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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 into the mid-1960s. Known as the “Pentagon Papers," this report was leaked to the Times and caused a sensation because, among other things, it 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 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 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.
One teen from a small Massachusetts town was a victim of bullying in high school. To fight back against bullying, she did something unexpected: she took to social media. In this audio story, she explains her experience with bullying, her anti-bullying efforts, and discusses the importance of empathy, even for the bully. Listen to learn more about the role social media plays in bullying and the compassion necessary to put a stop to bullying.
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.
Over the course of American history, the Executive Branch and, in particular, the presidency, has grown in scope and influence. As 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.
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.
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.
For some, John Brown is a venerated historical figure. For others, he is divisive. His famous raid on Harpers 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 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.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama commemorates the history of racial terror in the U.S., including slavery and the lynching of thousands of African Americans following the Civil War. The memorial is frank about the brutality and violence of this chapter in American history, and therefore the experience of visiting it might be painful and difficult. However, curators hope that the discomfort of the memorial might spark reflection and conversation that could help America heal. Listen to learn more about how memorializing America’s history of slavery and lynching can inform the present day.
Scientists interested in learning what prehistoric animals and humans sounded like may get some answers from art. The artist featured in this audio story researched the anatomy of extinct animals, including the woolly mammoth. She used her findings to reconstruct vocal chords that emit woolly mammoth blasts, sounds that she believes are close to the way the animals sounded in prehistoric times. Listen to hear the reconstructed sounds of a woolly mammoth, and learn about the art and science of rebuilding ancient voice boxes.
In the 1950s, anti-communism dominated American life. The “red scare” launched political careers while destroying those of people accused of being either spies or members of the Communist Party. In some cases, real threats were exposed while in others, innocent Americans were targeted for their beliefs. In this audio story, writer David Maraniss talks about his father, Elliot Maraniss, a journalist who was blacklisted for his association with the Communist Party. The story details his father’s struggles and addresses the larger questions of the time: What does it mean to be an American, and who gets to decide?
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.
The Protestant Reformation in western Europe was a 16th century challenge to the practices and authority of the Catholic Church. Tradition holds that the Reformation began when a monk, Martin Luther, posted 95 "theses” questioning papal authority on the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. What followed were decades of religious and political conflict that would reshape Europe for centuries to come. Recently Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, helped commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Listen to learn what the pope’s participation shows about current Catholic-Lutheran relations, and hear how the two branches of Christianity keep working to heal divisions.
When economists track the performance of the U.S. economy, they pay attention to factors like economic growth, inflation, and unemployment. One economic model, the Phillips Curve, suggests that when unemployment is low, inflation increases, and vice-versa. But is that always true? Listen to learn about the relationship between unemployment and inflation, and about how economists’ interventions can actually change it.
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 Michelangelo 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.