TEACHERS: Try our Lessons free — get a 30 Day Premium Trial
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.
During World War II and the Cold War that followed, the U.S. competed intensely with rival countries. The scientific community rushed to be the first to develop an atomic weapon and after the war, the U.S. continued to strive to stay ahead of its enemies through scientific advancements and intelligence gathering. In pursuit of these goals, some outrageous, impractical, and, in some cases, alarming ideas were pursued. Listen to hear about some of the more outlandish ideas proposed by the military to weaken other countries, and learn why, ultimately, they were never implemented.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Thomas Cromwell was an influential 16th century English statesman who rose through English society to become advisor to King Henry VIII. In this position, Cromwell was credited with overseeing the Reformation in England. Eventually, Cromwell was betrayed by his political enemies and executed in 1540, but his influence would live on. In this audio story, novelist Hilary Mantel discusses Bring Up the Bodies, the second book in her trilogy featuring Cromwell. Listen to hear Mantel discuss what made Cromwell such a savvy political figure and the circumstances that led to his sudden downfall.
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.
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.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy in 79 CE buried the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. For the people living there, it was an unimaginable horror. Nearly 2000 years later, however, the remains of those two cities are a source of valuable information about Romans’ daily lives in 1st century Rome. This audio story is about modern day tension between archaeologists and volcanologists over access to the sites. The story is a reminder that the study of the past requires the expertise of people from multiple fields of study in order for us to get a complete picture.
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.
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.
In the pre-Columbian world, Mayan civilization thrived in what is now modern-day Mexico and Central America. The Mayans created an advanced civilization that included developments in math, astronomy and writing among other achievements. Spanish conquests were destructive to Mayan history and culture. However, archaeologists have helped the world rediscover the rich civilization of the Mayan people. In this audio story, we learn about the discovery of over 200 Mayan artifacts found in a cave on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which researchers hope will give insight into the rise and fall of Mayan civilization.
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.
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.
American slavery destroyed generations of human lives, and citizens in all parts of the country were complicit. The horrors of the slave system and the damage it did are at the heart of the current debate over whether descendants of enslaved people should receive reparations, or compensation for past wrongs. Listen to hear an historian make the case for reparations, detailing the brutalities of slavery and explaining how Americans at the time rationalized a cruel national institution.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume were two of the most prominent philosophers of the late 18th century. Despite being in many ways opposed to one another in terms of ideas, they briefly became friends--and then almost immediately afterwards, bitter enemies. Listen to learn about the relationship between these two great thinkers, and how it turned out to be more human than you’d expect.
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.
The name “Disney” is known globally as an entertainment giant that includes animated films, TV shows, and theme parks. In fact, one cannot fully understand the growth of children’s entertainment in the 20th century without knowing more about the man who revolutionized the industry: Walt Disney. Disney was a self-made man who built his media empire from the ground up. Listen to learn about the obstacles Disney overcame to achieve his success and how he created Mickey Mouse, one of the most famous cartoon characters of all time.
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 roots of today’s global society reach back over 2,500 years, to Athens and Sparta, two powerful city-states of ancient Greece. The two states, though geographically close, differed greatly in their societal structure and values. Athens was the center of the “golden age” of ancient Greece, an era that produced magnificent buildings, lasting works of philosophy and literature, and an early form of democracy. Sparta, a more rigid, disciplined culture, made advances in military science. Listen to learn how rivalries between the two city-states led to warfare, and how the values of Athens and Sparta are relevant today.