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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.
A basic rule of economics is that the price of products increases when demand exceeds supply, and the price decreases when supply exceeds demand. But producers can tinker with that formula. If they want to get around the supply-and-demand cycle, they can stockpile supplies and decide how much of a product to make available for consumers. Listen to find out how maple syrup producers in Quebec, Canada keep prices high for this prized commodity.
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 the age of American imperialism, perhaps the most well-known event was the Spanish-American War. One of that war’s most recognizable figures was Theodore Roosevelt, who organized and led the volunteer regiment known as the Rough Riders in battle during the war before he became president. Listen to this story to learn about the legacy of the Rough Riders and the parallels between the Spanish-American War and the 2003 Iraq War.
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.
When one thinks about the great Renaissance artists from Italy, names like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo typically come to mind. Tintoretto is not nearly as well known but in his time, he was one of the most successful of the great Renaissance painters. The Venetian artist was famous for the speed with which he created his dramatic paintings. This story features a retrospective on Tintoretto’s work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Listen to learn about Tintoretto’s life, reputation, and legacy, and hear descriptions of some of his most famous works.
Was there a single event that launched the modern Civil Rights Movement? Some argue that it was the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy viciously beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s murder gained national attention, in large part because of his mother’s decision to hold an open casket funeral. After years of appeals by the Till family, the Justice Department recently decided to reopen its investigation into the killing. Listen to hear a cousin of Emmett Till describe the impact of the murder on her family and the nation and question how justice can be served in a case more than a half-century old.
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, established the first system of government for the United States. Created in the midst of the war for independence, the Articles were strongly influenced by the ongoing struggle against what many American colonists saw as a tyrannical government in England. 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. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 aimed to improve upon the articles and ultimately led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Listen to hear about the first national display of the original Articles at the National Archives in 2009 and learn about the history of this foundational document.
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.
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.
Slavery in the Americas was perpetuated through control, and slave owners often sought to limit the information and ideas their slaves could access. Many slave owners opposed teaching the Bible to enslaved people for fear it could be used as a tool of liberation and rebellion. To appease slave owners, 19th century missionaries trying to Christianize enslaved people used heavily edited versions of the Bible that left out liberation stories. Listen to hear the history behind an abridged “slave Bible” on exhibit and how people today have reacted to this historical practice.
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.