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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.
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.
The spies seemed just like any other all-American married couple. They lived in an upper-middle class neighborhood on a suburban street, where their two daughters rode pink tricycles up and down the block. They were friendly with their neighbors, and cheered on American sports teams. But, FBI agents suddenly arrested them along with nine other people across the country. These normal-seeming parents were Russian spies, deep undercover. Why were they spying on us? Listen to former Director General of MI5 and spy novelist Stella Rimington discuss the accused Russian spies’ goals and tactics.
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 in billionaire families often show off their wealth, demonstrating how different life is for rich and poor kids. These attitudes toward money are shaping Chinese morals. One company has taken an interest in this topic and created courses to teach wealthy kids to care about others. They are educating the rich about giving back to the poor and raising money for charity. Listen to hear more about how this social issue affects China and learn how rich Chinese children develop empathy.
From 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia and killed one quarter of the population in a horrific genocide with the intent of creating a communist, agrarian society. Author Patricia McCormick has written a young adult novel, “Never Fall Down”, based on Cambodian genocide survivor Arn Chorn-Pond’s life. Listen to hear them discuss the importance of sharing this story of survival with young people, and discover how seeking support from others can help someone endure a challenging past.
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 the early 2000s, housing prices in the U.S. rose quickly, and many people paid high prices to buy houses. In 2008, the housing market collapsed and prices fell fast. Many of the folks who had bought homes couldn’t make their monthly mortgage payments and couldn’t sell the houses for anywhere near what they paid for them. Many lost their homes to foreclosure. In 2012, an enterprising 14-year-old girl in Florida saw a business opportunity from the housing crisis. She started selling things that people had left in their foreclosed homes, eventually saving enough money to buy a house herself, which she rents out. Listen to learn how a 14-year-old became a real estate entrepreneur.
In Texas, vast expanses of farmland have been converted to urban land over the last several decades. As farmland changed to cityscapes, children growing up in these areas have had fewer and fewer opportunities to interact with nature. This audio story follows several students in East Dallas as they experience life on a Texas farm. Listen to find out more about how the urban students responded to working with animals, and how the experience has influenced them.
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.
For some, John Brown is a venerated historical figure. For others, he is divisive. His famous raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859, meant to induce a slave rebellion, could be seen as both a righteous act in support of slave liberation and as an act of domestic terrorism. No matter how one views Brown, it is indisputable that his raid was a major turning point as the nation drew closer to civil war. In this story, a journalist discusses Brown, going into great detail into the story of his raid and its historical legacy.
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.
In 2013, a rare collection of paintings by Michelangelo was on display at the Muscarelle Museum at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. This audio story reflects on Michelangelo's life and looks at what makes his work so special. It focuses on the drawing of Cleopatra, which depicts her in two ways, beautiful and ugly, and well as some of his other captivating pieces. Listen to learn more about Michelangelo's life, his art, and why his work remains inspirational to many people today.
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.
America’s founding was fraught with conflict. America in 1787-88 was a place of deep political divisions. Much of the root of those divisions was disagreement over how much power should be given to the central government. After the Constitutional Convention, political leaders split between supporters of the Constitution (Federalists) and opponents (Antifederalists). In an effort to sell the new Constitution to the country, three Federalists (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay) wrote a series of arguments, in essay form, we now call the Federalist Papers. These essays were designed to explain the Constitution. Today, they are regarded as America’s greatest contributions to political philosophy as is explained in this audio story.
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.
How people have made artificial light over the past 4,000 years reflects the history of economic growth in the world. One economist has explored the cost of light, starting in ancient Babylonian times and ending in the 1990s. He discovered that for most of the past four millennia, light was very expensive. Then, in the past 200 years, scientific advances caused the cost of light to drop precipitously, and economies grew with a speed and intensity unknown before. Listen to hear how light became cheap and how its cost helps show how economic growth happens.
One of the many legacies of the Second World War was the emergence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), formed as an alliance of western powers, led by the United States, to protect against the spread of communism. Over several decades, NATO has grown to include over 20 countries, bound by a military alliance and ideological common ground. Recently, President Trump has criticized NATO, arguing that the alliance is a drain on American resources. In this story, a historian tells the story of NATO’s history and connects it to recent concerns raised about its cost and its value.
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.
Throughout American history, voting has been a contested right. Thought of as a right of citizenship, voting has, in fact, been restricted to varying degrees since the foundation of the country. Even today, barriers exist that make it difficult even for citizens to vote. In this Civics101 story, an author discusses the contested history of voting in America, how voting has changed over time, and some of the 21st century obstacles that impact the right to vote today.
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.
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 addresses the problem with impeachment, namely that it is often used for cynical political purposes, rather than 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over the course of American history, the Executive Branch and, in particular, the presidency, has grown in scope and influence. As the the U.S. has become more heavily involved in foreign affairs over the past century, presidents have benefitted from daily briefings that inform them of potential global trouble spots and the pros and cons of intervention in various locations. This audio story is about the beginning and growth in importance of the presidential daily briefing. Specifically, the story tells how global crises have shaped its importance as part of the president’s responsibilities.
The luxury goods company Hermes makes and sells a high-end purse it calls the Birkin Bag. The Birkin costs $10,000—often more—and it is nearly impossible to find one to buy. Because very few bags are available, the Birkin has become a status symbol, something only very few people can buy. Its scarcity raises its value, which could explain why a purse can cost so much money. Listen to find out why a retail company, that by definition wants to sell things, makes it so difficult to buy their product.
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.