TEACHERS: Try our Lessons free — get a 30 Day Premium Trial
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 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.
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.
In the original Constitution, the founders laid out a process through which a president could be removed from power, known as impeachment. In this audio story, a history professor explains how impeachment works. She also gives a brief history of presidential impeachments, explaining some of the issues in each case. Finally, she sounds a warning about impeachment, namely that it is should not be used for political purposes but rather as a mechanism for holding a president accountable for job performance.
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.
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.
Recently, Colorado State University (or CSU) proposed changing its policy of allowing students to carry concealed handguns on campus. The change has aroused opposition as well as support. In this public radio story the lawyer for a gun-rights advocacy group and a local sheriff both speak out against the move, with the advocacy lawyer claiming the group will sue the University if it moves forward and the sheriff stating that he will not enforce the law.
During the Great Depression, high unemployment affected millions of Americans. In this audio story, people who lived through the depression as young people share their experiences of being out of work and hungry, and depending on relatives or strangers for food. The lack of any government safety net for the unemployed meant that people who could not find work were on their own, and many had to resort to begging to survive.
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.
The mascot of a high school in Bucks County Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, is being challenged. The name ‘Redskins’ accompanied by the image of a Native American warrior has been deemed offensive by a preliminary panel of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. A parent at the high school, who is Native American, complained to the school nearly two years ago that the mascot was an offensive racial slur and was used to discriminate against her son. The school district argues that the mascot is not insulting and is fighting for the right to keep the ‘Redskins’ name, either officially or to use as a nickname. Listen to learn more about the controversy from the Commission, schoolboard, and the students’ perspectives.
This story looks at a small island in the Pacific Ocean called Yap to answer a big question: What is money? On Yap, limestone is considered valuable, much like gold and silver in other places. But because limestone is very heavy, people can’t move it easily. As a result, money has become more abstract. People agree to its value, but don’t necessarily have the limestone itself. Listen to learn what money is and to explore how people in our society, too, buy and sell by using something (coins and bills) that represents something valuable, rather than using the valuable thing itself.
On April 15, 1947 African American baseball player Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was an interesting choice for the Dodgers to break the race barrier in baseball because he was an older player and was not seen as the best player in the Negro league at the time. Listen to learn how Robinson’s strong character, as much as his talent, helped to successfully integrate baseball.
In the first half of the 20th century, racial segregation was common in America, including in sports. At the time, Major League Baseball (MLB) did not have a single Black player. That changed in 1947 when Jackie Robinson made history by becoming the first Black athlete to join a Major League team. In his book “Jackie and Me,” author Dan Gutman imagines a boy traveling back in time to meet Robinson on the eve of his first Major League game. Listen to hear an excerpt from the book and fifth-graders discuss the man who broke baseball’s color barrier.
Established in 1607, Jamestown, Virginia, was the first successful English colony in North America. In 2010, scientists discovered four skeletons that had been buried in what was the colony’s first church. The archaeologist working on the site theorized that these must be the remains of members of the colony’s elite. Listen to this story to learn what led to the evidence scientists uncovered to support this theory.
In 2005, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued an apology on behalf of the Japanese people for its colonial rule and aggression before and during World War II. The apology came at a time of increased tensions between Japan and its east Asian neighbors, including anger over Japanese textbooks that seemed to downplay the atrocities Koizumi was apologizing for. The story touches upon present day circumstances that can limit the effectiveness of such an apology. The story also raises powerful questions about how societies make meaning of the past, the legacy of oppression, and the degree to which history impacts the present day.
Kendo is the name of the centuries old martial art of Japanese fencing. It’s still being practiced today. This audio story describes the popularity of kendo. The college tournament, held annually at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the largest intercollegiate kendo competition in the United States, and it reflects the growing popularity of this sport.
In 1939 Marian Anderson an African-American opera singer was prevented from singing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. At the time, Washington DC was a segregated city but didn't have the "Whites Only" signs familiar in the South. Anderson instead performed an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. This audio story describes the controversy over a recent children’s book about Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial that showed “Colored Only” signs in public places. You'll hear from people living in the capital at the time talk about when the de facto racial segregation that did exist in the city was exposed when Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing in Constitution Hall.
Joan of Arc is famous for believing she received visions from saints, successfully leading armies into battle, and, ultimately burning at the stake. She has been portrayed in a variety of books, movies, and paintings. A new play takes a different perspective on the teenager’s life: her mother’s. Listen to learn about the role Isabelle played in her prominent daughter’s life from the well-known actress who now portrays her.
Joan of Arc was an uneducated girl who followed the voices of angels and worked to free France from England’s domination. When she was captured by the English, she was burned at the stake. Later she was pronounced a Catholic Saint. Listen to learn how her religious and political legacy still inspire French politicians today.
John Calvin, one of the central figures in the Protestant reformation more than 500 years ago, has left an indelible mark on American culture. Though we think of his theology as representing the most joyless version of Protestantism possible, some of what we think about him now isn’t particularly accurate to who the man was and what he believed. Listen to find out how one historian views Calvin’s legacy, and what more we can learn from his example.
Senator Joseph McCarthy led a crusade against Soviet spies he believed were operating in the United States government. He called Democrats "soft" on the war on communism. This audio story describes why the American public's view of Republican Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaign in the early 1950s continues to be sharply divided.
From 1975 to 1979 a terrorist organization called the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia, an east Asian nation. The Khmer Rouge launched a genocide against its own people, killing men, women, and children. Two million people out of a total population of 8 million were killed. Today, survivors of the genocide are left to cope with their difficult memories while young people in Cambodia either don’t know about the genocide or don’t believe it happened.
In the 1970s, a communist regime called the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country. The Khmer Rouge rounded people up, forced them to work in labor camps, tortured them, and executed many of them, all to supposedly create a better society. One of the survivors of the Cambodian genocide wrote a book about her experiences, called “First They Killed My Father.” Well-known actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie recently made this memoir into a film. Listen to learn about the survivor’s story and find out how Jolie translated it to film.
In the 17th Century, civil war gripped Great Britain. Over the course of the century, war and revolution would eventually lead to the transformation of England into a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch was to share power with Parliament, and the rights of the people would be legally protected. Along the way, England would experience political turmoil and incredible amounts of bloodshed. Part of this story is the trial and execution of King Charles I. Listen to the story of Charles I’s trial and execution, the motivations of the men behind it, and the important legacy it left behind.
Tutankhamun was a pharaoh from New Kingdom Egypt. Known today as “King Tut,” this ancient leader died young. His reign as pharaoh was unremarkable. What sets Tutankhamun apart was the discovery in 1922 of his tomb, which, unlike others, was found with its ancient burial artifacts still in the tomb. Remarkably preserved, his tomb has been a source of fascination ever since its discovery. This audio story details the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Egypt, featuring many artifacts from King Tut’s tomb. The story describes many of the artifacts and the insight they provide into ancient Egyptian life.
Cesar Chavez was an advocate for social change and a founder of the United Farm Workers of America. After years of agitating for workers’ rights, Cesar Chavez is now universally acknowledged as an inspirational leader for justice. When he was honored with a stamp by the US Postal Service, Chavez’s son was interviewed about his life and legacy. Listen to learn more about how Chavez fought for workers and what work still needs to be done.
Christianity and Islam share many things in common. Their holy books contain some of the same narratives and many religious scholars would say they worship the same God. However, war and terrorism have led to widespread misunderstanding and hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a Catholic raised in England, believes that one key to combatting this hostility is through education. As a believer in this, Fitzgerald has dedicated his life to learning about, and teaching, Islam to both Christian and Muslim students. His goal is for students to have a deeper appreciation for the particular beliefs and customs that make Islam distinct.
The 1960’s are remembered for many turning points in American History. Undoubtedly, two of these are the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Perhaps no president of the time period is more intimately associated with America’s commitment to each than Lyndon Johnson. In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library hosted an event to honor civil right law and Johnson’s civil rights legacy. This audio story discusses that event and provides some of the historical background behind Johnson’s civil rights achievements, including his early relationship with MLK and other leaders, the impact of Kennedy’s assassination, and his eventual successes.
On September 18, 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. The second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, Ginsburg was a trailblazing lawyer and justice who was known for her brilliance, passion for the law, and commitment to gender equality. In later years, she also became a celebrity, the subject of movies and Saturday Night Live parodies. With her death, she leaves behind a powerful legacy. Listen to learn about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s family life, her career path, and the cases she argued that transformed the workplace for American women.
In the early 20th Century Americans streamed to the middle of the country because of the Homestead Acts. These were federal laws that gave people ownership of the land for free. In this audio story you will hear from people who grew up on homesteads in Montana in the early 20th century. Both families were fairly isolated and self-sufficient, working hard to make a living off the land, but their affection for that lifestyle is still strong.
Leonardo da Vinci was the model of a Renaissance man and studied anatomy, botany, music, sculpture, and design. He painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. He also used the scientific method 100 years before Galileo Galilei, who was previously believed to have discovered it. This story describes how da Vinci’s study of patterns in nature was different from other scholars of his time who relied on the Greek and Roman classics. Listen to discover more about the scientific discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian sculptor, painter, engineer, and inventor who lived during the Renaissance period. Though he had many talents, da Vinci is perhaps best known for his marvelous pieces of art. After being commissioned to create a portrait of a silk merchant’s wife, he produced the Mona Lisa. The painting is currently located at the Louvre Museum in Paris, but it wasn’t always hanging behind bulletproof glass as part of the museum’s collection. Listen to hear the story of how the Mona Lisa was stolen, and learn why it eventually became the most popular painting in the world.
When Roman Emperor Hadrian took power of ancient Rome in 117 A.D., Romans were mired in debt and war plagued much of Rome's land. It was similar to when President Barack Obama began his term as President of the United States. He inherited war, financial problems, and social issues. Throughout the two decades of his rule, Hadrian used his position as emperor to bring Rome back to a peaceful and powerful glory. Listen as the audio clip explains the steps Hadrian took to improve the country at the beginning of his rule.
Young Muslim Americans are learning about the life of Muhammad, the seventh century prophet who founded Islam, through a series of lectures called "Portrait of a Prophet." The course, held at mosques across the country, aims to teach Muslims what the prophet was like as a person, including how he treated others, what he liked to eat—even how he wore his hair. Listen to the story to learn about why the classes have been popular in Muslim American communities.