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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 slave 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.
To work in many occupations, people need to get a license. Licenses are issued by states and usually require some kind of education or training, test, and/or fee. Licensing exists to protect consumers from untrained, unqualified workers. But there’s another side to licensing. Listen to learn about how licensing also offers economic benefits to people in licensed professions as it keeps others out of the job market.
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 this Syrian American woman and her daughter as they travel to Turkey to help the Syrian war refugees.
What methods do current leaders use to influence the people they govern? During the Progressive era, Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to directly address the people using what he called the “bully pulpit.” Bully, at the time, meant terrific or great. The pulpit figuratively referred to his position of power, as president, from which he advocated his agenda through the use of the media. Listen to hear more about the relationship between President Theodore Roosevelt and the media and how they combined their influence to bring about reform.
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.
During the 1930s about 2 million people, many of them U.S. citizens who were born in the United States were deported to Mexico. Federal, state, and local officials took part in "repatriation" campaigns. During the Great Depression, many people thought Mexicans were taking the few jobs available, and these deportations were seen by some as a solution to unemployment. Listen to this audio story, to learn about how California recently apologized for the illegal deportation of Mexican-Americans in the1930's.
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.
Albert Camus (1913–1960) was a French writer-philosopher born in the North African country of Algeria, a French colony until 1962. In 1957, Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His celebrated novels The Stranger and The Plague reflect his absurdist and existential philosophies. Tragically, the writer died in a car accident at the age of 46 at what some consider to be the peak of his career. Listen to hear how Camus and his work were viewed during his lifetime and after his untimely death.
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.
In 2013, a treasure trove of ancient remains was found hidden in a deep underground cave in South Africa. The bones belonged to a previously unknown human relative called Homo naledi that lived about 250,000 years ago. The fossils were found within the Rising Star cave system, inside the Dinaledi Chamber, which is very difficult to reach. Listen to hear from a team of archaeologists working at the site and learn how the recently discovered species is both similar to and different from modern humans.
Siddhartha Guatama was born into an aristocratic family in ancient India. He later gave up that life in search of spiritual enlightenment which led him to found Buddhism. Bodhi Day, celebrated on December 8, commemorates the day that Siddhartha Gautama became the first Buddha. On this day, Buddhists around the world reflect on his journey out of suffering and towards enlightenment. Listen to hear a Buddhist scholar and minister explain the purpose of Bodhi Day, the spiritual path of Siddhartha Gautama, and the basic tenets of Buddhism.
Government policies designed to prevent overfishing inadvertently made halibut fishing in Alaska very dangerous. Fishermen pushed back, and a new policy was put in place that has made the industry safer. It regulated competition by making the fishing more efficient. Listen to this story to understand how government mandated changes in the market structure had unintended consequences.
A dominant theme in the study of American History is reform, with individuals and organizations pushing back against big moneyed interests and protecting the rights and power of the people. The Grange, an organization founded after the Civil War, is one of those organizations. The Grange was founded as a fraternal organization made up of farmers interested in protecting local agriculture from the rising costs of independent farming. Over time, the power of the Grange has declined. This audio story explores the history of the Grange and some of the issues the national Grange faces today as new members try to steer it in a new direction.
The Mexican-American War was a major turning point in U.S. History for a number of reasons. Not only did the U.S. acquire an enormous amount of territory as a result, but the war also shaped cultural attitudes about borders for generations. However, the Mexican-American War has not been viewed in the same way over the course of history. Listen to hear how different historians have viewed that period in history differently over time.
Making a T-shirt takes a lot of time, but it can be made cheaply. The origins of your T-shirts probably come from Mississippi, where cotton is grown, and the shirts were probably spun in Indonesia. In this story, reporters track the assembly of a T-shirt to Bangladesh and try to understand why that Asian country is currently "the cheapest place in the world to make a T-shirt." Bangladesh has established a specialization in garment production, and Bangladeshi garment factories further specialize in the production of cotton garments. Listen to the story to learn how these factories manage to undercut the prices of their competitors in other major garment producing countries and what the future may hold in store for them.
The American Revolution has ended and America is a free country. As a young country, America has many decisions to make about how it will be run, such as who will have power and lead the country. The Founding Fathers wanted to be careful that no one person would become too powerful, like the king they left behind, so the system of checks and balances was created. Listen to hear the story of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the safeguards they contained to keep the new government in check.
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 He 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.
The completion of the transcontinental railroad is one of America’s defining moments. The ceremony marking its completion is immortalized in the famous “Golden Spike” photograph at Utah’s Promontory Point. However, often overlooked in the story of the railroad’s construction is the role of Chinese laborers, who worked under brutal and often dangerous conditions to complete it. This audio story chronicles efforts by their descendants to gain greater recognition for their ancestors’ role in building the transcontinental railroad. Listen to learn details about the restaging of the famous photograph at Promontory Point and the Chinese immigrant experience in America.
Two thousand years ago, Rome was the capital of an empire. It was a republic with elections, a Senate, and sophisticated political processes. Marcus Cicero is considered one of Rome's greatest orators and provided counsel to government leaders, including Julius Caesar. There was a power struggle between the two ambitious men, Julius Caesar and Marcus Cicero, that led to the collapse of republican government and eventual dictatorship. Listen to learn more about Cicero and how the fall of Rome relates to politics today.
Roman historians wrote extensively about Roman civilization and its decline, but much less has been written about Rome’s early years. In this audio story, author Anthony Everitt discusses the rise of Rome from a small city on the Tiber River to a massive Mediterranean empire. He shows how Romans built their empire in part by offering citizenship to the people they conquered. Listen to an historian explain the strategies Romans used to build their empire, and learn how American government draws on ideas dating to the Roman Republic.
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.
There is debate about whether violent or non-violent resistance is more effective when faced with oppression. There have been conflicts and resistance movements over time that show the effectiveness of fighting back without violence. There were two points of view in the Civil Rights Movement as well as in uprisings in many countries. Listen to hear why those fighting in the civil war in Syria finds it necessary to use arms to fight oppression.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was illegal. Yet, due to a loophole in the law, Louisiana’s public schools were still segregated six years later. That changed when Ruby Bridges’ parents chose to send Ruby to first grade at the all-white school near her home. While Ruby helped integrate Louisiana’s public schools, her path was not easy. In this audio story, Ruby discusses what it was like to be the only Black student in an all-white school. Listen to hear how and why Ruby became one of the youngest heroes of the civil rights era.
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.
Ancient civilizations often devised clever methods for delivering clean water to cities. The aqueducts of Rome are a famous example. Recently, archaeologists uncovered a water filtration system used in the ancient Mayan city of Tikal to supply clean water to its residents, a system similar to ones that are used today. Remarkably, the city was not built near water, so in addition to filtering the water, the Maya had to dig reservoirs to collect it. Listen to learn about the Mayan method of purifying water and how contaminated water may have eventually led to the civilization’s decline.
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.
The Roman Empire was one of the largest and longest lasting in history. Theories about what led to its collapse have ranged from the barbarian invasions to internal corruption to economic instability. However, a recent theory that is added to the mix is climate change. New research has contributed to the theory that climate change destabilized Rome and made it vulnerable to collapse. In this audio story, this theory is discussed, including the scientific evidence, specifically the study of tree rings, that supports it. There is also discussion about whether this was naturally occurring or a man-made phenomenon.
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.