TEACHERS: Get free access to all Lessons and Current Events
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.
In 1949, the Communist Revolution under Mao Zedong transformed China from the monarchy it had been for centuries, to a Communist nation. The “People’s Revolution” relied heavily on the passion and vigor of China’s young people, and the Chinese government looked poorly on anyone who was critical of China or the Communist Party. This audio story introduces a man who was only three when Chairman Mao came to power. In his 20’s he worked for the Communists in rural Mongolia. His experiences there formed the basis for his hugely successful 2004 novel “Wolf Totem”, which earned him both praise and criticism in Communist China. Listen to learn more about his experiences in Mongolia, the impact of “Wolf Totem”, and about Rong’s criticisms, and hopes, for his country.
One teen from a small Massachusetts town was a victim of bullying in high school. To fight back against bullying, she did something unexpected: she took to social media. In this audio story, she explains her experience with bullying, her anti-bullying efforts, and discusses the importance of empathy, even for the bully. Listen to learn more about the role social media plays in bullying and the compassion necessary to put a stop to bullying.
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.
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.
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.
Archeologists 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.
Back in the days of colonization, Spanish explorers believed that cities of gold could be found in the Amazon. It was believed that these indigenous people had no urban centers. The landscape of the Amazon, it was thought, made such centralization difficult. Recent work, however, has changed this view. This audio story focuses on new evidence in the southern Amazon suggesting a level of centralization not previously believed to have existed. Listen to hear the details of these villages and their significance in terms of our new understanding about how the Amazon’s indigenous people lived.
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. Anti-Semitism is a particularly volatile topic in Germany because of the Nazi-led Holocaust during World War II. Some blame the rising anti-Semitism 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 our own 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 in an effort 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.
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.
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.
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. This public radio story is about an effort in 2003 to certify that uncut diamonds that can be proven to come from countries that support basic human rights are given a special classification.
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. More recently it was home to the Boston School Department, until the city moved the headquarters to Roxbury’s Dudley Square. The building played other interesting roles in history as you’ll hear in this public radio story.
The two-month Bread and Roses strike of 1912 carried out by textile factory workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts marked the beginning of the labor movement. The workers, made up overwhelmingly of immigrant women and children, walked off the jobs they had risked everything to travel to America to take. This public radio story looks back at the strike and what themes resonate today.
In the 19th century, British explorers sent many expeditions in search of an Arctic Sea passage--the famed Northwest Passage--that would connect the continents of Europe and Asia. The search to find this shortcut between continents captivated the imagination of the British public. At that time, the search for the Northwest Passage had already been going on for 300 years. But in the early 19th century, after the defeat of Napoleon, England resumed the search with renewed vigor. These expeditions, however, resulted in failure. The most notorious failure was the voyage of Sir John Franklin from which no one survived. This audio story introduces this doomed expedition. Listen to learn more about England’s motivations for finding the Passage, and the harrowing experience of Franklin’s expedition.
Note: This story involves a discussion of cannibalism. (4:30 - 5:28)
During the American Revolution, colonists were not in agreement as to whether or not to stay united with the British Empire or to support the movement for independence. Throughout the war, many colonists elected to pledge their support to the British. They were called loyalists. All throughout the colonies, especially in the south, there were flare ups of violence between supporters of independence, often referred to as patriots, and loyalists. When the war came to an end, loyalists were faced with difficult choices. In the United States, they were looked upon as traitors and losers. Fearing violence, many loyalists wound up fleeing the colonies for other parts of the British Empire. This audio story looks at what happened to British loyalists.
The war in Syria has been broadcast around the world on TV and in social media. This audio story is told from the first person perspective of a mother who is watching the war on Youtube and struggling to figure out what she should do to support those who are fighting for a “new Syria”. The story follows a her and daughter who are Syrian American as they travel to Turkey to help with the Syrian war refugees.
Byzantium was chosen by Roman Emperor Constantine I in 330 A.D. as the new Roman Capital, Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire was extraordinary in its ability to survive without interruption for over eight centuries. One of the reasons they were able to preserve their scarce resources and survive for so long was in large part because they avoided war. In this story, the author of a new book on the Byzantine Empire explains how the Byzantines dealt with their many enemies and remained stable. He compares their strategy to that of the ancient Romans and to the U.S. strategy in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Listen to hear more about what they can teach us about foreign policy.
There have been many consequences of the political upheaval of the Arab Spring movement in Egypt in 2011. One of them is the severe drop in tourism as a result of the violence. This has hurt the country's camels and horses that used to carry tourists around ancient Egyptian sites. They are losing their jobs and going hungry. In this public radio story you hear from Egyptians who are struggling to make a living off tourism and are wondering when things will improve.
Spanish colonization in the Americas staring in the 16th century was accompanied by the Catholic Church hoping to convert as many Native Americans to Christianity as possible. A central figure was Father Junipero Serra, who forcibly converted thousands of Native Americans to the Catholic faith. That’s why in 2015 when Pope Francis, the first leader of the Catholic Church from Latin America, awarded the 18th century Spanish priest sainthood, there was a backlash from Native Americans. Descendants of Native Americans say Serra is responsible for destroying their traditions and ways of life. Listen to the audio story to hear both sides of this story and the controversy surrounding the Pope’s decision to make Father Serra a saint.
Uganda, a country in East Africa, endured a 20-year civil war between its government and a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. This war caused a state of crisis in Uganda. The LRA’s acts of brutality, including the use of child soldiers, gained the attention of the United States and the world. In 2006, the Ugandan government and leaders of the LRA began discussing a peace treaty, and activists traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge the United States to support the peace process. In this audio story, a former child soldier tells her personal story and explains her opinion of the United States’ involvement in the situation.
Note: Please be aware that the story includes accounts of violent acts—including murder, rape, torture—that may be disturbing.
History tells us that peaceful empires are very rare. In the 21st century, China is the fastest-growing world power. China claims that its rise is peaceful: it has no plans to invade and conquer new territory. But is it possible for any nation to grow without causing any conflicts? In the 15th century the Chinese explorer Zheng sailed across the Eastern Hemisphere from Taiwan to India to Arabia to Africa. He was on a trade mission, but the kingdoms he encountered were not really free to choose whether or not they would become part of the Chinese trade empire. This public radio story looks at China’s past to draw some conclusions about its future.
Chinese foot-binding was a common practice in the 1800s. This practice created tiny stumps of feet by breaking bones and wrapping the feet tightly. It was very painful, and made many women unable to walk properly. But the bound feet were prized by the wealthy class as the ultimate sign of feminine beauty. The custom was banned in 1912. This public radio story features women whose feet were bound talking about the pros and cons of this old Chinese tradition.
In ancient Greece, people were thrown out or ostracized from the city because they broke the rules. Anyone could get ostracized – kicked out of the city for 10 years – based on voting done by the citizens using broken pieces of pottery. This public radio story explores the nature of corruption and voter fraud in ancient Athens.
When faced with oppression what's more effective - violent or non-violent resistance? This public radio story looks at the research of conflicts and resistance movements over time and the effectiveness of fighting back without violence. Have students use this analysis to better understand the two sides of the Civil Rights Movement - Martin Luther King Jr's message of non-violent resistance and Malcolm X's "Black Power" philosophy.
People of all races from all over the country participated in desegregation demonstrations in the South in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called on clergy—religious leaders—from around the nation to participate in nonviolent protest demonstrations. These clergy joined a growing movement that would sweep the nation, demanding equal rights for people of color and creating a legacy of social change. Listen to hear the story of a Rabbi who participated in these marches and was arrested and threatened with violence.
The first African American volunteer infantry unit of the Civil War was the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts. A monumental relief sculpture in Boston honors the 54th Regiment and its commander, Robert Gould Shaw. When the regiment was crushed at the battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina, Shaw, a white man, was the first to take a bullet, making him a hero to his surviving men. Listen to hear how his sacrifice inspired sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a uniquely powerful monument.
Migration has been a huge part of human history. Experts agree that early humans started out in Africa and began to migrate out of Africa to different parts of Europe and Asia around 100,000 years ago. This migration occurred in waves but we don’t know why early humans left Africa. Recent research supports the theory that climate change may have been the force that drove early humans out. Looking at things such as dust, buried pollen, and coral, scientists have been able to show a correlation between changes in these things and periods in early human history of migration. As early humans looked for new food sources, the research indicates, they began to relocate. Listen to hear more about what may have caused humans to migrate.