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Idioms are developed within a culture and are like a language of their own. They convey meaning that extends beyond the definition of individual words to express a fuller collective meaning. Many times, idioms are able to pack more meaning into fewer words because they directly translate a familiar sentiment. A dictionary of idioms is essential for communication in America. This story reveals the origin of idioms that allude to art, history, and American politics in the latest edition of “The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms”. Listen to hear how idioms reveal a snapshot of American society in different time periods.
When Louisa May Alcott wrote “Little Women” at the request of her publisher it became an instant hit. The story of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March, still inspires young women nearly 150 years later. What do these four women represent? How can we understand Jo’s independence in the context of her era? And how does the novel reflect and differ from the life of its author Louisa May Alcott? Listen to learn more about the lasting legacy of “Little Women.”
Ray Bradbury is regarded as one of the greatest imaginative writers of the last 100 years. . His stories and novels showed us the promise and wonder of traveling the stars in books such as “The Martian Chronicles” and “R is For Rocket.” But just as often as Bradbury’s fiction looked outward, the future and the cosmos, it also turned its powerful eye inward, peering into the human condition in books such as “Fahrenheit 451” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” His written works continue to influence and inspire people from filmmakers to astronauts. This story offers a brief profile of Bradbury on the occasion of his death in 2012. Listen to learn more about Ray Bradbury and how his stories have influenced others.
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.
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.
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.
Archeologists have long searched sites across Central America to learn about the ancient civilizations that once thrived there. One of those civilizations is the Olmecs, an early Central American people, whose culture pre-dates the Mayans. In this audio story you will hear about the discovery of a stone block that seems to date back to the Olmecs, over 3,000 years ago. It contains what might be the oldest writing ever found in the Americas. Listen to learn more about the significance of this discovery.
The Great Wall of China stretches thousands of miles. But there were many walls before The Great Wall. This story focuses on the wall built centuries before the Great Wall by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Listen to hear why the Qi wall was originally built, how it was constructed, and who was recruited to do the construction work.
Many people have mothers or grandmothers who inspire courage and tenacity when facing adversity. This audio story focuses on women who sacrifice and provide for their families, especially when times are tough. One recent high school graduate discusses her family’s challenges and describes how her mother and grandmother find the strength and inspiration to overcome their struggles. Listen to hear more about women who are an example of perseverance and grit and discover what it is that helps them succeed.
When “The Red Badge of Courage” was published in the 1890s, 30 years after the U.S. Civil War, it was one of the first novels to address the psychological effects of combat. The book’s central character is Henry Fleming, a teenager who joins the Union Army with high hopes of glory and adventure. The realities of war soon hit, and Henry must juggle the conflicting emotions of fear, pity, envy, pride, outrage, and eventually, courage. Listen to learn more about a book many consider a coming-of-age novel, while others question whether war is the best way to turn a boy into a man.
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.
William Shakespeare wrote some of the most famous and recognizable love poems of all time, but some historians think that Shakespeare had no intention of publishing these private messages. His sonnets were largely biographical and it is believed they were written to another man. When a collection of these personal sonnets were published by a shady publisher named Thomas Thorpe, Shakespeare tried to stop their distribution. Listen to learn more about Shakespeare’s sonnets and their unwanted publication.
In 1967 Nobel prize winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote "One Hundred Years of Solitude". The novel takes place in the fictional and fantastical town of Macondo. Macondo serves as a setting as well as a metaphor for Colombia itself. The novel’s magical realism inspired a genre of writing and in an ironic twist of fate inspired the naming of the oil field that was blown out by the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2011. Listen to learn more about the literary and thematic connections between the two.
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 characters in our alphabet look the way they do and stand for their unique sounds for a reason. There are many stories behind the letters we use so often. The earliest forms of writing evolved because members of ancient civilizations needed more efficient ways to express themselves. Listen to this story to hear about the origins of individual letters, as well as learn about the connection between shape and meaning in our modern alphabet.
In February of 2018, 17 people were killed in a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Though not the first mass shooting of its kind, this tragic event, some say, represents a turning point the country’s tolerance for gun violence in schools. Since Parkland, student-led protests have risen up nationwide demanding a change to gun laws in America. This NPR story, told from a student’s perspective, reflects on the impact of school shootings. In particular, it focuses on the impact shootings have on students’ lives and how they shatter the notion of school as a safe haven.
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.
Alfred Tennyson, better known as Lord Tennyson, was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland for 42 years during the reign of Queen Victoria. His short lyrical poems appealed to the people of the 19th century, many of whom couldn’t read. One of this most famous poems “The Charge of the Light Brigade” describes a real event during the Crimean War. This charge, during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, became the most well-known action of the war thanks to Tennyson’s poem, even though the poem wasn’t entirely accurate. Listen to learn more about the Crimean War, the real charge and how Tennyson’s words brought this event to life for the British people.
In the 17th century, people were determined to overcome communications barriers between the people of the world by creating a universal language. Sir Isaac Newton is known for discovering gravity, but he was also the creator of the “Newtonian” language. The language Newton created was never successful. The language of Esperanto was created in the 1960 but also never caught on. Listen to learn more about invented languages and why they never became universal.
Sandra Cisneros writes about working class Latino life in America and has won many awards for her writing. She is best known for her book, “The House on Mango Street.” The themes in her writing include the meaning of home, belonging, crossing boundaries and cultural expectations of women. Her new memoir, “A House of my Own,” describes how her own life also reflects these themes. In this interview, she talks about being connected to Mexico and to the United States, and how she hopes to be an ambassador passing between the two cultures. Furthermore, she works to honor the women in her family while also being an independent woman and breaking some cultural traditions. Listen to hear more about how Sandra Cisneros has created a house of her own.
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.
Toni Morrison is an American novelist who is best known for her novels exploring the experiences of African Americans. When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in in 1993 she said at the ceremony that she is “pleasantly haunted by ghosts.” In this interview with Morrison she explores how ghosts are a part of some of her writing. The novel “Beloved” has a ghost as a central character in a story about two slaves who fell in love. The novel “Jazz” recalls Harlem in the 1920’s and explores the themes of purgatory and Jazz music. Listen to this story to learn what sparks Morrison’s creativity.
George Orwell is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most influential authors. His most famous book, “Animal Farm,” is considered to be a commentary on the dangers of Soviet-style totalitarianism. The book follows a group of animals who overthrow their human owners and establish self-rule on the farm. Over time the hopes of a better life fade as a small group of pigs take control and establish a dictatorship over the rest of the animals on the farm. “Animal Farm” continues to resonate with those who read it. This audio story commemorates the 60th anniversary of the publication of the novel and discusses its plot, its influence, and connections to today’s world.
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.
John Steinbeck took a 11,000-mile journey across the United States with his dog, Charley, and then wrote about it in the book, “Travels with Charley”. He wanted to answer the question: “What are Americans like today?” Recently, a journalist retraced Steinbeck’s steps from Sag Harbor, New York through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, and then straight to the northernmost part of Maine. He used Steinbeck’s "Travels with Charley" as a guide, and discusses his travels and the challenges he has faced while trying to accurately follow Steinbeck’s route. He also discusses the differences and surprising similarities between Steinbeck’s trip and his own, focusing on the places he has visited, the people he has encountered, and the technology he uses along the way.
Dante Alighieri finished writing the three-part epic poem “Divine Comedy” in 1321. The poem’s three parts include: hell, purgatory and heaven, and follows one man on his journey through all three places. This great work of Italian literature has survived the ages and remains a classic today. There have been many translations of Dante’s work. This story interviews Clive James, the most recent English translator, as he talks about this epic poem and his translated version of “Divine Comedy.”
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.
Tsunamis are created by tectonic plates thrusting against each other and then lifting the sea floor and dropping it down, which creates a giant wave. A 2010 earthquake in Chile was caused by a shift in the seafloor. This same shift set off tsunami detection buoys and left scientists waiting for the tsunami to hit. But it ended up being small. Listen to learn more about this quake and how tsunamis are created.
When people started using large nets to capture tuna in the 1960s, many spotted dolphins were killed because they were found living with tuna. Scientists responded by sending “observers” on tuna boats to keep track of the number of dolphins killed. Listen to hear from a scientist who is studying the spotted and spinner dolphins to try to learn how to preserve dolphin populations.
Scientists are creating bacteria batteries by using wastewater to generate electricity. The microbes from sewage can be harnessed to develop microbial fuel cells. The process could provide ways to provide energy in remote places for very little money. Listen to learn how scientists are developing this energy and what they are learning from it.
One of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded struck recently, with minimal damage, no tsunami and it barely made the news. That’s because there are two kinds of earthquakes. This earthquake happened when two tectonic plates moved past each other horizontally, while more damaging earthquakes are caused when one plate slips beneath another. This radio story explains the two types of earthquakes and how they are gradually redefining the boundaries of the tectonic plates.
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.
During the 1930s about 2 million people, many of them U.S. citizens who were born in the United States were deported to Mexico. Federal, state, and local officials took part in "repatriation" campaigns. During the Great Depression, many people thought Mexicans were taking the few jobs available, and these deportations were seen by some as a solution to unemployment. Listen to this audio story, to learn about how California recently apologized for the illegal deportation of Mexican-Americans in the1930's.
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.