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Slavery was abolished in 1865 by the 13th Amendment. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted after the American Civil War. Although slavery was officially abolished, it was selectively enforced. In an exploration of the difficult and complicated topic, a documentary film was made called 13th, which identifies mass incarceration as an extension of slavery. Listen to hear about the director’s intended audience, why she feels people are listening more closely to difficult discussions like this, and what she hopes her documentary will achieve.
“Birthright” citizenship has been a very controversial subject in the United States for quite some time. The 14th Amendment guarantees automatic citizenship to any person born on US soil, but as the immigration debate has escalated over the past decade, there’s been a growing movement to change that provision. Listen to hear how other countries deal with birthright citizenship, and what one sociologist thinks will happen if the US removes that provision.
Seventy-two years after the first American women’s rights convention in 1848, the states ratified the 19th amendment, affirming and constitutionally protecting a woman’s right to vote. It was one of the most important political milestones in U.S. history. This audio story commemorates the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment by the House of Representatives. Listen to hear reporter Cokie Roberts answer listener questions ranging from how changing perceptions of women influenced the passage of the 19th amendment to how women of color were impacted when it passed.
After Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, millions of enslaved people in Confederate territory were freed. This raised the question of what was to happen to them now that they were free. In Savannah, Georgia, a group of black leaders met to discuss this very issue. This meeting led to an order to distribute land taken from the confederacy and some army mules to local blacks. But the promise was taken back. This led to the phrase “40 acres and a mule,” a phrase historically taken to symbolize the broken promises made by the U.S. government to America’s black population in the post-war years. In this story, several historians are interviewed about this famous meeting in Savannah. They detail the historical context for the meeting, the details of the conversation, the resulting field order, and the reasons behind why the order was later taken back.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, as European empires were exploring the globe in search of wealth and power, map-making was an essential skill. However, many map-makers had never seen the world and some of the early maps of the world were inaccurate. One exception was Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map. This audio story is about that remarkably accurate map, donated to the Library of Congress. Listen to hear a geographer explain the history behind the map and how a 1507 European cartographer could have produced such an accurate depiction of the world.
In history, sometimes someone’s ideas are not fully appreciated until long after their death. Ada Lovelace was such a person. Born in 1815 and raised in a life of privilege, Ada had connections to many famous people, including mathematician Charles Babbage, who pioneered the idea of a computer. As a teen, Lovelace was mentored by Babbage. Gifted in math, she wound up expanding on Babbage’s early ideas, developing what some consider the world’s first computer program. Listen to learn about the story of Ada Lovelace’s life and how, a century after her death, she contributed to modern computer programming.
In 1992, a civil war in Afghanistan turned the country upside down. It also littered the country with landmines. In this audio story, we hear from a man who lost his father in the war, and also saw many childhood friends killed by these landmines. Landmines were a part of his everyday life. He eventually fled Afghanistan with his mother, and soon immigrated to the Netherlands. The wind in the Netherlands was the inspiration for the device he made that allows for the safe detonation of old landmines that are hidden all over Afghanistan.
Anthony Horowitz is a British author known for his mystery and suspense novels and screenplays for TV and movies. His is very well known for the young adult series of novels about a skateboard riding spy named Alex Rider. In this interview Horowitz considers factors that have led to the Alex Rider series’ great popularity and describes what he considers to be his responsibilities to his young readers. Listen to the story to find out what impact choosing a character who is his own opposite had on Horowitz’s writing.
Throughout time, humans have developed systems of belief to address life’s big questions: How did the world begin? How should we treat other people? What happens to us after we die? Most religions rely on faith in some form of supernatural power to answer these questions. Listen to hear an expert describe why people have different religious beliefs and traditions and why those beliefs can be hard to change.
Food banks distribute billions of pounds of food each year throughout the United States to hungry children and adults. The Feeding America network is the nation’s largest organization working to end hunger. But it had a problem. The food banks were receiving large donations of food, but not necessarily the kinds of foods they needed. For example, one center received lots of pickles, but not enough produce. To solve this problem the Feeding America network created a market economy in order to distribute food among it’s food banks. Using fake money, the food banks created a market that assures better allocation of food across the distribution centers. Listen to the story to learn more about how market economics solved their allocation problem.
Children born in the U.S. to poor, undocumented immigrants face many problems. The children are American citizens, but their parents are not. Without a passport or proof of residency, those parents can’t apply for benefits for their children, and those children go without food, shelter, and other necessities. Listen to learn about the challenges facing the children of immigrants today.
The American Revolution is America’s founding story, told and retold for generations. The founding generation of Americans, led by such famous names as Washington, Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson, are credited with leading the American colonies to their improbable victory over Great Britain, the world’s greatest maritime power at the time. However, with victory would come the monumental challenge of building a new nation. Listen to learn about the story of what led to the Revolution and the important military milestones of the war that contributed to the colonies’ eventual victory over the British.
The Museum of the American Revolution opened in Philadelphia on April 19, 2017, the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Remarkably, it is the first museum of its kind dedicated to telling the story of the nation’s founding. In the museum, visitors are treated to a number of interesting stories connected to the people and events of the Revolution. Listen to hear a number of stories including a summary of the American Revolutionary War, the significance of George Washington, the important role of slavery in the nation’s founding, and the writing of the Declaration of Independence.
Two Americans recently returned dozens of old coins to their original home in China, where they will be preserved at the Shanghai Mint Museum. The coins, which come from a personal collection, reflect the past 2,000 years of Chinese history. In China, these coins are considered invaluable national treasures. The donations also included coin molds and bank note molds. In their new home, they will be more accessible to scholars and others who are passionate about the region’s ancient history. Listen to learn more about where these precious coins come from and the rich history they represent.
At an ancient burial site in Sudan called Al Khiday, archaeologists discovered dental plaque on the teeth of skeletons. By analyzing the plaque, they gained a greater understanding of the daily diet and lifestyle of our prehistoric ancestors. Listen to hear about this fascinating research into dental plaque, and learn about a 7000-year-old weed that may have prevented tooth decay.
Archaeologists have long explored the ruins of the middle east to learn more about the cultures that once existed there. This story follows archaeologists into ancient burial sites in Israel to study graffiti written on walls and tombs thousands of years ago. The tomb, Beit She'arim dates back to the first century B.C. It is the largest burial ground from the Roman and early Byzantine periods in the region. The next place they find graffiti is in a cave in the Judean foothills, where they find an inscription in Greek. Listen to learn more about these ancient writings and what they reveal about the ancient world.
In southeastern Turkey, archaeologists are studying ruins of what may be one of the first human places of worship. Archaeologists have long thought that humans began participating in religious rituals only after they invented agriculture. But ancient site of Gobekli Tepe, which dates back 11,500 years, may suggest otherwise. Gobekli Tepe is home to the world’s oldest temple. Listen to the story to learn more about what the site reveals about the beginnings of human civilization.
In modern times, conflicts around the globe have threatened to destroy historic sites and artifacts of all kinds. In response, preservationists have worked to protect architecture, landscapes, and other things of historical value. One such example is in Fez, Morocco. This audio story is about the efforts to preserve Qarawiyyin Library, which dates to the 9th century and is home to 4000 manuscripts and, among other things, early Muslim Hadiths. Listen to learn about this ancient library’s history, including the role women have played both in its creation and its restoration.
The printing press helped fuel the spread of knowledge and ideas in the Renaissance and European expansion across the globe. But how exactly in the age of print did people organize all this knowledge? An important clue to answering that question involves the life of Hernando Colón, Christopher Columbus’s son, an ambitious book collector who attempted to organize a massive library. This audio story is about the Libro de los Epítomes, a manuscript which summarizes every book Colón collected. It was recently discovered in Denmark and could help change our understanding of how knowledge was organized in the 15th century.
The neo-Assyrian empire was one of the most powerful of the ancient world, stretching along the fertile crescent and into Egypt. Nimrud was one of the most important Assyrian cities. Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal built his palace there nearly 3000 years ago. In 2014, during its occupation of Iraq, ISIS destroyed the palace. Listen to this audio story to hear about efforts to protect what remains of the Assyrian palace now that ISIS is no longer in control and learn about issues of cultural heritage and historical preservation during turbulent times.
Back in the days of colonization, Spanish explorers believed that cities of gold could be found in the Amazon. When anthropologists never discovered these magical gold cities, they supposed these indigenous people had no urban centers. They argued that the landscape of the Amazon made cities difficult, if not impossible, to build. Recent work, however, has changed this view. This audio story focuses on new evidence in the southern Amazon that suggests a level of centralization not previously believed to have existed. Listen to learn the details of these villages and how they shape the way we understand indigenous Amazonians.
Andrew Carnegie is famous not only for being one of the richest industrialists in American history, but also for donating nearly all of his wealth to charity. As part of his far-reaching philanthropy, Carnegie funded nearly 1700 public libraries around the country. Unlike many libraries before, these were open to all members of the community--women, children, rich and poor, and people of all races. Carnegie hoped these institutions would encourage people to read, research, and educate themselves--just as he had done as a young Scottish immigrant from a poor family. Listen to hear more about how one man’s generosity led to widespread learning opportunities for years to come.
In 2011, a crested macaque, a species of monkey found in Indonesia, used photographer David Slater’s camera to take several selfies. Slater posted the monkey’s selfies online, and one photo went viral. When animal activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) heard about the situation, they felt the macaque’s rights were being violated. After all, they argued, the monkey took the photo, not Slater, so the monkey owns the copyrights and should receive all royalties earned. Slater could not disagree more. The case eventually went before a federal judge. In this audio story, reporters and an attorney discuss the case and provide some context regarding the rights of animals before the law.
A rising tide of anti-Jewish sentiment has the German government chastising Germans for their prejudice. Antisemitism is a particularly volatile topic in Germany because of the Nazi-led Holocaust during World War II. Some blame the rising antisemitism in Europe on the conflict in Israel. Others believe it’s because of an influx of Muslim immigrants. This public radio story takes you to a protest against the attacks on Jews in Germany and explores how the present-day incidents refer to a dark past.
On September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists checked in for flights, boarded four planes and then hijacked them. The use of an air travel system to attack the United States was a shock to Americans and led to big questions about the effectiveness of airport security checks that allowed these men to board airplanes with small hand weapons and tear gas. Airport security immediately changed to make air travel safer, but have these changes really made us safer? Listen to learn about the ways security has changed since 9/11 and ways it can continue to improve.
Forty years ago, a military coup in Argentina triggered what has since become known as the Dirty War. During the seven-year dictatorship that followed, as many as 30,000 Argentines either disappeared or were killed. In this story, you will hear about human rights activists who want the United States to reveal what it knew about the Dirty War, and about President Obama’s recent trip to Argentina. Listen to learn more about possible U.S. involvement in the Dirty War, and what activists hope to discover from newly declassified government documents.
In 2013, a rare collection of paintings by Michelangelo was on display at the Muscarelle Museum at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. This audio story reflects on Michelangelo's life and looks at what makes his work so special. It focuses on the drawing of Cleopatra, which depicts her in two ways, beautiful and ugly, and well as some of his other captivating pieces. Listen to learn more about Michelangelo's life, his art, and why his work remains inspirational to many people today.
During World War II, artists helped the war effort by creating a "Ghost Army." This was a battalion of artists, including painters, designers, and music technicians. They built rubber tanks, jeeps, barges, and other decoys to divert Nazi soldiers from real U.S. troop movements after D-Day. This audio story is about a documentary on the army of artists who worked to fool the enemy.
Hundreds of years ago, the Aztec people established their capital, Tenochitlan, on top of a lake. They used mud to create islands, and channelled the lake into canals. It became the capital of the Aztec Empire in the 15th century, until Spain captured and destroyed the city. Since then, the city has supplied its many residents with water from the canals which still remain. Mexico City was built on top of this ancient city. Unfortunately, retrieving water from underground has created problems, and today, many residents do not have access to the water they need. Listen to the story to learn more about Mexico City’s history and water troubles.
The people of Ancient Mesopotamia practiced mathematics from the early days of Sumer to the fall of Babylon in the 6th century. Until recently, most evidence suggested that math was used primarily for things like measuring land. A new discovery by a researcher in Berlin has shed new light on how Babylonians used geometry to measure the changes in the velocity of Jupiter over time as it moves across the sky. Prior to this discovery, the use of geometry in this manner was thought to have come in the middle ages. Listen to hear how this new discovery shows that Babylonian mathematics was more sophisticated than previously thought.
Before the European Renaissance (14th–17th centuries), loaning money, or usury, was considered sinful and strictly prohibited by the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, the banking industry flourished. In time, the idea started that one could pay for salvation. “Sinners” began donating money and artworks to the Church as a way of gaining favor with both the Church and God. As these indulgence flooded in, the Church didn’t protest. The massive influx of wealth to the church provided the fertile ground for the birth of the Renaissance. In this audio story, learn about the birthplace of banking and how many of today’s banking terms come from 14th century Florence.
Many World War II historians agree that the 1942-43 Battle of Stalingrad was the decisive battle of World War II in Europe. Fought between German and Soviet forces, the battle may well have turned the tide of the war in favor of the allies and against Nazi Germany. This story recalls some of the ways in which the Soviet victory at Stalingrad was so remarkable and also the enormous cost of victory. Listen to this story to hear from people looking back on the battle, its impact, and its connection to the present day.
Benjamin Franklin is one of the most well-known Founding Fathers of America. He helped write both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, although these accomplishments are not the only reason why Benjamin Franklin is remembered today. He was also interested in science and inventions, and made some amazing discoveries. Listen to the story of Benjamin Franklin’s life to learn more about this remarkable man.
The civil war endangers cultural artifacts in Syria. Aleppo, Syria's largest cities and one of the world's oldest continually inhabited urban areas, is now the site of heavy fighting, damage, and death as a result of the Syrian civil war that began in 2011. In this audio story you will hear about a museum exhibit of ancient Aleppo to understand what's at stake with the violence of the civil war.
Many of us have heard the “Star-Spangled Banner”, America’s national anthem that was written in 1814. But what do we know about how it was written? This audio story discusses the 200th anniversary of the writing of America’s national anthem by Francis Scott Key and what inspired the anthem. Key asked two questions in his poem, and some of the verses have words that we may take for granted today. Listen to hear explanations about what was written and learn more about the poem that later became our national anthem.
Early humans and their ancestors survived by successfully mastering their environments to meet their daily needs. They learned to control fire for cooking food, developed early stone tools, and over time, created increasingly more complex and finely-crafted tools. Recent research suggests that as far back as 165,000 years ago in southern Africa, early humans understood that fire could help them craft more effective tools. Listen to hear a scientist describe the evidence for early human “pyro engineering” and what it tells us about our evolution and development.
Until recently, few people knew that the American space program’s early success was due in large part to a group of African American women known as “human computers.” They were brilliant mathematicians but were made to use segregated offices, bathrooms, and equipment. Their stories are told in a book and movie by the same name, “Hidden Figures.” One such overlooked mathematician was Katherine Johnson, who began working at Langley in 1953. Her report laying out trajectory equations for getting a craft into orbit played a key role in the program’s success. However, despite the vital roles Katherine and her colleagues held, their contributions were mostly unheard of until the publication of “Hidden Figures.” Listen to learn more about the obstacles these African American women faced and how a story this significant stayed buried for decades.
"Blood diamonds" are typically mined in war zones and used to finance some of Africa’s most brutal civil wars. The uncut diamonds are sometimes mined in areas controlled by rebel forces in Africa. A system known as the Kimberley process was designed to certify uncut diamonds that can be proven to come from countries that support basic human rights. Listen to this story to learn about the diamond certification program and its influence in protecting human rights.
Kentucky was one of four states that were slaves states but did not declare secession from the Union during the U.S. Civil War. They are known as "border states." Kentucky began the U.S. Civil War as officially neutral. This public radio story describes Kentucky’s experience as a neutral border state. In the story you hear from descendants of a family whose ancestors fought on both sides of the Civil War, a common experience in border states.
Many old buildings have stories to tell. One building in downtown Boston, 26 Court Street, played an important role in Boston’s fight to help end slavery. Trials held in this courthouse galvanized the abolitionist movement in Boston during the 1850s. Before and after this building was a courthouse, it served several other purposes that are also part of Boston’s rich history. Listen to learn more about this building’s history, as well as its future.