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In Medieval England, British King John was at war with a group of English Barons because he extracted money from them to fight a war with France. To appease the Barons, the king wrote the Magna Carta, which essentially says the King cannot arbitrarily collect taxes from Barons. This revolutionary document, signed in 1215, limited the power of the monarchy and outlined the basic principles of the modern judicial system. The Pope invalidated the document just ten weeks later but its ideas have lived on and served as the basis of portions of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Listen to learn how the British library celebrated the 800th anniversary of this revolutionary document.
People often speculate about whether the Federal Reserve will raise the interest rate or keep it where it is. The Federal Reserve is charged with the responsibility of keeping the U.S. economy on track, and it has the power to raise and lower the interest rate as well as create money. That’s just what it did in response to the financial crisis of 2008—it created three trillion dollars to prop the economy up. Now that the economy has more or less recovered, all that money poses a threat. Listen to this story to find out why and to learn what the Federal Reserve intends to do about it.
The mid-1960s to mid-1970s in China proved to be a traumatic period for everyone. During that time, Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao, initiated a political movement designed to purge the country of anything that opposed a communist ideology, which included educators with capitalist leanings. A group called the Red Guard facilitated Mao's efforts by publicly attacking suspected teachers. Now, some of these Red Guards are apologizing for their actions. Listen to learn more about Mao Zedong, the Red Guards, and how the Cultural Revolution affects us today.
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. In this public radio story you will hear from activists who were present that day and heard the speech. They remember that its power came not only from the words MLK spoke, but the way he spoke them, in rolling cadences that “raised his audience.”
Several times a year, Americans around the country recreate the kind of medieval warfare that occurred in the 1600s. This public radio story describes a medieval ‘war’ put on in Wisconsin by the SCA - the Society for Creative Anachronism. After creating their own weapons and armor, participants gather by the thousands to do battle. You will hear what it sounds and feels like to be part of one of these recreated battles.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Americans of Japanese descent were taken away to internment camps. The terrible conditions they lived in during internment were only surpassed by the shock and humiliation the people suffered as they saw themselves changed overnight from loyal Americans, often American citizens, to “enemy aliens.” In this audio story you will hear first person accounts from people who lived in the internment camps when they were children.
There are few Holocaust survivors still living today. In this public radio story we hear from one woman who escaped a Nazi death camp. She tells the story about being led out of the camp with many other women to an open field to be killed. Thankfully, she escaped, but has lived for over 70 years with survivor’s guilt.
Note: This story contains disturbing details about a Nazi concentration camp.
The ancient Mesopotamian citadel of Ur Bilum, located in Northern Iraq, sits atop a hill overlooking the modern day city of Erbil. Ur Bilum was originally built by a group of ancient peoples known as the Sumerians but was also home to a variety of civilizations including the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Ottomans. More recently, the citadel was home to hundreds of families of Kurdish refugees until 2007 when it was evacuated. This was an effort by Kurdish authorities to gain the necessary approval of the United Nations for the citadel to become a World Heritage Site. Listen to learn more about Ur Bilum’s rich history and the hardships faced by its last inhabitants.
In recent National Day celebrations, the United Arab Emirates showed off its impressive military might. There were marching bands and a mile-long convoy of military vehicles. This public display of power reflects a dramatic shift in policy about the country’s alliance with the United States, which has until now been downplayed. The UAE is strategically located in the Persian Gulf and has emerged as a major U.S. ally and the leading military power in the Gulf in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). While the government of the UAE acts to project an image of a western-leaning, moderate Muslim country, it does not stand for dissent of any kind. In this audio story, listen to hear more about this contradiction and what lies behind it.
An American journalist in search of his family roots provides an intimate look behind the scenes in Iran. He meets Iranians on the train between two cities: Yazd and Isfahan. He finds how ancient traditions and today’s religious government are fostering tension among Iranians, expressed carefully in quiet conversations. This audio story takes you with him on his journey through Iran.
The Muslim religion is 1,400 years old and is divided into two major groups: the Sunnis and the Shiites. Sunnis make up almost 90% of the world's Muslims. Sunnis refer to a Muslim kingdom that is ruled by descendants of the prophet Mohammed, as the “caliphate.” The former Ottoman empire was considered a caliphate, and it is generally accepted that there has not been a caliphate in the Muslim world for nearly one hundred years. Recently, the Muslim extremists calling themselves ISIS, or the Islamic State, declared the beginning of a new caliphate and declared a spiritual leader, or caliph. This interview with a historian weighs in on the likelihood of ISIS's claim on religious authority becoming reality. Listen to learn more about what a caliphate is, why ISIS declared a new caliphate, and how likely it is to succeed.
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.
In 1835, the United States had a completely unique moment in its history–for exactly one year, the country had no debt. Making America debt-free was something of an obsession for then-President Andrew Jackson, who sold off government-owned land and vetoed federal spending in order to pull the country out of the red. Listen to hear about Jackson’s attitude toward debt, the fiscal policy he imposed, and some of the unforeseen consequences of that policy.
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.
Many Americans’ perceptions of Iran are shaped by the 1979 revolution that brought about Iran’s Islamic Republic. More recently, America and Iran have clashed over Iran’s nuclear program. This audio story reminds us that Iran has a culture and history that goes back centuries, offering a new window through which to view Iran. This story is about the Shahnameh, an epic poem written in the 10th and 11th centuries, that blends history and myth to tell the story of Persia’s origins and tracing it up to the point of the Arab conquest. The Shahnameh remains essential to Iran’s cultural identity.
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.