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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 his criticisms, and hopes, for his country.
During the Great Depression and early years of World War II, government-sponsored photographers fanned out across the country to document the struggles of everyday Americans. Originally intended to generate support for New Deal policies, the photographs that were taken, including some by famous names like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, have become precious artifacts of the time period. Listen to hear about an effort to organize these unique photos documenting Depression-era life into an easily searchable collection.
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.
A tank holding 2 million gallons of molasses burst open and flooded the streets of Boston in 1919. This strange disaster killed 21 people and led to a scapegoating a group of people. 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 this event and what happened in the years afterward.
Many cities have seen growth in their population, and the high schools in these cities have become a fusion of races and ethnicities. Frisco, Texas has changed dramatically in the last twenty-five years. Not only has it changed from a sleepy railroad town into a bustling suburb of a major city, it has also changed a great deal demographically. A town that was once 75% white is now a mix of people from all over the world. Listen to hear how those demographic changes have affected the lives of students at one of its newest high schools.
For students of Classical Athens, no structure better represents the success of Athenian Democracy than the Parthenon, the great temple built in honor of the goddess Athena. Several centuries ago, Lord Elgin, a British nobleman, removed half the sculptures from the Parthenon and brought them to Britain where they were eventually housed in the British Museum. Now, after years of demanding their return, the Greeks have built a huge, ultramodern museum in the hopes of someday bringing the precious artifacts back. Listen to learn more about this dispute over national treasures and why each side feels it has a rightful claim.
The Dust Bowl was one of the worst man-made environmental disasters. It turned the southern Great Plains of the U.S. into a desert. When the native prairie grass was pulled out and replaced with wheat fields, the loose soil had nothing to hold it. The dirt blew away in the wind, and as it traveled it gathered into enormous dust storms that choked people and animals with dirt. In this public radio story you will hear archival interviews with people who lived through the Dust Bowl. You also hear an early recording of the poem "Hard Luck Okie" which examines the reasons why people moved West.
Most scientists agree that human beings originated in Africa. The first humans to come to North and South America have 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. This small island is where the ancestors of millions of Americans entered the United States. Immigration built our nation, immigrants peopled it, and their descendants often remember their immigrant past with pride. But many Americans do not know what their ancestors experienced upon arriving in the United States and starting their next big journey in a new land. Listen to this story to learn about the first immigrant to enter the United States through Ellis Island and how a case of mistaken identity kept her story buried.
For early European Americans, daily life was about making sure you had enough food to survive. At various points, this was almost a day-to-day process. In places like Dutch New Amsterdam, settlers’ diets consisted of whatever they could hunt and forage for. This audio story is about a New York City restaurant who designed a menu to mirror the daily diet of 17th century Dutch settlers. The story highlights both the differences from and similarities to our diets today, and sheds new light on the lasting impact of the Dutch settlers in American history.
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.
Everywhere in America deals with the ongoing legacy of slavery, but one historic plantation in Louisiana is actually making an effort to memorialize that legacy from the point of view of slaves. When it was purchased from a petrochemical company and re-opened in 2014, the Whitney Museum became the first museum in America dedicated to telling the story of slaves, specifically discussing the experience of individual slaves who lived and worked on this historic plantation. Listen to hear how this museum aims to tell the true story of slavery, and what we as a nation can learn from it.
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, this radio story relives the events with two Dallas 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 Spanish Empire is a story of global power. From the 15th through 19th centuries, the Spanish controlled territory all over the Atlantic world and as far east as the Philippines. However, Spanish conquest has also sparked historical debate and criticism because of the brutality the Spanish often inflicted on those people and places they conquered. Listen to hear an historian and author discuss stories of Spanish power and conquest and offer a broader assessment of how the Spanish Empire should be judged.
The Great Depression of 1932 was the worst economic crisis 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.
America’s founding was fraught with conflict. America in 1787-88 was a place of deep political divisions. Much of the root of those divisions was disagreement over how much power should be given to the central government. After the Constitutional Convention, political leaders split between supporters of the Constitution (Federalists) and opponents (Antifederalists). In an effort to sell the new Constitution to the country, three Federalists (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay) wrote a series of arguments, in essay form, we now call the Federalist Papers. These essays were designed to explain the Constitution. Today, they are regarded as America’s greatest contributions to political philosophy as is explained in this audio story.
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.
In 1815 American soldiers defeated the British on Chalmette Battlefield. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it damaged the battleground that was the site of the Battle of New Orleans. In 2006, the battlefield was reopened for the first time since the storm. The aim was to have a reenactment of the battle to show visitors that the area of New Orleans could pick itself up from devastation and remember its history. Listen to learn about how long the fight lasted and how they made the reenactment so believable.
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.
The assembly line hasn't changed much since it was invented about 100 years ago. This audio story looks at how the assembly line was introduced and perfected by the Ford Motor Company in the 1910s. The assembly line made it possible for Ford to boost its sales, its wages, and its market, and helped create the modern-day American middle class.
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.
While the names of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights activists may be familiar to many Americans, there are likely others who are lesser known. Bayard Rustin was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin explained in interviews how his sense of identity was connected to his fight for social justice. Listen to this story to learn about how Rustin’s identity as a gay man and his identity as a black civil rights activist intersected in ways that had significant impact on his life and his notoriety.
On April 14, 1861, the American Civil War began with a Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, a union fort located in Charleston, South Carolina. Eventually, the union surrendered the fort. What would follow would be a war that would cost more American lives than all previous wars combined. This audio story is about the attack on Fort Sumter and, specifically the story behind the first American killed in the war. The story also includes some other interesting stories related to the fort and the attack that began the war.
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.
The Founding Fathers are known for uniting the thirteen original colonies, leading the American Revolution, and establishing the new democratic government of the United States of America. The women who contributed to those efforts are less well known. A children’s book called “Founding Mothers” tells their remarkable stories. Listen to learn why one Founding Mother believed American women were actually “better patriots” than their husbands.
In the 1880s European countries divided up Africa and made them their colonies. In the 1960s, 17 of those nations gained independence. The European countries and their former African colonies still feel the effects of colonization today. France colonized nearly all of northern Africa and large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, as you can see on the map. Holding onto these countries makes France feel strong as a nation and world power. Many French leaders say they will give up their connections to their former colonies that are now independent. However, in this interview with a journalist covering Africa, we learn how France is still very involved in African states they formerly ruled.In
Galileo Galilei is known as the “father of modern science.” Fascinated by gravity, motion, and the movement of heavenly bodies, Galileo’s work influences how we understand our own world and the solar system. His contributions include improving the accuracy of telescopes and adding to our understanding of gravity and, most famously, our knowledge that the earth, and other planets, revolve around the sun. The latter claim would make Galileo famous and controversial in 16th century Italy. Listen to learn about the story of Galileo Galilei and why he was sentenced to prison for his revolutionary scientific ideas.
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.
As the commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolution and our country’s first president, George Washington was one of America’s most respected leaders. Washington spent his early years working on his family’s Virginia tobacco farm and inherited the farm as a young man, after his father’s death. He was schooled at home but learned most of what he knew from hands-on experience. Listen to learn more about the early days of George Washington and the experiences that shaped his views and molded his character.
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.
Venezuela has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, but its economy has collapsed, and its government isn’t doing too well either. The country is beset by shortages—of everything. Listen to this story to find out how a country rich in natural resources has descended from wealth and democracy into financial and political chaos.
In 1741, New York City was shaken by an uprising led by African slaves. New York was a British colony and had a very large slave population. After a series of fires burned homes in Manhattan, including the Governor’s house, many black slaves were imprisoned, hanged, or burned. There was a great fear that slaves were conspiring against their owners. Listen to hear about the history of the revolt and what the revolt of 1741 can tell us about society today.
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.
Ancient Greek plays called tragedies were often about characters dealing with the aftermath of war. Today, these sad stories may help modern veterans recover from the emotional consequences of returning home from battle. Listen to find out what today’s veterans can learn from Sophocles’ play “Ajax,” written over 2,000 years ago.
Johannes Gutenberg is one of history’s most important inventors for having invented the printing press. His invention ushered in the “Gutenberg revolution”, leading to the mass production of books, the influence of which on world history is incalculable. One of the most important early printings by Gutenberg was the famous Gutenberg Bible, of which only three “perfect” copies survive. This audio story focuses on the copy at the Library of Congress. The story details efforts to digitally analyze each page and how this analysis is raising new questions about the process by which mass production of books evolved.
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.