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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.
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 is 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Budgeting, paying bills, and managing bank accounts are all important personal finance skills. One high school in Vermont gave students an opportunity to learn about the world of personal finance in a unique way. A local non-profit group teamed up with employers and financial institutions to create a game that resembled the classic “Game of Life,” and invited students to play the game and learn about money management in the process. Listen to hear about the challenges and insights students had as they participated in the process of learning about personal finance.
Henry Clay is an overlooked and very important 19th century American politician. As a Senator, House Speaker, and Secretary of State, he helped shape antebellum America’s growth and, some say, helped hold off civil war for decades. He is credited with doing this through compromises that enabled America’s territorial expansion without allowing the issue of slavery to be a barrier. In this audio story, an historian tells the story of the Missouri Compromise, brokered by Clay, and looks at his legacy and relevance in today’s politics, where compromise is often seen as a sign of weakness.
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.
The two-party system has been part of American politics for a long time, but the Democratic and Republican parties weren’t always the two main parties. The Federalist party was the party of John Adams. And other third parties have been popular over the course of American history. This audio story explores the history of Democrats and Republicans and why they are the main political parties in America. Listen to learn how it has changed since the founding of the country.
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.
Some basic economic norms shape how most retail stores operate. These include: attract as many potential shoppers as possible; make it easy for them to find what they need; and make it appealing for them to return often so that they will spend money at the store. But some members-only warehouse stores break all those rules--and succeed anyway. Listen to find out why these stores do it differently, and why, despite breaking the rules of retail, they thrive.
Middle school history teachers have different strategies for how to engage students in learning. One way is to use topics that kids already find interesting and connect them to historical events. One example is insects. A children’s writer featured in this story, uses stories involving bugs to teach important events in history such as the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark. Her belief is that through topics that appeal to kids’ love of things gross and skeevy, important learning can happen.
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.
The Industrial Revolution changed forever both the way goods are made and the lives of the workers who make them. In the early years, workers did not like the changes. They challenged the factory owners, sometimes violently destroying the machinery that was transforming their lives. These protesters were called Luddites. Listen to learn about how these protestors tried to keep their world from changing
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in the early 1800s, escaped as a young adult, and went on to become the most famous abolitionist of his time. A renowned author, speaker, and activist, Douglass also became an early master of what is now known as "public relations," or use of the media. Douglass purposefully used photography to depict himself as a dignified counterpoint to derogatory depictions of African-Americans. Listen to learn how Douglass’s use of photography furthered the abolitionist cause.
Higher Education in the United States is largely independent from the government, and provides value in the form of knowledge, degrees, and increased earnings. College campuses are known for being at the forefront of progressivism and the fight for racial equality, but this wasn’t always the case. In the early days of the American colonies, academic institutions were closely involved in the development of slavery. Listen to hear how one history professor explored the complicated legacy of slavery in American higher education.
The Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, measures the worth of all the goods and services produced in a country. Knowing the GDP helps countries monitor how strong or weak their economies are. When the GDP gets bigger, conventional wisdom says that the economy is healthy and growing, while a shrinking GDP means that something is wrong. The GDP provides a way to see the fluctuations in a nation’s economy over time. But the usefulness of the GDP is limited. Listen to this story to find out why.
In 12th century France, the Catholic Church began the Inquisition for the purpose of stamping out heresy. In later Middle Ages the Inquisition expanded in response to the Protestant Reformation and also expanded to other European countries and their empires in the Americas. This audio story draws parallels between the Inquisition of medieval times and the surveillance and bureaucracy of the present day. It also discusses similarities to methods used in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, at the United States’ detention camp. Listen to hear how the institutionalizing of the Inquisition hundreds of years ago is linked to persecution today.
This story explores an important economic question: When a kid loses a tooth, how much should the tooth fairy pay? That may sound like a joke, but the tooth fairy’s payoff provides an example of inflation—the amount the price of goods increases each year—and of the economic principle called “income elasticity of demand.” Listen to the story to find out what teeth are going for these days, and what economists have to say about it.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. European immigrants in the late 1800s populated our nation and were granted citizenship upon entry. The immigration system has changed dramatically since, and America’s borders are no longer open to all. Hostility towards immigrants has led to a crackdown on illegal immigration in various states. Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Acts” commonly known as SB 1070 was passed in 2010 and became the strictest anti-immigration measure in recent history. Listen to learn how this law has impacted Arizona and its immigrants.
Scarcity is a basic economic problem: people have unlimited wants and needs, but the world has limited resources. Resources in that equation include materials, capital, and labor. A pasta factory in southern Italy faced a very particular sort of labor shortage. The Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy had enough employees to keep up with production schedules, but the employees weren’t showing up to work. The absentee rate among workers threatened the survival of the plant. Listen to the story to learn how bosses and managers changed employees’ attitudes and behavior and solved their scarcity issue.
In the developed world, a lot of money changes hands without anyone actually touching it. That’s because many people get paychecks, do their shopping, and pay their bills electronically. When you put your debit card into an ATM, you assume that the machine is connected to a trusted institution and knows how much is in your account and will, in fact, give you the amount of cash you asked for. In other words, you trust the process and the bank. But what if you couldn’t? Listen to find out how people in Myanmar are trying to adjust to banking electronically in a setting where it’s not always reliable.
In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay in which he predicted that by the time his children were grown up, people would be working just 15 hours a week. Today, in some countries, people do work a bit less than they did fifty years ago, but Keynes’s prediction was essentially wrong. There is a counter-intuitive response to incentives, and that is one factor that keeps people working long hours. According to his descendants, Keynes himself was a workhorse who couldn’t slow down. Listen to this audio story to learn more about Keynes and why making money doesn’t necessarily free us to work less.
The rivalry between India and Pakistan dates back to the partition of the former British colony in 1947. Lines were drawn along religious lines. Pakistan was a region for Muslims and India a region for Hindus. More than 60 years later the relationship remains tense. Listen to hear a story about partition from the perspective of India and learn about recent events in India that have intensified the rivalry. This piece, told from the viewpoint of India, is a companion piece to the audio story at the heart of the lesson Trouble between India and Pakistan Dates Back to Partition which focuses on partition and the Pakistani perspective.
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was only one of many schools being desegregated in accordance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This public radio story describes the attempt by nine black students to integrate Central High School in 1957. But the protests against its desegregation made Central High the symbolic focus of white resistance to civil rights for black Americans.
Google Maps is playing an unexpected role in modern-day disputes over borders, or so called "border wars." In 2010, Nicaragua claimed the Costa Rican island of Isla Calero and defended its actions by pointing out that Google Maps showed the island as Nicaraguan. A year later, the Netherlands complained that Google Maps gave land claimed by the Netherlands around the Ems River to Germany. Google says its Maps tool is only for “entertainment purposes”, and should not be used to make “territorial, political, or military decisions.” This public radio story explores how satellite mapping has changed border disputes.