Citizen Hearst | Clip

    When Sensationalism became Fake News

    CEO of the Center for Public Integrity Paul Cheung and historian Andie Tucher speak with Senior VP of the Poynter Institute Kelly McBride about the rise of fake news—from its roots in yellow journalism to the present.

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    Sandra Day O'Connor: The First | Clip

    Supreme Power

    Journalist Kimberly Robinson and author Evan Thomas speak with Historian Monica Muñoz Martinez about the power of the Supreme Court in shaping the nation’s laws.

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    Chasing the Moon | Clip

    The New Space Race

    Historian Roger Launius, executive director of the SciAccess Initiative Anna Voelker and co-creator of Yuri’s Night Loretta Whitesides speak with creator and host of The Humanity Archive Jermaine Fowler about the history of space exploration, and what the future of space travel and tourism might look like.

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    Jesse Owens | Clip

    Athlete or Ambassador?

    Historian Amira Rose Davis and sports columnist William C. Rhoden speak with creator and host of The Humanity Archive Jermaine Fowler about the intersection of sports and politics in the Olympics.

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    Goin' Back To T-Town | Clip

    Remembering the Tulsa Massacre

    Screenwriter Carmen Fields and historian Karlos K. Hill speak with historian Jessica Marie Johnson about the centennial of the Tulsa Massacre and the story of Greenwood’s resilience and resurgence.

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    Billy Graham | Clip

    One Nation Under God?

    Historians Anthea Butler and Kevin Kruse speak with religion reporter at The Washington Post Michelle Boorstein about the connection between religion and politics in America.

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    Ruby Ridge | Clip

    From Ruby Ridge to the U.S. Capitol

    Filmmaker Barak Goodman and author Jess Walter speak with historian Adriane Lentz-Smith about the rise of the American militia movement—from the events at Ruby Ridge to now.

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    The Chinese Exclusion Act | Clip

    The Roots of Anti-Asian Hate in America

    Historian Erica Lee, actor Hoon Lee, and filmmaker Li-Shin Yu speak with executive director of the Center for Asian American Media Stephen Gong about America’s history of discrimination against Asian Americans, and ways that the AAPI community, their allies, and elected officials can work to put an end to racial violence and discrimination.

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    Voice of Freedom | Clip

    The Power and Resilience of Black Women

    Opera singer Angela Brown and professor Kira Thurman speak with professor Jessica Marie Johnson about the excellence and power of Black women as they navigate and conquer traditionally white spaces and industries.

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    The Codebreaker | Clip

    Breaking the Code

    Author Jason Fagone and CODE-EQUAL co-founders Valeria and Kyara Torres-Olivares speak with professor Adriane Lentz-Smith about pioneering women in STEM—from Elizebeth Smith Friedman, to groups like CODE-EQUAL.

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    The Poison Squad | Clip

    FDA at Your Dinner Table

    Author Deborah Blum and culinary historian Sarah Lohman speak with “Origin of Everything” host Danielle Bainbridge about the history of food regulations, how industries are regulated today, what role if any the government should play in ensuring a safe food supply chain, and what consumers can do to protect themselves.

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    The Vote | Clip


    Author Martha Jones and fellow historian Marcia Chatelain discuss the savvy political maneuvering of Black women from the fight for women's suffrage to the present, through the lens of Martha’s book Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won The Vote and Insisted on Equality for all.

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    The Murder of Emmett Till | Clip

    Documenting the Struggle

    Filmmaker Stanley Nelson and American Experience Executive Producer Cameo George discuss three of Nelson's Civil Rights films, how these stories shaped and advanced the ongoing civil rights movement, and how public media can help elevate filmmakers of color in telling diverse stories.

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    The Pilgrims | Clip

    Myth of Thanksgiving

    Wampanoag historian Linda Coombs and Narragansett Knowledge Keeper Cassius Spears speak with filmmaker Yvonne Russo about the experiences of Native populations at the time of European settlers’ arrival in New England 400 years ago, and what is actually known about the first Thanksgiving.