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Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of the most important speeches in American history. In it, Lincoln used the dedication of a Union cemetery as an occasion to tie the soldiers’ sacrifice to America’s founding principles. Lincoln spoke for just over two minutes. In just 272 words Lincoln explicitly linked human equality and democracy to the Union war effort. Listen to hear more about the original context of the speech, and hear about Lincoln’s thought process in writing the speech.
In 2011, a popular uprising in Egypt led to Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, being forced from power. Mubarak had been one of northern Africa’s longest serving leaders and had cultivated a reputation for using Egypt’s military to maintain his grip on power. Because of that, experts on ancient and modern Egypt saw parallels between Mubarak and some of the ancient pharaohs of Egypt’s past. In this audio story, Egypt scholar Toby Wilkinson discusses some of tthe of these similarities. In doing so, he delves into some important aspects of how ancient pharaohs ruled.
Richard Nixon is the only American president to resign from office before his term was completed. Nixon’s name has long been synonymous with abuse of power and presidential scandal. Watergate, the scandal which defined and ultimately ended the Nixon presidency, is also synonymous with corruption. Until 2007, the Nixon library was the only place in America where an alternative narrative about the scandal could be heard. Listen to hear how this narrative changed when ownership of the Nixon Presidential Library changed hands.
Bullies can have a lasting effect. In this audio story, Rob Littlefield discusses his experience being bullied at 13 years old. Littlefield was bullied by other students and even physically abused. He had thoughts of suicide because of his experiences. As Littlefield reflects, he imagines what his tormentors might think today about what they did to him. Listen to learn more about Littlefield, how and why he was bullied, and the ways in which teen bullying still affects him today.
More than 350 years ago, the colony of Maryland was founded in the United States by George Calvert and his son Cecil. It was the first and only colony established with religious freedom for Catholics, and was named for the wife of King Charles I of England. The colony of Maryland had some features that became a part of the United States Constitution and legal framework. Listen to find out how the early history of Maryland informs the founding of our country.
The civil war in South Sudan drove thousands of people from their homes. Many of them were children who were separated from their families. They were called "The Lost Boys." For more than a decade these refugees moved around, and many of them were relocated to the United States. In this radio story you will hear from a Lost Boy who was resettled in Colorado but later went back to Sudan to help his home country.
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.
The Palace of Versailles is one of France’s national treasures. Home to several French kings, site of Bismark’s proclamation of the German Empire in 1871 and of the signing of the treaty ending World War I, Versailles has a rich history. Maintaining the enormous, elegant palace requires time, money, and labor. Though difficult, those in charge of conservation believe the task is crucial for preserving France’s past and educating current and future generations. Listen to learn more about the history of Versailles, and hear how caretakers are searching the world to recover the castle’s lost furnishings.
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.
After the American Revolution, America was free from Great Britain and finally existed as its own country. However, America now lacked a set of laws to govern it. At the time, the states were not united, and each state had its own set of laws and ways of doing things. If America was going to survive it would need a set of laws to govern all of America. Listen to hear how the U.S. Constitution, and a strong central government, came to be.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
China is a diverse nation, home to almost 55 ethnic minorities. The Uighurs, a group inhabiting the Xinjiang region of China, believe their ancestors migrated to China long before the ancestors of the majority Han Chinese people got there. Examination of Bronze Age mummies in Xinjiang seems to support the Uighurs’ claim, adding to the historical conflict between Uighurs and the Chinese government over who has the rightful claim to the land. Listen to learn more about the Uighur people and what the mummies show about their origins.
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.
Archaeologists 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.
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.
The story of the Osage tribe reflects, in many ways, the typical Native American experience in America. The Osage were a once-powerful midwestern tribe forced to relocate to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. However, the land they settled on turned out to be oil-rich, and the Osage became tremendously wealthy as a result. A recent book tells the horrifying story of how, in the early 20th century, dozens of Osage were murdered by local whites aiming to take control of their money. Listen to the author describe how the sinister plot unfolded and how the subsequent investigation led to the rise of the FBI.
When people think about America’s founding generation, names like Washington and Franklin typically come to mind. But one lesser known, yet important, person was Dr. Benjamin Rush. Rush was one of the leading doctors in early America. He was also involved in some of early America’s defining events, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the crossing of the Delaware, as well as being active in the abolition movement and advocacy for the mentally ill. This NPR story examines the life of Dr. Rush and discusses his significance, both in his own time and in American history.
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.
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.