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More than 200 years ago, one of history’s most controversial leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte of France, faced an uncertain future as the battle lines were drawn between the most powerful countries of Europe. By the end of the Battle of Waterloo, millions of people were dead and Napoleon was defeated. Two centuries later, the battle is being reenacted amid a European continent more united than ever. Listen to the audio story to learn more about the impact of the Battle of Waterloo and the lessons that can be learned from Napoleon’s story.
Nelson Mandela was an inspiring leader, much like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He confronted a system of oppression and helped bring justice to the oppressed. Mandela was a young lawyer who became an activist in the highly segregated South Africa. He spent nearly 30 years in prison for his activities. Upon his release, he was elected as the nation’s first black African president. During his time in office, Mandela strove to heal a deeply wounded and fragile nation. Listen to hear Mandela’s life story, told shortly after his death at age 95.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, Ellis Island in New York City was the first stop for millions of immigrants entering the United States. The facility became a symbol of America’s history as a society built by immigrants. Today, Ellis Island is a museum that tells just one part of the story of American immigration. Listen to hear the experience of how immigrants arrived at Ellis Island and how the museum remains relevant to people coming to the United States today.
Taxing imports makes imported goods more expensive for consumers. So why aren’t all seemingly similar items taxed the same? This audio story focuses on imported suits for Santa Claus impersonators. These red suits with white firm trim are worn by thousands of Santa Clauses around the Christmas holidays. Some of these outfits are taxed, others are not. Listen to learn more about the sometimes complicated laws that determine why not all Santa suits are taxed equally.
The Nubian Pharaohs play an important part in ancient history, though their story is not widely told. Known as “Black Pharaohs,” they came from the area of modern-day Sudan and ruled Ancient Egypt for a half century. The Nubian people established a rich civilization in Africa, complete with impressive pyramids and sophisticated cultural practices. For many years, though, scholars and archaeologists ignored Nubian contributions, attributing their accomplishments to the Egyptians instead. Listen to learn more about the “Black Pharaohs” from Sudan, and their remarkable history that has not been given the attention it deserves.
The U.S. warship the USS Constitution is docked in Boston Harbor. It's the oldest commission warship in the world. The USS Constitution played a key role in the War of 1812. Listen to this audio story to learn how the warship USS Constitution got its nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 as it battled British warships off the U.S. coast.
The earliest known fossil that lead to humans was recently discovered in Ethiopia. Scientists have uncovered a lower jaw with five teeth. The jaw is estimated at about 2.8 million years old, and is nearly half a million years older than the previous record for a human-related fossil. This bone could help explain a branch in the human family tree. Listen to the story to find out how this fossil could fill a gap in the history of human evolution.
Many people need organ transplants, but there are not enough organs for all of them. Doctors have had to develop criteria for deciding who gets the organs that are available, knowing that those who don’t get the organs they need may die. Listen to hear how the allocation of available organs puts doctors in the position to make life or death decisions, and who keeps them honest about it.
In the 1920’s thousands of orphan children were shipped on trains from the streets of New York City to America’s Midwest. Some found a loving family, but others had a very difficult life experience. “Orphan Train” is a novel by Christina Baker Kline, that talks about the story of Niamh, an Irish girl who was sent on one of these trains after losing her parents in a fire. Listen to the author talk about Niamh and other orphan’s experiences, and think about whether the benefit to some members of society was worth the pain of others.
Outsourcing happens when a company in the U.S. stops hiring American workers and hires workers in foreign countries instead. The benefit for the U.S. company is that workers in other countries make much less money than American workers, so the company saves money. In the early 2000s, more Americans began to protest against outsourcing because it created unemployment in the U.S. This public radio story introduces a man who built a business around helping companies outsource, and who stands by the practice despite its controversial aspects.
The federal government now recognizes the Pamunkey tribe from Virginia. Tribe members waited a long time to achieve this acknowledgment, fighting a long legal battle and facing opposition from various groups. Pamunkey’s new status as a recognized tribe gives them access to certain rights and privileges they did not have before. This tribe played a crucial role in early American history, and now they can look forward to a brighter future. Listen to hear more about what federal recognition means for this Native American tribe.
America looked different before Columbus arrived in 1492. Historian Charles Mann paints a vivid picture of pre-Columbian America. It was a world of glittering cities, advanced technology, monumental architecture, and powerful empires. Listen to learn what happened to it all and how it could have been destroyed by European might or a natural disaster.
During the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, leaders of industry and finance had unprecedented wealth, influence, and power. These men made fortunes and also donated money to build colleges, museums, and libraries. Today we are seeing a new rise of influential moguls, which is a very small group of men with incredible power and money with the ability to change the world. This story discusses the similarities and differences between the super-rich of today and of the Gilded Age. Listen to hear more about the characteristics of the incredibly wealthy.
On June 13, 1971, the New York Times published a detailed report on America’s involvement in Vietnam, going back to the 1940s and continuing up until the mid-1960s. Known as the “Pentagon Papers”, this report was leaked to the Times and caused a sensation because, among other things, they detailed many aspects of America’s escalation of the Vietnam War that were previously unknown to the public. The papers led, eventually, to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. In 2011, on the 40th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers, a complete version of them was, without government edits, released to the public. This audio story describes the process by which the new version was released to the public and then reviews the historical context for the original release.
At its height, the Persian Empire stood as one of the ancient world’s largest and most powerful empires. One of its most famous leaders was the king known as Cyrus the Great who ruled Iran from 550-530 BC. One of the Persian Empire’s great treasures is the Cyrus Cylinder, which tells the story of Cyrus The Great’s rule. The cylinder depicts Cyrus as a king who was seen both as a great political and military leader, as well as the ancient world’s equivalent of a humanitarian. Evidence for all of these characteristics can be found on the Cyrus Cylinder. The audio story describes the cylinder as one of the oldest declarations of human rights found in archaeology. It also describes the pride modern Iran, often criticized for human rights violations, has for the legacy of Cyrus the Great.
Racial segregation in the United States was challenged in two landmark Supreme Court cases. The first, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) involved a Louisiana law segregating railroad cars. The second, and more famous, Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), centered on segregation in public schools, but both centered on whether or not segregation was constitutional. In Plessy, the court ruled that segregation was constitutional. However, nearly 60 years later, the court came to the opposite conclusion. This audio story includes interview clips with descendants of three of the important people from these two cases. Listen to hear how they learned about their connection to these historic cases and how their lives have been impacted.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, had a dramatic impact on the political landscape in the United States. The focus shifted from domestic issues to national security, and the initial partisan unity after the election dissolved into an edge for President Bush and the Republican party. Five years later, public support of the war had soured, and Democrats were back into the White House. Listen to learn how partisan politics have shifted in the years since September 11th.
Like many agricultural civilizations, the Aztecs survived based on a complicated, varied agricultural system. In fact, to really understand ancient Mesoamerican people, you need to understand the significance of corn. Surprisingly, one of the foods that the ancient Aztec people ate was what we call ‘popcorn’ today, which the Aztecs called “totopoca”. This story explores popcorn’s roots, beginning with the Aztec cultivation of corn, and shows how, with European conquests, popcorn began to spread around the world.
This is the story of Jeff White, an aggressive, fearless bully in a small town. White explains his behavior and his feelings about it, as well as why he thinks it works for him. After time in juvenile detention, White explores the possible reasons for his bullying, looks deeper into his personal interests, and discusses what he thinks about his future. Listen to learn more about White’s behavior, his experiences in school and in jail, and his relationships with other people.
In 1968 the Soviet Union invaded Prague, Czechoslovakia to crush a democratic uprising later called the Prague Spring. The Soviets were afraid that the democratic reforms introduced by the Czech communist party would lead to revolution against Soviet rule. The Czech people resisted the Soviet invasion force for as long as they could, and provoked global outrage against heavy-handed Soviet repression of human rights. This story looks back on the Prague Spring.
The ancient ruins of Pompeii are facing many problems as a result of being exposed to bad weather—and possibly neglect. Italian art experts and archaeologists blame the Italian government for skimping on maintenance of the famous city, exploiting the ruins instead of protecting them. This audio story looks at how weather and even budget cuts threaten the historic ruins of Pompeii.
President Abraham Lincoln is regarded by many historians as the best American president. Interestingly, his presidency was preceded by one considered among our worst: President James Buchanan. During his one term in office, Buchanan is judged for having secretly helped bring about the Dred Scott decision, among the most unjust Supreme Court decisions in history, and for his unwillingness to try to halt the secession crisis of 1860-61. In this audio story, an historian makes the case for Buchanan being the worst of our presidents, and considers his legacy and influence in what would become the American Civil War.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the youngest man elected as the President of the United States, and the first and only Roman Catholic to serve as president. His election represented a departure from the status quo. The message Kennedy delivered in his inauguration speech on January 20, 1961 served as inspiration for an entire generation. Listen to hear excerpts of his speech and learn how it inspired four young people to action.
On the morning of April 12, 2015 Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man from Baltimore, was arrested by police and fell into a coma as a result of spinal cord injuries sustained while in police custody. He died a week after his arrest. The officers involved have been suspended with pay but there have been no public answers about what happened. Peaceful protests in Baltimore turned violent, leading to riots and property destruction. This incident tapped into anger and resentment in a city known for racial segregation, economic marginalization and police violence. The six police officers involved in Gray's death were charged with a range of crimes including murder. They have pled not guilty. Listen to learn more about the way these tensions played out in one neighborhood in Baltimore during the violence.
Bullying can happen to anyone in any place. One former bully explains how she bullied, the reasons why she bullied, but she also reflects on her experience as the victim of a bully. A professional psychologist also offers her perspective on why kids bully and ways in which we can increase empathy and support both for the bully and the bullied. Listen to learn more about Alice, her experiences and transformation, and the ways in which community building can lessen the incidence of bullying for everyone.
What should the government spend its money on? With a growing national debt this has become an important question. Economists see the government’s role in providing goods and services to be one that fills a need. The government should pay for things that make our lives better but that the private market cannot or will not provide. Listen to this story from Planet Money to learn the reasons why government has decided to pay for public goods such as lighthouses and autopsies.
Puritans who arrived in New England in the 17th Century faced a harsh and brutal new existence. The conditions were so brutal that, as this story reminds us, many newborn babies died. Puritan settlers dealt with the reality of their lives by turning to religion and, in the case of Anne Bradstreet, to writing. Anne Bradstreet was a woman who became one of America’s earliest popular poets in a time when few women could read and write. Listen to this story to hear about the circumstances that led Anne Bradstreet to begin her life as a poet and the challenges she overcame during her life.
The War of 1812 was, at the time, the greatest national crisis America faced since the adoption of the Constitution. During the war’s worst period, the British burned much of Washington D.C. to the ground. The war ended months after the burning with a treaty that ensured America’s survival, but the burning of Washington remains a critical experience in the history of American warfare. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of that event, journalists illustrated what it would have been like to report something like that today. In the story, the British attack on Washington is revisited as if it were a breaking news event. Listen to learn more about the burning of Washington D.C. during this war.
Machu Picchu is an ancient city high in the Peruvian Andes. Sometimes referred to as a “cloud city,” it is one of the most significant archeological sites in the world. It was built around 1450, with an incredible architectural design that allowed it to remain standing for centuries, despite being situated atop multiple fault lines. There are many theories about the purpose of the city, but many believe it was a once sacred center for the Incas, the ancient civilization that lived there. In 1911, an explorer discovered Machu Picchu and brought this amazing city to the attention of the United States. This audio story discusses an author who retraces the steps of the person who discovered Machu Picchu. Listen to learn about this journey and more about the city of Machu Picchu.
A group of items wrapped in cloth and believed to have spiritual power is known as an African spirit bundle. Found in Annapolis, Maryland in 2008, the African spirit bundle gives us insight into who would have used it and why. It dates back to the early 18th century and is most surprising because of where it was placed. It hung at a crossroads, which in the Yoruba tradition is a place of great danger. Listen to hear more about the items in the bundle and who may have put them there.
The separation of church and state is part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was intended to ensure religious freedom. It’s been debated and challenged for decades. Most recently, the debate centered around what role religious beliefs should have on what students learn in biology class. Should schools teach evolution or intelligent design? Or should schools note evolution is a theory? Listen to learn more about the first major legal challenge to a policy on how to teach biology in Pennsylvania.
Note: Since this public radio story first aired a U.S. District Judge rules the Dover school system could not insert intelligent design into the science curriculum because it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
In 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic group in the African nation of Rwanda carried out a genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group. Over 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, often by their neighbors. This story looks back at the Rwandan genocide on the tenth anniversary of this terrible chapter in world history.
In 1780, the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general and American ally, sailed from France to aid George Washington in the American Revolution. His ship, the French frigate, the Hermione, would also see action in battle on behalf of America’s war for independence. Lafayette would be with Washington in 1781 during the decisive Siege of Yorktown, the battle that would hasten the end of the war. In 2015, a replica of the Hermione set sail across the Atlantic, recreating Lafayette’s journey. This audio story describes the process with which the replica was created and examines the significance of Lafayette and his role in the end of the Revolutionary War.
When people think of the history of “Indian Removal” in American history, the most familiar story is that of the 1838 “Trail of Tears,” during which 15,000 Cherokees, 4,000 of whom died, were forcibly relocated from land in the east to federally-owned land in Oklahoma. A lesser known story is the story of Polly Parker, who staged a daring escape from captivity in 1858 at the end of the Third Seminole War. Parker, along with other Seminoles, were being forcibly relocated west. Listen to this audio story to learn about the inhumane treatment native people have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government and how they tried to resist.
The African Meeting House is the oldest standing black church in America. The Meeting House recently underwent a $9 million restoration to make it look like it did in 1855. This audio story looks at the re-dedication of a building that helped shape Boston’s and America’s history. Listen to hear more about the floors where Frederick Douglass walked and the place this building has in African American history.
By the end of World War II, the city of Berlin, like Germany as a whole, was divided. The eastern part of the city was dominated by a USSR-led communist regime, and the western part had a democratic government influenced by America and Great Britain. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was raised physically dividing the city into East and West Berlin. Travel between the two sides was prohibited. Since the reunification of Germany and the demolition of the wall in 1989, city planners have been trying to rebuild the city, tearing down the old buildings of communist East Berlin and replacing them with new structures. But the new buildings have sparked controversy over what should be preserved and what should be torn down. Listen to this story to hear different perspectives about how the city should move toward a unified future.
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 Articles of Confederation, created in 1777 and ratified in 1781 by the Continental Congress, was the first system of government for the United States. Its creation came in the midst of the war for independence, and was strongly influenced by the ongoing struggle against what many American colonists saw as a tyrannical government in Great Britain. Designed in part to preserve the independence of the newly formed states, the Articles placed strict limits on what the national government could do, including the power to tax and to create a national judiciary. Correcting the flaws in the Articles was the goal that led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and, ultimately, to the creation of the U.S. Constitution. This NPR story is about the national display, for the first time, of the original Articles at the National Archives in 2009. The story goes into the reasons why the Articles hadn’t been previously displayed, some of the historical context for its creation, and some of tits historical significance.
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.