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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.
During Jim Crow, systemic racism cut into virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life. This included an act as seemingly simple as shopping. For African-Americans, shopping in a store meant being badly treated including being ignored by sales people. The Sears Catalog, which had photographs of hundreds of products and gave people the ability to order them by mail, was revolutionary for black Americans because it allowed them to have the same shopping experience as white Americans. This audio story deals with the ways in which the idea of shopping by catalog leveled the economic playing field during Jim Crow.
In 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was shot and killed. The assassination started World War I and changed the course of the 20th century. This story takes you to the street corner in Sarajevo where it all began and discusses the aristocracy at the time and how lax security led to the assassination. Listen to learn more about the motivations of the assassins and the series of events that led to the start of World War I.
In 1765, the British imposed a tax on the American colonists called the Stamp Act. It charged a tax on all newspapers and documents. The colonists opposed this tax and it was repealed in 1766. The Stamp Act led to the tax on tea, which led to the Boston Tea Party and ultimately the American Revolution. Listen to learn more about the Stamp Act and how effective these protest were in opposing British taxes.
The United States Constitution is the basis of our laws and structures our government. It contains the founding principles of our nation. Since its creation in 1787, Americans have debated its full meaning, and worked to apply it to new situations that the Founders could never have imagined—certain that this 18th-century document is ready to tell us what to do in the 21st century. Any group trying to make change calls on the Constitution for backup. Listen to learn how the Tea Party is using the Constitution to back its political goals and challenge the Bill of Rights.
Since the founding of the United States, there has been a debate about the issue of church and state and how much faith should influence law and political debate. The first amendment to the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Nonetheless, there are people who advocate for more government support for religious institutions and preference for one faith over another. Listen to this conversation about the current tax-exempt status of churches, evidence of how our founders dealt with the issue, and President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty.
A compromise is a way to settle a dispute by meeting each other halfway. Sometimes, a compromise may be acceptable in the moment, but there can be hidden costs. The head of Emory University caused a significant disruption by citing the Three-Fifths Compromise of the U.S. Constitution “as a positive example of political compromise.” But according to a history professor at the institution, this was “the Constitution’s fatal flaw.” This constitutional amendment impacted the future of slavery in the United States. Listen to hear one Emory professor’s perspective on the controversy and how the country’s history of slavery continues to affect us today.
Many people in Dakar, Senegal, choose the least expensive way to dispose of the raw sewage that collects in their septic systems. The result is that sewage contaminates their neighborhoods and makes people sick. The healthier option is more expensive, and it stays expensive because sewage collection companies have agreed not to compete with each other. They set a price that makes the cost too high for most people to pay. Listen to learn about how an economist implemented a new program to bring down prices and clean up the local environment.
After World War II, the United States became a global leader. Former President Harry Truman gets much of the credit for that. His “Truman Doctrine” was the basis for U.S. foreign policy after WWII, promoting strength abroad, which protected the U.S. and its allies and promoted international partnerships. President Donald Trump’s doctrine of “America First” threatens to reverse this by reshaping America’s role in the world, potentially antagonizing allies and, some fear, making America less secure. This audio story looks at the history behind the Truman Doctrine and how events today could permanently shift America’s role in the world.
Thomas Paine was a British essayist and political philosopher in the years leading up to and during the American Revolution. His writings and the pamphlets he published were very popular among American colonists and politicians alike. He took on such ideas as America as universal concept, the supreme importance of liberty, and the proper role of a just government. His essay, “Common Sense,” written less than two years after Paine’s arrival from England, was the single most influential document leading to the Declaration of Independence. This audio story takes a brief look back at this influential writer and contains several passages from “Common Sense.” Listen to learn more about Thomas Paine’s life and ideas, and about how his writings helped inspire a revolution.
The tradition of town meeting day has faded away in most states. This audio story describes a town meeting in Starksboro, Vermont, and a longstanding tradition of town meetings in New England beginning in the 1600s. While it can be difficult to give 100 people all the time they want to debate issues and air their opinions, let alone come to an agreement on them, town meeting remains a vitally important institution that its members value. Listen to this story as it looks at what makes it work.
In 2010, a copper and gold mine in northern Chile caved in. Thirty-three men were trapped 2,300 feet underground and were rescued 69 days later. Fortunately, this group established rules and structure and the confinement did not become a "Lord of the Flies" situation. The miners had little food or privacy, but kept each others' morale up. How do humans respond to isolation and a lack of structure? Listen to hear about the psychological risks and advantages of these scenarios.
India and Pakistan have been in conflict since the British drew a line across India in 1947 that created two opposing nations. Pakistan’s military focuses on preparing for a conflict with India, and its government teaches its citizens to fear India. India and Pakistan have gone to war twice over the disputed region Kashmir that lies between them like a no-mans-land. Listen to learn about the legacy of the 1947 partition.
North and South Korea have been separate nations for over 70 years. The North has never accepted this division and is on a mission to either force South Korea back into a united communist Korea or destroy it. Explore this modern hostility by looking back to the historic source of Korea’s division and analyzing the impact it has had on the life of people on both sides.
When two planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 most Americans were shocked, but some in the security community had seen this coming and argued for more aggressive action against al-Qaida. While al-Qaida operatives were training and planning the attack against the United States, the US public was distracted by domestic politics and scandals. From presidential misconduct and perjury in the case of Monica Lewinsky, an aide to President Clinton who had a relationship with him, to the contentious recount and end of the 2000 Presidential Election. Americans were focused inward. Listen to learn about what led up to that historic day.
War time chaos often puts cultural heritage at risk with looting and pillaging of historic artifacts. This radio story tells of an unusual partnership between two groups: the military and archaeologists. They are working together to educate soldiers in order to help protect cultural heritage and artifacts in war zones in Iraq, and other nearby countries. It’s a modern-day story of protecting artifacts in war zones and is tied to the many ancient artifacts that have been lost over the centuries.
In several recent presidential elections, the popular vote—the national totals of all voters in an election—and the Electoral College vote, which is the political process that actually chooses the president, have been inconsistent. This story explores the origins of Electoral College, explains who can be part of it, and describes how they go about becoming official electors. Listen to learn more about this complicated process and its potential problems, as well as why we still use it today.
Venice, Italy stood for a thousand years as a gateway between the Islamic world and the West. During this time the city-state was determined to maintain trade with Muslims. Even after defeating the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, Venice continued to trade with the Ottomans. It kept commercial links with the Islamic world, often blurring the lines between the arts and cultures of east and west. A museum exhibit in Venice is highlighted in this story, and describes the history of that relationship. Listen to learn more about the mutual influences that Venice and the Islamic world had on one another, and what those influences might teach us today.
Some World War II veterans exposed to mustard gas were denied disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has said it doesn’t have enough evidence to grant the benefits. Veterans of Vietnam were exposed to a different toxic chemical, Agent Orange. This story explores how the Agent Orange Act was lobbied for and enacted, requiring the VA to provide disability benefits to Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange. Listen to learn about how legislation similar to the Agent Orange Act could help to provide compensation for World War II veterans who were exposed to mustard gas.
There are two types of gorillas living in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; mountain gorillas and warfare guerrillas! The park is home to 200 mountain gorillas as well as the rebel group M23. While the rebels continue to make money off the park by selling “gorilla treks” to tourists, Virunga is officially closed due to the crossfire between M23 and Congolese troops. Listen to learn more about Virungas gorillas and the danger they face.
The United States economy has experienced slow but steady growth since the 2007-2009 recession. Historically, one result of an improving economy should be an increase in the overall level of prices – inflation. This has not been the case, however, and inflation has stayed low. Inflation has remained low in part because most people don’t worry about it rising, and they aren’t rushing to buy products before they go up in price. Listen to this story from Planet Money and hear what low inflation sounds like, and how your behavior can directly affect whether prices rise or fall.
Executive privilege, or the idea that the president has the right to withhold sensitive information from the public, goes all the way back to the very first president of the United States. The idea has become increasingly relevant lately, as since President Nixon, several presidents have invoked executive privilege in an effort to cover up scandals and other damaging information. Listen to learn about executive privilege, how it works, and when it can and can’t be used.
Nurses save lives. They practice in a variety of traditional healthcare settings, and classifications of nurses earn different salaries. On average, nursing salaries in the United States are 7% higher than the average job salary nationwide. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nursing will be among the ten fastest growing occupations of the next decade. For people who want a good-paying, stable nursing job, one class stands in the way: Anatomy and Physiology. Listen to learn how one technical college adapted its nursing program to increase its rate of student success.
One of the challenges of learning history is that, without visuals, it is sometimes difficult to know what people, places, or events looked like. In American history, this is true of the Revolutionary War. As a companion piece to his book 1776, writer David McCullough includes an illustrated edition, using art to give readers some idea of what the Revolution looked like. In this audio story, McCullough is interviewed about his book. He discusses some of the most famous paintings of the Revolution, the motivations of the artists, and the historical accuracy of some of the works of art.
America’s Founders borrowed from the ancient Roman Republic when they created the U.S. Government. The Senate, separation of powers, and checks and balances all came from the Romans. The Founders hoped that America would one day be as strong as the great Roman Republic had been. But every empire rises and then falls, and the author interviewed in this audio story says that Americans today can learn a lot about where the United States may be heading by studying the fall of Rome.
Many Internet services are free: email, Internet search, and maps, for example. But what if you had to pay to use them? An economist sets out to discover how much people value various Internet services by asking how much they would need to be paid to give them up. It’s an example of a core economic principle: decision making. Listen to find out which Internet services people value most.
In modern times, we often remember the ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra as a beautiful temptress largely defined by the men in her life. But a new biography presents another, more complicated picture of this intriguing historical figure. The author reminds us that historians have agendas and biases, and that Cleopatra’s traditional depiction may not be complete or entirely accurate. He explains that Cleopatra was a skilled diplomat and leader, who was very well-educated, strategic, and articulate. Listen to learn more about the many, surprising sides of Cleopatra.
President John F. Kennedy’s supports and efforts to jump-start a U.S. space program were in response to the perceived threat from the Soviet Union. Kennedy did not want the Soviets to be the first to send a human being to the Moon. This public radio story describes the differences between the Soviet and the U.S. space programs and why it was successful.
Today witches are a popular Halloween costume. But in the 16th and 17th centuries, many women were accused of witchcraft, which was a capital offense. The witch trials in Salem led to the execution of 19 people. Why were these women targeted? They often didn’t fit the image you may have of someone with supernatural powers. They were mostly poor and without power or influence, but they instilled fear in the community. Have we learned from the scapegoating and stereotyping hundreds of years ago? Listen to this radio story to hear the social and cultural conditions that led to the Salem witch trials, and the allure of what is dangerous and powerful.
Most of the more than 7,000 US women who served in Vietnam were nurses. In this public radio story you hear first hand from a woman who was a nurse in Vietnam. The experience had a strong impact on her life. She later realised she suffered post traumatic stress disorder. After visiting the Vietnam Memorial she created the Vietnam Women’s Memorial because she says she believes in the healing power of memorials.
Farming in California has become more difficult in recent years as there aren’t enough people to do the arduous work involved in farming. Incentives of higher pay don’t always work to attract enough workers. So the owner of one California farm has adjusted to this labor shortage in a few different ways and reached a conclusion about the cause of his problem and the best way to solve it. Listen to find out about the surprising decision he has made.
The World Trade Organization is an international organization that regulates global trade. Established in 1995, the WTO oversees trade disputes among 164 member nations agree to abide by its decisions. The goal is to create a level playing field in international trade. Critics of the WTO complain that, among other things, adherence to an international organization is a threat to a nation’s sovereignty. President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of the WTO and America’s participation in it. This audio story explores the tension between the Trump administration and the WTO, with its potential global consequences.
In World War I a group of American airmen called Flyboys gave air support to the war in France. Their assistance during the Meuse-Argonne offensive was key in forcing the Germans to agree to an armistice. This public radio story looks at how Europe still remembers the Americans and their cooperation in the war at yearly commemorations.
The massacre of more than 150 Sioux Native Americans in 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota was the last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. A book was written about this in 1970 titled "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee", and a movie was recently made. They tell the story of the efforts of the United States government to assimilate Native Americans into American life, which nearly destroyed the culture, religion, and way of life of Native American peoples. Listen to hear more about how this history of mistreatment is portrayed in the movie about these events.
Just one day after President Obama urged citizens of the United States “to reject discrimination against Muslim-Americans,” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2015 suggested that all Muslims be blocked from entering the U.S. He later softened his position. But some say that Trump’s idea was no different than when Japanese-Americans were detained by the U.S. government in internment camps during World War II. Xenophobia, a fear or dislike of people from other countries, may be triggered by real events, such as crime or terrorist attacks, but is often shown to be irrational. Listen to hear how the power of fear and anger can lead to hate and discrimination.