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In 1630s New England, English Puritans came to the colonies to start a new life. This is a few decades before the Salem witch trials, and it’s hard to imagine living in this time and in this very particular culture. One writer made a movie that describes this experience, following one family that was struggling to survive in the New England wilderness. Learn about the social norms and unconscious fears that film explores. Listen to hear more about the inspiration for this movie and what might really scare us.
American soldiers who fought in the trenches of World War I were told they were going into a great adventure to fight for democracy. But new technology, from machine guns to poison gas, made this war more terrible than any previous war. The conditions in the trenches destroyed men’s clothes, food, and spirits. Eight and a half million soldiers and sailors died in the war, including 117,000 Americans. In this audio story you hear from an American solider who recalls what it was like to fight in the trenches of World War I.
Langston Hughes, an African American writer who lived and wrote during the first half of the 20th century, remains one of the most celebrated writers in American history. He was a social activist, novelist, playwright, columnist and leader of the Harlem Renaissance. In this story, a woman is pleasantly surprised to find one of his poems among her granddaughter’s school papers. She shares with her granddaughter the many things she admired about Hughes, and the many reasons he was such an influential poet and person during his time. She speaks about Hughes’s early life, his travels, and his lyrical poetry. Listen to learn more about this famous poet, who continues to inspire younger generations today.
Though writer Sylvia Plath died more than a half century ago, her life, legacy and work still captivate audiences today. Much of Plath’s work, including her renowned novel “The Bell Jar”, explore issues related to death and mental illness. Plath famously committed suicide, prompting many readers to wonder about her motivations and state of mind. Her passionate and tragic relationship with her husband, Ted Hughes, has also attracted attention. Today, contemporary artists inspired by Plath’s powerful work have reimagined parts of her life through books and movies. Listen to learn more about Sylvia Plath, who died too young but left behind a lasting legacy.
"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," tells the story of Arnold Spirit, a young Native American who leaves the reservation to get a better education. In this semi-autobiographical book, author Sherman Alexie discusses big issues including choosing your identity, figuring out where you belong and the hardships American Indians face living on reservations.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of the most important speeches in American history. In it, Lincoln used the dedication of a Union cemetery as an occasion to tie the soldiers’ sacrifice to America’s founding principles. Lincoln spoke for just over two minutes. In just 272 words Lincoln explicitly linked human equality and democracy to the Union war effort. Listen to hear more about the original context of the speech, and hear about Lincoln’s thought process in writing the speech.
In 2011, a popular uprising in Egypt led to Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, being forced from power. Mubarak had been one of northern Africa’s longest serving leaders and had cultivated a reputation for using Egypt’s military to maintain his grip on power. Because of that, experts on ancient and modern Egypt saw parallels between Mubarak and some of the ancient pharaohs of Egypt’s past. In this audio story, Egypt scholar Toby Wilkinson discusses some of tthe of these similarities. In doing so, he delves into some important aspects of how ancient pharaohs ruled.
The Little Prince is one of the most beloved books of all time. It was published in 1943 and has been translated into over 250 languages. Even today, it sells more than two million copies a year, making it one of the best selling books ever published. Although, on its surface, it appears to be a simple, illustrated children’s book, The Little Prince is actually a deeply philosophical work, full of allegory and commentary on human nature. Listen to learn more about its French author, Antoine Saint-Exupery, and the creative process that produced The Little Prince.
Richard Nixon is the only American president to resign from office before his term was completed. Nixon’s name has long been synonymous with abuse of power and presidential scandal. Watergate, the scandal which defined and ultimately ended the Nixon presidency, is also synonymous with corruption. Until 2007, the Nixon library was the only place in America where an alternative narrative about the scandal could be heard. Listen to hear how this narrative changed when ownership of the Nixon Presidential Library changed hands.
Bullies can have a lasting effect. In this audio story, Rob Littlefield discusses his experience being bullied at 13 years old. Littlefield was bullied by other students and even physically abused. He had thoughts of suicide because of his experiences. As Littlefield reflects, he imagines what his tormentors might think today about what they did to him. Listen to learn more about Littlefield, how and why he was bullied, and the ways in which teen bullying still affects him today.
More than 350 years ago, the colony of Maryland was founded in the United States by George Calvert and his son Cecil. It was the first and only colony established with religious freedom for Catholics, and was named for the wife of King Charles I of England. The colony of Maryland had some features that became a part of the United States Constitution and legal framework. Listen to find out how the early history of Maryland informs the founding of our country.
People lose weight when sleeping, and much of that weight loss comes from merely breathing. Through a process of matter being recycled along with sweating while sleeping, people lose weight. However, the atoms and molecules involved are so small that it is hard to believe they are so powerful in this process. Listen to learn how this cycle works.
The civil war in South Sudan drove thousands of people from their homes. Many of them were children who were separated from their families. They were called "The Lost Boys." For more than a decade these refugees moved around, and many of them were relocated to the United States. In this radio story you will hear from a Lost Boy who was resettled in Colorado but later went back to Sudan to help his home country.
In Medieval England, British King John was at war with a group of English Barons because he extracted money from them to fight a war with France. To appease the Barons, the king wrote the Magna Carta, which essentially says the King cannot arbitrarily collect taxes from Barons. This revolutionary document, signed in 1215, limited the power of the monarchy and outlined the basic principles of the modern judicial system. The Pope invalidated the document just ten weeks later but its ideas have lived on and served as the basis of portions of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Listen to learn how the British library celebrated the 800th anniversary of this revolutionary document.
People often speculate about whether the Federal Reserve will raise the interest rate or keep it where it is. The Federal Reserve is charged with the responsibility of keeping the U.S. economy on track, and it has the power to raise and lower the interest rate as well as create money. That’s just what it did in response to the financial crisis of 2008—it created three trillion dollars to prop the economy up. Now that the economy has more or less recovered, all that money poses a threat. Listen to this story to find out why and to learn what the Federal Reserve intends to do about it.
After the American Revolution, America was free from Great Britain and finally existed as its own country. However, America now lacked a set of laws to govern it. At this time, America was made up of several states, but they were not united. Each state had their own set of laws and ways of doing things, but if America was going to survive it would need a set of laws to govern all of America. Listen to hear how the U.S. Constitution, and a strong central government, came to be.
For most of the last fifty years, the mall has been one of the most popular destination for teenagers all over America. It’s a place where young people spend time with each other to connect and build relationships. In recent years, though, that trend has changed, as fewer and fewer teenagers are choosing to spend their time at malls and more shopping is done online. Listen to one young person’s attempt to understand why teenage mall culture has changed so much recently.
The mid-1960s to mid-1970s in China proved to be a traumatic period for everyone. During that time, Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao, initiated a political movement designed to purge the country of anything that opposed a communist ideology, which included educators with capitalist leanings. A group called the Red Guard facilitated Mao's efforts by publicly attacking suspected teachers. Now, some of these Red Guards are apologizing for their actions. Listen to learn more about Mao Zedong, the Red Guards, and how the Cultural Revolution affects us today.
Samuel Clemens became famous as an author under his pen-name, Mark Twain. As one of the most famous American authors of his time, Twain is well known for his biting sense of humor and keen sense of observation. As Samuel Clemens, though, his life was complex and tumultuous, often directly contradicting the things his alter ego said in books and articles. Listen to find out how one of America’s greatest novelists lived, and how that may have informed his writing.
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. In this public radio story you will hear from activists who were present that day and heard the speech. They remember that its power came not only from the words MLK spoke, but the way he spoke them, in rolling cadences that “raised his audience.”
Throughout his life in South Africa, playwright Athol Fugard witnessed firsthand the cruelty and injustice of apartheid. Not only did racism fracture the country he loved so dearly, but it also created profound strain in his relationship with his father, whom he calls “a huge bigot.” Many elements of that difficult and complex relationship resonate throughout Athol’s play “‘Master Harold‘. . . and the Boys,” which became a Broadway hit at the peak of the anti-apartheid movement. Lisa Fugard, Athol’s daughter, also grew up in South Africa but left the country to pursue an acting career and later became a writer. Listen to hear about how both father and daughter explored their personal and the political struggles brought about by apartheid.
Lewis Carroll’s 1865 fantasy novel, “Alice in Wonderland” is a beloved children’s book. The novel also comments on mathematics. Charles Dodgson, whose pen name was Lewis Carroll, originally invented the story to entertain his friends’ young daughters. Dodgson was himself a serious mathematician who lectured at Christ Church College in Oxford, England. When he put the story on paper to publish it, he ended up writing sections that poked fun at current mathematics, which he was worried were becoming increasingly abstract. Listen to the story to learn more about the mathematical references in “Alice in Wonderland.
Maya Angelou was an author, poet and icon. She grew up during segregation and used her work to empower and give voice to the African American community. Her memoir, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" changed the literary world and opened doors for African American authors and women.
The Mayan Empire once flourished in the dense rainforests of what are now southern Mexico and Central America. Over centuries, the Mayans acquired the elements of an advanced civilization, including large cities, an organized priesthood, a system of writing, and mastery of science and technology. The Mayans understood architecture enough to build pyramids and palaces and math and astronomy enough to create an accurate 365-day calendar. Listen to learn more facts about the magnificent Mayans and some theories about why the Golden Age of the Mayans came to an end.
Whether or not to use the “Oxford comma” is a big debate among grammar lovers, journalists, and English teachers. The punctuation mark appears at the end of a series, right before “and” or “or.” Recently, the Oxford comma came into the spotlight during a lawsuit about overtime pay. A close look at the law revealed that its punctuation, or lack thereof, made possible two entirely different interpretations. Listen to hear more about how one missing comma could cost a dairy company millions of dollars.
Several times a year, Americans around the country recreate the kind of medieval warfare that occurred in the 1600s. This public radio story describes a medieval ‘war’ put on in Wisconsin by the SCA - the Society for Creative Anachronism. After creating their own weapons and armor, participants gather by the thousands to do battle. You will hear what it sounds and feels like to be part of one of these recreated battles.
Jose Antonio Vargas is an award-winning author who arrived in the U.S. as a young boy. Like thousands of other immigrants, his parents brought him into the country illegally in pursuit of the American Dream. In this audio story, Vargas explains how he found out his family’s secret and why he decided to tell the world he is undocumented. The story examines why America is seen as an ideal country for opportunity for thousands of people around the world and why some people send their children alone to the U.S. in pursuit of the American Dream.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Americans of Japanese descent were taken away to internment camps. The terrible conditions they lived in during internment were only surpassed by the shock and humiliation the people suffered as they saw themselves changed overnight from loyal Americans, often American citizens, to “enemy aliens.” In this audio story you will hear first person accounts from people who lived in the internment camps when they were children.
There are few Holocaust survivors still living today. In this public radio story we hear from one woman who escaped a Nazi death camp. She tells the story about being led out of the camp with many other women to an open field to be killed. Thankfully, she escaped, but has lived for over 70 years with survivor’s guilt.
Note: This story contains disturbing details about a Nazi concentration camp.
The ancient Mesopotamian citadel of Ur Bilum, located in Northern Iraq, sits atop a hill overlooking the modern day city of Erbil. Ur Bilum was originally built by a group of ancient peoples known as the Sumerians but was also home to a variety of civilizations including the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Ottomans. More recently, the citadel was home to hundreds of families of Kurdish refugees until 2007 when it was evacuated. This was an effort by Kurdish authorities to gain the necessary approval of the United Nations for the citadel to become a World Heritage Site. Listen to learn more about Ur Bilum’s rich history and the hardships faced by its last inhabitants.
Changes to a neighborhood park in Illinois have affected the Northern White-Footed mice who live in the forest nearby. Scientists who study living mice today compare them to museum samples of dead mice to understand how they've changed and why. What they are finding is that the mice are growing much faster than their ancestors. Listen to learn why the mice are changing and why no one picked up on it sooner.
The study of genes is moving toward a new frontier. There is a new field studying microorganisms which exist in living organisms. Microbes control every process on earth, and a human is made up of 90% bacteria. However, we know very little about these microbes. There is now a newer, more efficient way, to study this bacteria. From this scientists can discover new species and genes. Listen to learn how the study of microorganisms became so important.
While popular swimming holes are commonly tested for bacteria, few are tested for protozoans. Protozoan-caused illnesses can cause problems for swimmers in rivers, lakes, and ponds. Listen to learn how we can distinguish between the different types of microbes and how this introduces the classification of microorganisms.
Dinoflagellates are tiny marine microbes that make up the foundation of the aquatic ecosystems. They often go unnoticed because of how small they are, but any seafood you've eaten has eaten a dinoflagellate. A theater group has developed a musical centered around dinoflagellates and through song and dance reveal a lot that is unknown about the sea creature. Listen to learn from the musical numbers and find out how dinoflagellates have the potential to be more dangerous than sharks.
Charles Johnson’s book Middle Passage is considered a modern classic, in part because so much of the story told in the novel is seen as a reflection on the history of race and what it means to be black in America. In the book, the main character, Rutherford Calhoun, a free black man, unknowingly boards a ship that’s part of the illegal slave trade. His experience on board forces him to clarify his own racial identity. In this audio story, we hear different perspectives, including the author’s, on the story the book tells and its important and relevant themes.
In recent National Day celebrations, the United Arab Emirates showed off its impressive military might. There were marching bands and a mile-long convoy of military vehicles. This public display of power reflects a dramatic shift in policy about the country’s alliance with the United States, which has until now been downplayed. The UAE is strategically located in the Persian Gulf and has emerged as a major U.S. ally and the leading military power in the Gulf in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). While the government of the UAE acts to project an image of a western-leaning, moderate Muslim country, it does not stand for dissent of any kind. In this audio story, listen to hear more about this contradiction and what lies behind it.
An American journalist in search of his family roots provides an intimate look behind the scenes in Iran. He meets Iranians on the train between two cities: Yazd and Isfahan. He finds how ancient traditions and today’s religious government are fostering tension among Iranians, expressed carefully in quiet conversations. This audio story takes you with him on his journey through Iran.
Thomas Stearns Eliot OM, best known as T.S. Eliot, was one of the great modernist poets of the 20th century. His work was part of a specific moment in history and art, before and after World War I, when identity, nations and art were fractured. Listen to learn more about the world in which Eliot wrote and why his poem “The Waste Land” remains one of the pillars of the high modernism movement.
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.
Researchers are trying to figure out how mosquitoes survive raindrops. The mosquitoes receive a pelting as if, on a human scale we were being hit with massive boulders! The study of physics is helping scientists figure out this mystery. Through momentum and impulse, mosquitoes can dodge the rain and the humans trying to kill them. Listen to learn what experiments researchers had to do to understand the feeling from a mosquito's point of view.