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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.
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.
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.
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.
The play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry reveals the struggles black families faced as they attempted to achieve the American dream in the 1950s. The play follows the lives of a working class family, the Youngers, from the South Side of Chicago. The Younger family received an insurance check, providing an opportunity to make positive changes in their lives. The audio story offers a glimpse into an alarming event that happened to author Hansberry’s family when they moved into a white neighborhood during segregation. Listen to learn about Lorraine Hansberry’s motivation for writing this iconic story and why A Raisin in the Sun made such an impact on American theater.
The Muslim religion is 1,400 years old and is divided into two major groups: the Sunnis and the Shiites. Sunnis make up almost 90% of the world's Muslims. Sunnis refer to a Muslim kingdom that is ruled by descendants of the prophet Mohammed, as the “caliphate.” The former Ottoman empire was considered a caliphate, and it is generally accepted that there has not been a caliphate in the Muslim world for nearly one hundred years. Recently, the Muslim extremists calling themselves ISIS, or the Islamic State, declared the beginning of a new caliphate and declared a spiritual leader, or caliph. This interview with a historian weighs in on the likelihood of ISIS's claim on religious authority becoming reality. Listen to learn more about what a caliphate is, why ISIS declared a new caliphate, and how likely it is to succeed.
More than 200 years ago, one of history’s most controversial leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte of France, faced an uncertain future as the battle lines were drawn between the most powerful countries of Europe. By the end of the Battle of Waterloo, millions of people were dead and Napoleon was defeated. Two centuries later, the battle is being reenacted amid a European continent more united than ever. Listen to the audio story to learn more about the impact of the Battle of Waterloo and the lessons that can be learned from Napoleon’s story.
An acclaimed Nigerian author’s award-winning new novel, “An Orchestra of Minorities” is a tragic love story. It is like many classic tales, but with a unique twist: it’s told by the main character’s guardian spirit, or chi, in the Igbo religion. Listen to learn how having a non-human narrator affects this story and its characters’ destinies.
Author Natalie Babbitt has been writing books for young people for four decades. Her respect for young readers shines through in the themes of her novels, from love and everlasting life in “Tuck Everlasting” to money and dreams in her first non-fantasy novel, “The Moon Over High Street.” In this interview, Babbitt describes her perspective on writing for young people.
Scientists are trying to settle the age-old question of nature versus nurture. To test it out, scientists experiment on ducks to help determine whether animals are born with no knowledge of the world and only learn things from experience, or whether they emerge with some knowledge already intact. Listen to hear how the experiment is done and what it can tell us about nature versus nurture.
Scientists are beginning to answer questions about whether our physical appearances and behaviors are linked to the DNA of an extinct species of hominid. Unexpectedly large portions of Neanderthal DNA are being found in the genomes of many modern humans. New evidence suggests that inherited Neanderthal DNA can vary dramatically from individual to individual, with some receiving beneficial genes as well as rejecting others. Listen to hear how these new findings are affecting our understanding of human evolution.
Nelson Mandela was an inspiring leader, much like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He confronted a system of oppression and helped bring justice to the oppressed. Mandela was a young lawyer who became an activist in the highly segregated South Africa. He spent nearly 30 years in prison for his activities. Upon his release, he was elected as the nation’s first black African president. During his time in office, Mandela strove to heal a deeply wounded and fragile nation. Listen to hear Mandela’s life story, told shortly after his death at age 95.
This public radio story describes the life and misfortunes of Niccolo Machiavelli, a citizen of Florence who led the fight against its takeover by the Medici family, and was banished from his beloved city. His single work of nonfiction, the manual "The Prince", was published five years after his death, in 1532, and has guaranteed that this civil servant erased by the Medicis would live forever, famous—or infamous—for the advice he gives to rulers in his work. Was Machiavelli really recommending ruthless practicality for rulers? Or is his philosophy more subtle and moral than people think?
During the late 19th and early 20th century, Ellis Island in New York City was the first stop for millions of immigrants entering the United States. The facility became a symbol of America’s history as a society built by immigrants. Today, Ellis Island is a museum that tells just one part of the story of American immigration. Listen to hear the experience of how immigrants arrived at Ellis Island and how the museum remains relevant to people coming to the United States today.
In 2014, astronomers discovered a new dwarf planet on the edge of our solar system. This discovery has changed scientists’ understanding of what exists in the solar system beyond the more well known dwarf planet, Pluto. The new planet is a pink ball of ice, and scientists believe there could be an unseen and undiscovered planet larger than Earth in the far reaches of our solar system.
Nigerian author Chinua Achebe published the novel "Things Fall Apart" in 1958. His story of a Nigerian man whose village and culture are overtaken by British colonial forces in the 1890s sold millions of copies and was translated into 50 languages. The novel was one of the first bestsellers written by an African author as African nations gained independence from European rulers. It was also one of the first works to tell the story of colonialism from an African perspective. Listen to this radio story to hear about the author’s lasting influence on writers and literature.
Human behavior continues to have an effect on marine life under the water. This story highlights how humans make the ocean so noisy. Scientists are worried that the noise is causing a disruption to animals and threatening their existence. Listen to learn what humans are doing and what can be changed.
Taxing imports makes imported goods more expensive for consumers. So why aren’t all seemingly similar items taxed the same? This audio story focuses on imported suits for Santa Claus impersonators. These red suits with white firm trim are worn by thousands of Santa Clauses around the Christmas holidays. Some of these outfits are taxed, others are not. Listen to learn more about the sometimes complicated laws that determine why not all Santa suits are taxed equally.
The Nubian Pharaohs play an important part in ancient history, though their story is not widely told. Known as “Black Pharaohs,” they came from the area of modern-day Sudan and ruled Ancient Egypt for a half century. The Nubian people established a rich civilization in Africa, complete with impressive pyramids and sophisticated cultural practices. For many years, though, scholars and archaeologists ignored Nubian contributions, attributing their accomplishments to the Egyptians instead. Listen to learn more about the “Black Pharaohs” from Sudan, and their remarkable history that has not been given the attention it deserves.
Oceans around the world see declines in healthy reefs. The increase in ocean temperatures due to global warming is one of the factors that cause this deterioration. Part of the coral reefs are endangered, but some corals are still thriving despite the increase in ocean temperature. Listen to learn who relies on coral reefs and what would happen if they completely deteriorated.
The U.S. warship the USS Constitution is docked in Boston Harbor. It's the oldest commission warship in the world. The USS Constitution played a key role in the War of 1812. Listen to this audio story to learn how the warship USS Constitution got its nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 as it battled British warships off the U.S. coast.
The earliest known fossil that lead to humans was recently discovered in Ethiopia. Scientists have uncovered a lower jaw with five teeth. The jaw is estimated at about 2.8 million years old, and is nearly half a million years older than the previous record for a human-related fossil. This bone could help explain a branch in the human family tree. Listen to the story to find out how this fossil could fill a gap in the history of human evolution.
Wes Moore is an American veteran, author, and the CEO of Robin Hood, an anti-poverty non-profit organization in New York City. As a teen, Moore struggled in school and experienced several run-ins with the law. Despite these early challenges, he attended college and eventually earned his master’s degree at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. When Moore learned that another Wes Moore, with whom he had much in common, was serving life in prison, he wrote a letter that initiated a relationship, which he captures in his book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. Listen to learn more about both Wes Moores and how their connection affected each of them.
Many people need organ transplants, but there are not enough organs for all of them. Doctors have had to develop criteria for deciding who gets the organs that are available, knowing that those who don’t get the organs they need may die. Listen to hear how the allocation of available organs puts doctors in the position to make life or death decisions, and who keeps them honest about it.
Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, remains one of the landmark works of feminist literature. At a time in American history when most women were expected to find fulfillment as housewives and mothers, Friedan’s book challenged the male-dominated post-WWII culture and helped pave the way for the “Women’s Liberation Movement" of the 1960s and 1970s. This audio story looks at The Feminine Mystique on the 50th anniversary of its publication, featuring three women discussing their relationship with the groundbreaking book. Listen to learn more about the origins of The Feminine Mystique and what relevance it may still hold to the gender politics of today.
In the 1920’s thousands of orphan children were shipped on trains from the streets of New York City to America’s Midwest. Some found a loving family, but others had a very difficult life experience. “Orphan Train” is a novel by Christina Baker Kline, that talks about the story of Niamh, an Irish girl who was sent on one of these trains after losing her parents in a fire. Listen to the author talk about Niamh and other orphan’s experiences, and think about whether the benefit to some members of society was worth the pain of others.
In 1991, hikers discovered a corpse frozen in the Alps. Investigators discovered that the body was 5,300 years old and had been so well-preserved in the ice that it served as a time capsule from the early Copper Age. They named the natural mummy Otzi after the region where he was found. Scientists have examined Otzi’s body and his belongings, which were surprisingly intact, and learned a great deal about his origins, diet, health, and lifestyle. Listen to learn what scientists have discovered about Otzi and his life in the mountains thousands of years ago.
Outsourcing happens when a company in the U.S. stops hiring American workers and hires workers in foreign countries instead. The benefit for the U.S. company is that workers in other countries make much less money than American workers, so the company saves money. In the early 2000s, more Americans began to protest against outsourcing because it created unemployment in the U.S. This public radio story introduces a man who built a business around helping companies outsource, and who stands by the practice despite its controversial aspects.
There is debate whether fish like the bluefin tuna are going to go extinct. Some argue that the decline in bluefin results from excessive fishing. However, long time bluefin fishers like Eric Stewart, disagree with this stance as he sees an increasing population of bluefin. Listen to hear from both sides, and how one bluefin tuna can swim across the entire ocean.
The federal government now recognizes the Pamunkey tribe from Virginia. Tribe members waited a long time to achieve this acknowledgment, fighting a long legal battle and facing opposition from various groups. Pamunkey’s new status as a recognized tribe gives them access to certain rights and privileges they did not have before. This tribe played a crucial role in early American history, and now they can look forward to a brighter future. Listen to hear more about what federal recognition means for this Native American tribe.