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The Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries was the largest contiguous land empire in world history, and the man responsible for its growth was the legendary Genghis Khan. Khan united numerous tribes in Asia to form the empire. During its expansion, Khan went as far west as modern day Iraq, a remarkable feat that places Khan in the company of people like Alexander the Great. In the audio story, a biographer of Khan pushes back against the historically negative viewpoint many scholars have of him (that of a brutal barbarian who conquered land and ruled as a cruel dictator) and suggests that Khan was in actuality a visionary, sophisticated and effective leader whose military genius and leadership skills fueled the empire’s growth.
Recent discoveries on the battlefields of Lexington, Massachusetts have altered our understanding of a Revolutionary War battle. In the Minute Man Park, archaeologists discovered musket balls that will help historians understand exactly where militiamen were standing during the battle. The story describes what these militiamen might be feeling during the fighting. Listen to learn how technology helps us continue to adjust our understanding of history.
The roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict trace back centuries. Israelis and Palestinians have cultural, religious, and social differences, but have shared space for a long time. In 1948, Israel became an independent state, creating a refugee population of Palestinians as Israel expanded its borders. Certain areas in Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, are occupied by Palestinians, while some areas like Jerusalem have both Israelis and Palestinians living among each other. The result has been segregation between the groups within Israel and a lack of empathy for others. Listen to hear the different opinions among Israelis and Palestinians.
The United States Constitution gives specific powers to each branch of government. This separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches is meant to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful. In the last decade, the Legislative branch has been unnerved by the growth of Executive power under President Bush and President Obama. Listen to learn about an FBI raid in 2006 that had congressmen from both parties alarmed.
Time zones have reflected a changing world of politics, commerce and technology. This audio story explores the history of time zones and the transition from local time to a global, coordinated standard time, which wasn’t always an easy transition.
On the Fourth of July, many Americans celebrate gaining freedom from British rule. It is important to remember, though, that for African American slaves, July 4th, 1776 did not bring freedom; instead, it brought many more years of enslavement. In fact, many black slaves joined the British army during the Revolutionary War, as the British had promised emancipation, or freedom, in exchange for their service. After the war, some of these brave soldiers did find freedom, but it was imperfect or incomplete. Listen to hear more about what happened to the African American slaves who fought for better lives during the Revolutionary War.
During the War of 1812, when the British were blockading the Chesapeake Bay, many slaves from the state of Maryland sought asylum with the British Navy. As the war escalated, the navy made some key changes to their policy on runaway slaves. These changes increased the number of slaves seeking freedom from the British. Some historians estimate that there were more than 700 slaves who escaped during that war. Listen to learn how and why they did it, and what happened to them after the war.
Jews were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition and reparations were made just recently. Until 1492, Spain had a thriving Sephardic Jewish community. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish King and Queen, expelled or killed Jews, or forced them to convert to Catholicism. More than 500 years later, as a form of reparation for that historical wrong committed, Spain is offering citizenship to the descendants of Jews who were impacted during the Inquisition. The reaction of Jewish descendants has been mixed. The story raises issues about historical legacy, reparation and modern-day issues around Israel’s relationship with Europe.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed to America and claimed the land for Spain. This event became an American holiday 400 years later, but some people think it shouldn’t be a holiday at all. To some, Columbus represents the beginning of European colonization. Today, Columbus Day is a time for celebration and protest across Latin America. In countries spanning Central and South America, people commemorate the holiday by celebrating both their Spanish and indigenous heritages. In addition, leftist leaders have used Columbus Day as an opportunity to show support for native people and customs. Listen to learn more about the many different meanings of this holiday outside the United States.
During the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, many colonists weren’t fully committed to fighting for independence from the British Empire. That changed during the summer of 1776. In his book, “Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence,” historian Joseph Ellis describes the events that swayed popular opinion toward leaving the British Empire. Listen to this interview with Ellis to learn more about military and political developments during this critical moment in America’s history.
The number of billionaires in China is growing. Chinese children from billionaire families often flaunt their wealth and there is great disparity between rich and poor. This new phenomenon not only has socio-economic consequences but is also shaping the country morally. One company has taken an interest in the topic and has developed courses to teach wealthy kids to care about others. They are educating the rich on giving back to the poor and raising money for charity. Listen to hear more about how this social issue affects China and learn how lessons in empathy are educating rich Chinese children.
The First Amendment is the basis for the separation of church and state. The government and organizations funded by the government, like public schools, cannot promote a particular religion. This separation, highlighted in the U.S. Constitution, led to a national debate in 2004 when a fifth-grade teacher in California was asked to keep his religion out of the classroom. Listen to learn more about both sides of this debate, and the rights students have against indoctrination.
Note: Since this public radio story first aired the lawsuit was settled out of court.
Chances are, you’re wearing something made from cotton. You can check the label on most garments to find out where they were made. But where was the cotton grown that was the starting point? This story tracks down the source of the cotton that went into a T-shirt. A spinning mill in Indonesia is where the fabric may have been made, and the cotton fields of Mississippi is where the cotton may have been grown. But cotton is grown all over the world. Why would a textile mill in Indonesia buy cotton from the U.S. when they can get it from much closer? Listen to this story to find out how technology and subsidies give American cotton farmers an advantage in international trade.
In Afghanistan, getting an education can be very difficult. Girls in particular face many challenges getting an education, and may never even have the opportunity to use the education they receive. Though there has been much progress since the Taliban left in 2002, there are still many obstacles for girls seeking an education. Listen to learn how three teenage girls in Afghanistan deal with school and how they plan to accomplish their dreams despite the odds.
In 221 B.C., China was unified for the first time by Qin Shi Huang Di, who declared himself its emperor. During his rule, he had workers build thousands of life-sized statues of soldiers using terracotta, or baked clay. He believed that these soldiers would protect him in the afterlife. Each one of the 7,000 statues is unique, which makes scientists scratch their heads and ask: Who were the soldiers modeled after? Listen to learn more about what these mysterious statues reveal about China’s first emperor.
The Museum of the American Revolution opened in Philadelphia on April 19, 2017, the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Remarkably, it is the first museum of its kind dedicated to telling the story of the nation’s founding. In the museum, visitors are treated to a number of interesting stories connected to the people and events of the Revolution. Listen to hear a number of stories including a summary of the American Revolutionary War, the significance of George Washington, the important role of slavery in the nation’s founding, and the writing of the Declaration of Independence.
A rare collection of paintings by Michelangelo was on display at the Muscarelle Museum at the College of William and Mary in 2013 in Williamsburg, Virginia. This public radio story reflects on Michelangelo's life but also looks at what makes his work so special. It focuses on the drawing of Cleopatra, which depicts her in two ways, beautiful and ugly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1908, presidential candidates William Jennings Bryant and William Howard Taft recorded their speeches with new technology at the time—the phonograph. For the first time in history, voters could hear audio recordings of the presidential candidates at mock debates played in penny arcades. Although the use of the phonograph faded away from presidential campaigns, some say this led the way to the mass media coverage of presidential campaigns.
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.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented all immigration of Chinese laborers. Chinese immigrants were detained at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay at the turn of the 20th century because of the Exclusion Act. This audio story describes the Chinese poetry carved on the walls of a detention barracks by Angel Island detainees. Their poetry tells a story of humiliation and mistreatment of innocent Chinese people trying to start a new life or join loved ones already in the United States.
Maritime trade in today’s world is still very important as ships bring clothing to department stores and TVs to electronic stores. This public radio story explains how the International Maritime Organization, founded in 1958, oversees world shipping today. The IMO deals with problems the ancient Greeks would have recognized, including piracy.
The Seven Years’ War was a major European war involving multiple European nations. Some historians would argue it was the most consequential war of the 18th century. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions, one led by Great Britain and one led by France. The war spanned several continents, including North America, where French and British troops, mainly colonial soldiers, fought each other. Each side was assisted by Native American allies. America remembers the North American conflict as the French and Indian War. Listen to this story of an historical reenactment of battle from the war, and learn more about the misunderstandings of the war and its significance in America’s history.
Household management involves using resources wisely and being thrifty to stay within a budget. The word “economy” comes from the Greek word for household management, oikonomia. This management is difficult when people have too little money to buy what they need, which was the case for many after the stock market crashed in 1929. In an effort to make sense of what was going on, members of the U.S. government began to talk about what they called “the economy,” and they developed methods to quantify the situation and account for economic fluctuations. Listen to the story to learn more about the invention of what we call the economy and some of the means by which we measure its strength.
Benjamin Franklin was one of America’s most influential founding fathers, but he was much more than that. An author, printer, politician, scientist and diplomat Franklin lived a surprising and fascinating life. Listen to learn more about the path of this great statesman from a being the apprentice to a printer in Philadelphia to an influential scientist and diplomat in Paris.
A Mughal monument that dates back to 1570 was the first garden tomb complex on the Indian subcontinent and inspired other buildings including the Taj Mahal. There has been an effort to restore the 16th-century monument located in Delhi, India. Listen to learn how the people working on the restoration, and the people who live near the monument, find themselves changed by this work.
Archeologists have long searched sites across Central America to learn about the ancient civilizations that once thrived there. One of those civilizations is the Olmecs, an early Central American people, whose culture pre-dates the Mayans. In this audio story you will hear about the discovery of a stone block that seems to date back to the Olmecs, over 3,000 years ago. It contains what might be the oldest writing ever found in the Americas. Listen to learn more about the significance of this discovery.
The Great Wall of China stretches thousands of miles. But there were many walls before The Great Wall. This story focuses on the wall built centuries before the Great Wall by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Listen to hear why the Qi wall was originally built, how it was constructed, and who was recruited to do the construction work.
This public radio story describes the Julian calendar, developed during the rule of Julius Caesar in Rome in the first century BCE, and how this calendar failed to keep accurate time for the Catholic Church centuries later. You will hear how Pope Gregory called on modern science to create an accurate calendar in the 1500s, and that became the calendar we use today.
In 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was shot and killed. The assassination started World War I and changed the course of the 20th century. This story takes you to the street corner in Sarajevo where it all began and discusses the aristocracy at the time and how lax security led to the assassination. Listen to learn more about the motivations of the assassins and the series of events that led to the start of World War I.
In 1765, the British imposed a tax on the American colonists, called the Stamp Act. Listen to hear a chronology of events and description of laws passed by the British for the years leading up to the American Revolution. In this story, an expert explains what the Stamp Act was and explains the events that led from the Stamp Act to the tax on Tea and the resulting Boston Tea Party, as well as other similar protests of the tea tax. Listen to learn more about the Stamp Act and for clues to the effectiveness of the protest against British taxes.
The United States Constitution is the basis of our laws and structures our government. It contains the founding principles of our nation. Since its creation in 1787, Americans have debated its full meaning, and worked to apply it to new situations that the Founders could never have imagined—certain that this 18th-century document is ready to tell us what to do in the 21st century. Any group trying to make change calls on the Constitution for backup. Listen to learn how the Tea Party is using the Constitution to back its political goals and challenge the Bill of Rights.
Since the founding of the United States, there has been a debate about the issue of church and state and how much faith should influence law and political debate. The first amendment to the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Nonetheless, there are people who advocate for more government support for religious institutions and preference for one faith over another. Listen to this conversation about the current tax-exempt status of churches, evidence of how our founders dealt with the issue, and President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty.
A compromise is a way to settle a dispute by meeting each other halfway. Sometimes, a compromise may be acceptable in the moment, but there can be hidden costs. The head of Emory University caused a significant disruption by citing the Three-Fifths Compromise of the U.S. Constitution “as a positive example of political compromise.” But according to a history professor at the institution, this was “the Constitution’s fatal flaw.” This constitutional amendment impacted the future of slavery in the United States. Listen to hear one Emory professor’s perspective on the controversy and how the country’s history of slavery continues to affect us today.
Thomas Paine was a British essayist and political philosopher in the years leading up to and during the American Revolution. His writings and the pamphlets he published were very popular among American colonists and politicians alike. He took on such ideas as America as universal concept, the supreme importance of liberty, and the proper role of a just government. His essay, “Common Sense,” written less than two years after Paine’s arrival from England, was the single most influential document leading to the Declaration of Independence. This audio story takes a brief look back at this influential writer and contains several passages from “Common Sense.” Listen to learn more about Thomas Paine’s life and ideas, and about how his writings helped inspire a revolution.
The tradition of town meeting day has faded away in most states. This public radio story describes a Town Meeting in Starksboro, Vermont, and puts it in the context of the longstanding tradition of town meeting in New England, which began in the 1600s. While it can be difficult to give 100 people all the time they want to debate issues and air their opinions, let alone come to an agreement on them, town meeting remains a vitally important institution that its members value. This story looks at what makes it work.