TEACHERS: Get free access to all Lessons and Current Events
Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution in England, and then America, and the whole world. But the new manufacturing came at a high price: coal pollution. This public radio story takes you to the place where the Industrial Revolution began, and explains how coal, iron, and steam created a new world. Coalbrookdale was one of the busiest coalfields in Europe, but today it seems quiet and clean. Is it really? The world is still powered by fossil fuel, which pumps greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—we’ve just changed the way we burn the coal.
Men serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War suffered extreme stress as they prepared daily for nuclear war. But when the Cold War ended, they were not recognized as veterans because they weren’t technically in combat. In this audio story you hear from several Air Force pilots who flew on nuclear training missions who are disappointed they are not treated like other combat veterans. It explores their fight for recognition as veterans by the federal government.
In Brazil today, there are still laws dating back to Portuguese colonization. If you were to buy a home in the Brazilian city of Petropolis, you would make the usual payments, but also something more: a tax or tribute to a local family. These families, the descendants of Portuguese colonial royalty and nobles, legally still own over half the country’s land and charge a “rent” to property owners due to laws left over from 500 years ago. Listen to hear how this system, called enfiteuse (Pronounced: en-fee-TEE-oh-see), affects wealth distribution in Brazil, and what citizens are doing about it.
Throughout time, the American dairy industry has been in desperate need of workers and this attracts immigrants from all over the world. This story begins in the home of an immigrant family as they start their workday. Listen to learn about the experiences of new immigrants to the United States, from Guatemala, who work on dairy farms in northern New York and Vermont.
The Communist Revolution in the Soviet Union led to a totalitarian dictatorship that killed or imprisoned tens of millions of people. It was a period of cruelty that has not been forgotten in Russia today. However, some former Communist rulers are still in current-day Russia’s government, which means there’s a complicated relationship with the Soviet past and bringing back some Soviet-era practices. Listen to this story to understand how Russia’s Communist past still plays a role in present-day politics.
Confucius was a philosopher who was born more than 2500 years ago in China, and his ideas have become central to China’s identity. His ideas became Chinese imperial philosophy and they were especially popular during the pivotal Han and Tang and Song Dynasties. Today, China is working to broaden not only its economic and diplomatic power, but also its cultural influence, and is looking back to Confucianism for help. China hopes that extending their soft power will lead to an increase in its ability to export Chinese values as well. But this story finds that Chinese values may not be applicable across all cultures. Listen to hear more about this soft-power powerhouse and how a centuries-old philosopher still leads a nation.
Over the course of American history, debates have raged over the extent of presidential powers. When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution, they intended for there to be limits on what presidents could do without congressional approval or oversight. Nonetheless, presidents from Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century to Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan in the 20th century exercised an extraordinary amount of power. This story looks at presidential power in the 21st century, focusing on the “war on terror”. Listen to hear to what extent, and for what length of time, presidents should be granted expanded power.
During colonial times, free settlers were not the only arrivals to North America. Enslaved Africans and indentured servants, or people who agreed to work for several years in exchange for paid travel, accompanied their masters. A third, far less known group of servants also came to the colonies. Convicted criminals were punished with either three- or seven-year sentences as unpaid servants in the colonies. Listen to find out who these people were and how they played a role in the United States colonial history.
When the two towers of the World Trade Center were attacked on September 11, 2001 the towers collapsed on themselves, creating a disaster area known as Ground Zero. A perimeter wall was quickly built around the area to contain the destruction and effort to rebuild. One journalist spent five months with unrivaled access to the recovery effort and wrote about the experience. Listen to learn more about Ground Zero and how 9/11 changed America.
The Federal Reserve System is the central bank of the United States. It is responsible for the effective operation of the U.S. economy and conducts the nation’s monetary policy, stabilizes prices and moderates interest rates, and promotes the safety of individual financial institutions. In 1907, J. P. Morgan organized other leading financiers to backstop a run on banks and bring an end to a nationwide financial crisis. Later, with the encouragement of a powerful senator, a group of New York bankers went on to develop a plan for a central bank that was eventually adopted and that is still in effect today. Listen to the story to learn more about the formation of the Federal Reserve and America’s central banks by Congress.
For 12 days in October 1962, the world seemed poised on the brink of nuclear war. This public radio story describes President John F. Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It focuses on his role in finding a way to avoid his military advisors’ recommendation that the U.S. launch a military attack on recently discovered Soviet nuclear missiles being built in Cuba. It includes archival sound of his military advisors and the voice of Kennedy as he tells the American people about the crisis. It examines how Kennedy's actions avoided war.
This Public Radio Story describes the great importance of Syria’s ancient cultural heritage sites, for Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of many other national and ethnic identities. Unfortunately, these sites are under attack as Syria’s civil war rages on.
Millions of people invest billions of dollars in the stock market to make their money grow. Some pool their money with other investors in high risk investment vehicles known as hedge funds. Hedge fund managers employ a variety of strategies with the goal of doing better than the stock market as a whole. The third richest person in the world, Warren Buffett, made a $1 million bet that he could beat the earnings of any hedge fund with his own investments in low-risk index funds. A hedge fund manager took him up on the challenge. Listen to the story to learn who is on his way to winning the bet and why.
Modern campaigning can get pretty dirty, but politicians today are only taking their cues from politicians in ancient Athens. This public radio story describes how direct democracy was carried out in ancient Athens, a Greek city-state. Listen to learn who was allowed to participate in Athenian politics and how the people of Athens voted for and controled their elected officials.
In 1919 in a busy neighborhood of Boston a tank holding 2 million gallons of molasses burst open and flooded the streets. An author has written a children’s story about the incident and what happened after the tank exploded. Listen to hear the author talk about and read from her book.
Most scientists agree that human beings originated in Africa. The first humans to come to North and South America has long been believed to be the Clovis people. But a 2002 discovery in the Paisley Caves in Oregon has challenged this view. Archaeologists discovered animal bones and fossilized excrement, known as coprolites. Some of these coprolites included human molecules, providing the earliest human DNA ever found in the Americas. This discovery has given archaeologists new clues to better understand the earliest humans found in North America.
Ellis Island is the symbol of our immigrant nation. For millions of Americans, it was where their immigrant ancestors entered the United States. Immigration built our nation, immigrants peopled it, and their descendants remember their immigrant past with pride. But few Americans know what their ancestors went through. Navigating Ellis Island was the final hurdle immigrants faced before becoming American and starting their next big journey. Listen to learn about the first immigrant to enter the United States through Ellis Island.
Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 to very religious Jewish parents. But in 1944 World War II came to his hometown and he and his family were put in cattle cars headed for concentration camps as prisoners of Adolph Hitler. He never saw his family again. Years later, in 1960, he wrote a memoir called “Night” about his time in the camp. Maybe more than any other survivor of the Holocaust, Wiesel became the memory of the genocide and a champion of fighting indifference. Listen to this story to understand Wiesel’s sphere of influence.
From 1882 to 1943, Chinese immigrants were legally barred from entering the United States. It was the only time American Federal Law shut out people based on their nationality. The law, known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, forced some Chinese to enter the U.S. using false names and documents. Many Chinese-Americans today are just learning that their ancestors came to America under false identities. Listen to learn more about what has come to be called the “paper children” of these immigrants.
The Bosnia war started tragically with the siege of the capital, Sarajevo, in 1992. The takeover lasted longer than any siege of a capital city in modern European history. The growing nationalism among the 6 republics of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia sparked hostilities, and in 1991, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia declared their independence. When Bosnia declared independence in 1992, the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and Serbian leaders Radovan Karadžić and Slobodan Milosevic attacked Bosnia and caused two million Bosnians to flee their homes. The people of Croatia also attacked the country and claimed Bosnian possessions. The war lasted three and a half years and cost more than 100,000 people their lives. This audio story, recorded in 2012, describes relations among Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups—Muslims, Serbs, and Croats—at that time and 20 years later.
Decades of Americans are able to remember where they were at the moment they heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Fifty years later in this radio story we relive the events of that fateful day through the memories of two reporters who were there. Hugh Aynesworth was a local reporter for The Dallas Morning News and Sid Davis was a White House correspondent traveling with the president's press corps. Put yourselves in their shoes as they take you through how they learned about and covered the assassination.
The Great Depression of 1932 was the worst economic crisis worse in American history. President Herbert Hoover was blamed for the government’s failure to pull America out of the depression. During his campaign for president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “New Deal” for America. He knew little at the time of what that New Deal would include, but the term would come to define his response to the Great Depression. Listen to hear about President Roosevelt’s campaign for president, the qualities that made him an effective communicator, and the obstacles he faced as he struggled to present himself as a credible candidate for president.
The abolition of slavery in the United States didn’t happen all at once. Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery, in 1777, and most Northern States followed suit. This meant that escaped slaves could come North and rebuild their lives as free men and women. From the Underground Railroad, to even mailing yourself in a box, slaves found ways to escape their circumstances and come North. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act changed all that. Why was this Act approved and what was its result? Listen to learn more about escaping slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
Americans remember the War of 1812 as a battle with Britain for the survival of the United States. Less than 30 years after the end of the Revolutionary War, Britain once again tried to takeover the U.S. by allying with Native Americans and Canada. Americans fought for their nation, their freedom, and won. But who was an “American” in the early 1800s? Who fought with the British, and what were they fighting for? How did an American victory spell the beginning of the end of Native American sovereignty?
In this audio story, environmentalist and human rights activist Wangari Maathai, is remembered. A trained biologist—the first Kenyan woman to earn a doctorate degree—Maathai led the fight against mismanagement of Kenya’s natural resources. Over the course of thirty years, her Green Belt Movement planted more than 40 million trees to reverse the deforestation of the country caused by unregulated development. In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This story includes audio of Maathai herself talking about the origin of her love of the natural world and some of the challenges she faced in her environmental work and her work for peace and democracy.
In 1927, the automotive pioneer Henry Ford took his pioneering spirit in a new direction--to the jungles of the Amazon in Brazil. He built a fully functioning factory town in the middle of the Brazilian jungle, and called it Fordlandia. Fordlandia’s primary intention was to harvest rubber for Ford tires. But Ford also wanted create a kind of utopia, an experimental “ideal” community. Ford’s experimental plantation eventually failed, leaving it a forgotten ruin. Listen to learn more about the challenges Fordlandia faced and the ultimate reasons for its failure.
Robert Morris was a rich merchant from Philadelphia who became a banker and supplier to the American army during the Revolution. He built a fortune through international trade. He was successful at a time when reputation and personal relationships were the only guarantee that payments would be made. Initially against independence, Morris went along with the majority of Congress when it decided in favor, and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was instrumental to the success of the American Revolution, financing the war with his own personal credit. Listen to his story to learn about this important and controversial Founding Father, Robert Morris.
In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson argued that “all men are created equal,” yet during his lifetime he owned over 600 men, women and children. Jefferson wasn’t the only Founding Father who owned slaves and supported slavery. How could men who believed in liberty also believe in slavery? This lesson explores this contradiction, as well as the lives of slaves who made Jefferson’s lifestyle possible.
In the 1880s Africa was divided up by European countries. In the 1960s, 17 of those nations gained independence. The effects of colonization are still being felt today. France colonized nearly all of northern Africa and large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Its hold on these countries is central to its image as a nation and world power. Many French leaders say they will give up power and connections but in this interview with a journalist covering Africa, they discuss how France is still very involved in African states they formerly ruled.
In 1963 there was tension in the South. African Americans were demanding the right to equal treatment under the law. They faced strong, often violent, opposition from Southern authorities. One such conflict arose at the University of Alabama. When the school admitted black students for the first time, Alabama’s governor George Wallace stood at the door to block their entrance. In doing so, he protested desegregation and clashed with President John F. Kennedy’s administration. Listen to hear more about George Wallace’s contentious views and his lasting impact on politics.
George Washington was the hero of the American Revolution with a victory at Yorktown in 1781. He could have used his victory to seize power, but he went home to Mount Vernon. In this audio story, the remarkable characteristics of George Washington are considered. He is a historic figure not only because he was a great general, statesman and politician, but also because he voluntarily gave up power. His action cemented the United States as a democracy, in which citizens, rather than absolute rulers, have the power to govern the nation. Listen to hear how Washington’s actions are analyzed and interpreted.
Gerrymandering is the manipulation of the boundaries of voting districts in a way that favors one political party, usually by dividing up groups of opposing voters. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to draw congressional districts. Often, whichever party has power in the legislature gerrymanders in its own favor. The majority of legal experts agree that gerrymandering is unfair, but is there any legal way around the Constitution? In 2015, the United States Supreme Court heard a case about the state of Arizona’s strategy for avoiding gerrymandering. Listen to this audio story to learn about the arguments for and against an approach to redistricting that does not involve the legislature.
We owe a lot to the Ancient Greek civilization. Everything from architecture to medicine to music is based on Greek culture. This audio story describes the influence of ancient Greek culture, specifically in music, and how it has shaped what we know today.
In 1791, in what is now known as Haiti, Toussaint Louverture led a revolt against slavery that led to independence from France. In a time of many other attempted revolts, this was perhaps the most famous and successful. It went on for many years until 1804 the independent state of Haiti was formed. Louverture is interesting in that he is a complex and contradictory historical figure. Previously enslaved, Louverture gained his freedom in 1776 and, according to recently discovered evidence, gained wealth and social standing before the revolution. The story shares details about some of the contradictions of Louverture’s life, including the fact that he may have, at one time, been a slave overseer himself. Listen to hear about the revolt in Haiti and more about this politically smart and charismatic leader.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland. She escaped and came back to lead hundreds of enslaved people to New York and Canada along the route of the Underground Railroad. She was also a spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Nearly 200 years after her birth, Harriet Tubman is being honored with a visitor center in her name, located near her birthplace in Maryland. The visitor center depicts her life and the Underground Railroad, including interactive images that show her journey to the north. Listen to learn more about Harriet Tubman and this inspirational and historic place.
Modern Hebrew is one of the two official languages of Israel. But for 1,700 years it wasn't spoken. This radio story describes how new words are added to the Hebrew language today. It also explores the history of Hebrew, its decline over the centuries to a point where almost no one spoke it, and how it was revived in the 1800s by one dedicated Israelite.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan ended World War II in 1945. At the time, Americans were happy the war was over and some people even wanted to drop more atomic bombs. This radio story describes how Americans’ attitudes towards dropping atomic bombs on Japan changed from mostly positive to mostly negative, in the years after the second World War.
During the Holocaust, six million Jews and others were killed by Germany’s Nazi regime, led by Adolf Hitler. Some Jews and members of other persecuted groups survived by fleeing to safety or going into hiding. Others were freed from concentration camps when World War II ended in 1945. What happened to these survivors? Listen to hear from one Holocaust survivor in Israel and learn why she and many others currently live in poverty.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 not only changed many Americans sense of security, but it also changed the organization of the security apparatus of the U.S. Federal Government. It led to the creation and funding of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This department receives billions of dollars in funding every year to improve state and federal readiness efforts. But there is a growing debate about the role and effectiveness of the department and the way this money is spent. Listen here to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the Department of Homeland Security.
In the mid-1890s, when the U.S economy was in a depression, news spread across the country that rich deposits of gold had been found in the Yukon and Klondike regions of Alaska and Canada. Thousands of people flocked to the frozen Northwest in the hopes of striking it rich. The voyage was dangerous and conditions in the remote gold fields were exceedingly harsh, but this didn’t stop the unprecedented wave of migration that came to be known as the Yukon Gold Rush. Listen to hear about three individuals of the time: a prospector, a con man, and a detective.