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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.
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.
Anyone interested in astronomy owes a debt of gratitude to Galileo Galilei, a Renaissance-era astronomer and physicist known as the “father of observational astronomy” and credited with inventing the telescope. This audio story describes our modern-day fascination with astronomy and looking deep into space, first made possible by the Italian inventor. Listen to learn about the secrets of the universe revealed by the Hubble telescope, and hear an astronomer predict a “mind-boggling” new discovery he expects in the future.
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.
Girls Scout cookies have long been a part of American culture. The origins of Girl Scout cookies go back to the sale of cookies during the First World War. Since then, it’s become something of an annual tradition to purchase them, something that connects millions of people to a sense of shared cultural identity. For some kids, selling Girl Scout cookies is a great introduction to the concepts of business and marketing. Listen to learn how young people today are using their entrepreneurial skills to sell cookies, and hear kids describe their visions for other businesses they’d like to start.
The Mayan Empire once flourished in the dense rainforests of what are now southern Mexico and Central America. Over centuries, the Mayans acquired the elements of an advanced civilization, including large cities, an organized priesthood, a system of writing, and mastery of science and technology. The Mayans understood architecture enough to build pyramids and palaces and math and astronomy enough to create an accurate 365-day calendar. Listen to learn more facts about the magnificent Mayans and some theories about why the Golden Age of the Mayans came to an end.
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.
The Great Wall of China, a 13,000-mile-long tall stone wall running across Northern China, is one of the world’s most famous sites. Emperor Qin ordered construction of the wall over 2000 years ago to help unify the independent states of China and protect the country from enemies. Building the wall was dangerous work – hundreds of thousands of laborers died in the process – but the result is considered one of history’s most incredible feats of construction. Listen to learn more about the Great Wall of China, the only man-made structure that is visible from space.
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.
Education for females in Pakistan is not easy. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban, showed the world just how difficult it is to receive an education as a female in Pakistan. Other girls similar to Malala are struggling to become educated and earn the right to have a career in Pakistan. Listen to learn more about Malala and other young Pakistani girls like her who are fighting for their rights to receive an education.
The Harlem Globetrotters are a traveling team of skilled basketball players known for their flashy moves, entertaining shows, and for educating youth about health. They got their start in the 1920s, when Black players were excluded from playing professional basketball in the NBA. The original Globetrotters were five African American semi-pro players who traveled the midwest looking for other teams to play against. Eventually, they challenged the top team in the NBA, twice. Listen to hear the results of those widely watched games and learn how the Harlem Globetrotters helped transform the face of American basketball.
Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist and activist who escaped from slavery, and then returned to the South to lead dozens of other enslaved people to freedom. As a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, a path leading from slave to free states, Tubman never lost a single passenger. She worked for antislavery causes in the North and during the Civil War, served as a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union army. Listen to learn more about the remarkable life and contributions of American icon Harriet Tubman.
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.
Helen Keller was a pioneer in the disability rights movement. She was also a pacifist, advocate for workers’ rights, and supporter of women’s suffrage. Her life began with childhood struggles when she lost the ability to both see or hear. Thanks to her hard work and that of her teacher Anne Sullivan, Keller would learn to read, write, and communicate through sign language. Listen to learn about the life of Helen Keller, and how she overcame early challenges to become an accomplished author and reformer.
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.
Chocolate is not just a delicious treat, but a relic of the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations where it was first developed. Early indigenous groups ground dried cacao beans into powder to mix with water. Some believed chocolate was a gift from the gods and incorporated it into religious ceremonies. Spanish explorers brought the delicacy to Europe, where food enthusiasts created the first chocolate bars. Listen to learn more about the history of chocolate and why one ancient leader is said to have drunk a gallon of chocolate each day.
How people have made artificial light over the past 4,000 years reflects the history of economic growth in the world. One economist has explored the cost of light, starting in ancient Babylonian times and ending in the 1990s. He discovered that for most of the past four millennia, light was very expensive. Then, in the past 200 years, scientific advances caused the cost of light to drop precipitously, and economies grew with a speed and intensity unknown before. Listen to hear how light became cheap and how its cost helps show how economic growth happens.
Many researchers have cited the 1932 Tuskegee Study as the reason Black Americans today are distrustful of the medical industry and hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. However, as researchers have taken a deeper dive into this history, they have found that blaming the Tuskegee experiment for Black Americans’ mistrust of medicine potentially ignores the larger issue of persistent racism in the American medical system. Listen to learn more about the history of medical experimentation on Black people and how this troubling history has affected the attitudes and perceptions of many Black Americans.
Markus Persson learned how to program his father’s computer by the age of seven and then created his first computer game by the age of eight. As an adult, Persson designed his own game, called Minecraft, which allowed players to use their imagination and creativity to build tools and buildings. As the game became more popular, Persson took ideas for improvements to the game from users and hired other professionals to help grow the company and turn Minecraft into what it has become today. Listen to learn the history of a ground-breaking computer game, Minecraft.
One of the many legacies of the Second World War was the emergence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), formed as an alliance of western powers, led by the United States, to protect against the spread of communism. Over several decades, NATO has grown to include over 20 countries, bound by a military alliance and ideological common ground. Recently, President Trump has criticized NATO, arguing that the alliance is a drain on American resources. In this story, a historian tells the story of NATO’s history and connects it to recent concerns raised about its cost and its value.
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.
One of the most identifiable images of the civil rights era is that of sit-in protests. Used as a strategy for combating segregation, sit-ins were a powerful way to spotlight the injustices African Americans faced throughout America. Sit-ins had their roots in early 20th century labor struggles and would continue to be employed globally well after the civil rights era for issues ranging from climate action to gun control. Listen to learn about the history of sit-ins as a protest strategy, one that lives on in our national memory as an example of what civil rights icon John Lewis would have called “good trouble.”
Understanding and tracking time is key to keeping society -- and our lives -- running smoothly. Early civilizations developed calendars with just 300 days in a year. But by 1582, the time it takes for Earth to rotate around the sun was better understood, and Pope Gregory introduced the 365-day Gregorian calendar -- the one used by most of the world today. Listen to hear a scientist explain the math behind adding and subtracting leap days to keep the calendar aligned with the Earth’s movement, and learn how Christianity played a role in the calendar’s creation.
When a Russian paramilitary group, called the Cossacks, first emerged more than 500 years ago, it fought for two goals: expand Russia’s borders and protect its Orthodox Christian values. The Cossacks became recognized around the world for their fierce fighting skills and by their traditional dress, which included black sheepskin hats, long open coats and riding boots. Over the centuries, the Cossacks’ commitment to Russian imperialism and conservative ideology remained constant. The 1991 Soviet collapse resuscitated the Cossacks’ chance to serve as the country’s vigilantes once again. In this audio story, you’ll hear how an attack on a female punk band during the 2014 Sochi Olympics showed the world that the Cossacks aren’t just a page in the history books.