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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.
Flags represent the shared identity of a group of people, and every country has a flag designed with colors and symbols that are meaningful to its citizens. Flags are often considered symbols of national pride, uniting people with shared heritage, culture, and values. They have also been used historically to help people distinguish friend from foe. Listen to hear how flags can bring people together or keep them apart and how learning about flags can help people understand and respect each other.
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 in an 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.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, fear and shock led to the United States' entry into World War II. The U.S. government declared all people of Japanese ancestry enemies, sending more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps for almost three years. They were forced to abandon their homes, lives and belongings and move to bare barracks. Listen to this audio story and learn how art was a fundamental way for these internees to cope with fear and bring strength, comfort and beauty to camp life.
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.
The largest sea invasion in history happened June 6, 1944 during World War II. It was named D-Day, and the Allied forces landed on 5 beaches of Normandy, France to liberate the German-occupied territory. Every year, on June 6th, many countries commemorate this important battle that marked a turning point during World War II. In this audio story, an American soldier discusses his combat experiences on D-Day, the challenges as a soldier in WWII, and the encounters with the terrors of war. Listen to learn more about D-Day as well as how this soldier feels now as he reflects on this historic battle.
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.
Note: At the end of the 10 year time period, Warren Buffett won the bet as the index funds outperformed actively managed hedge funds.
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.
Much is known about the awful legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and, more broadly, about how European and, later, American perpetrators maintained the slave system. Much less is known, however, about enslaved people and their life experiences. Aside from slave narratives, what is known is scattered among a variety of different sources spanning the history of slavery and the slave trade. A new project has been undertaken to fill this critical knowledge gap. Listen to learn about Enslaved.org, a project that aims to document the lives and stories of enslaved people.
After years of witnessing Cubans unsuccessfully strike up revolts against their Spanish rulers, in 1898 America went to war against Spain to liberate Cuba. However, one historian argues that the main reason behind the war had little to do with freeing a nation. He says humans have a natural thirst for war and to satisfy the urge, sometimes enter into unnecessary conflicts. Theodore Roosevelt embodied that spirit when, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time, he fully embraced war against Spain out of deeply personal reasons. Listen to learn more about the reasons America launched the Spanish-American War and how the concept of “wars of choice” is relevant today.
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 immigrants in our nation. This small island is where the ancestors of millions of Americans entered the United States, and many of 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 Adolf 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 enslaved people. 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 enslaved people, specifically discussing the experience of individuals 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 enslaved people that escaped could come North and rebuild their lives as free men and women. From the Underground Railroad, to even mailing yourself in a box, enslaved people 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.
Histories of the women’s suffrage movement often focus on famous names like Susan B. Anthony. But many other women fought hard to secure passage of the 19th amendment ensuring women’s right to vote, and their contributions are often overlooked. In particular, women of color, queer women, and even conservative anti-suffrage women are often left out of the narrative. Listen to hear about some of these often-overlooked voices in American history and how their perspectives can give us a richer understanding of the fight for women’s suffrage.
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.
Looking back in time, it’s hard to imagine a time when there were next to no food safety regulations in the United States. But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, there were no laws stopping food producers from selling food that endangered the health of their customers. This all changed at the turn of the twentieth century. Listen to hear how one American chemist conducted daring experiments to publicize the damage that tainted food could cause, and how this transformed food safety regulations forever.
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 followed was a war that would cost more American lives than all previous wars combined. Listen to learn about the attack on Fort Sumter and the story behind the first American killed in 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.