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The 1960’s are remembered for many turning points in American History. Undoubtedly, two of these are the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Perhaps no president of the time period is more intimately associated with America’s commitment to each than Lyndon Johnson. In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library hosted an event to honor civil right law and Johnson’s civil rights legacy. This audio story discusses that event and provides some of the historical background behind Johnson’s civil rights achievements, including his early relationship with MLK and other leaders, the impact of Kennedy’s assassination, and his eventual successes.
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.
On September 18, 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. The second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, Ginsburg was a trailblazing lawyer and justice who was known for her brilliance, passion for the law, and commitment to gender equality. In later years, she also became a celebrity, the subject of movies and Saturday Night Live parodies. With her death, she leaves behind a powerful legacy. Listen to learn about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s family life, her career path, and the cases she argued that transformed the workplace for American women.
In the early 20th century Americans streamed to the middle of the country because of the Homestead Acts. These were federal laws that gave people ownership of the land for free. In this audio story you will hear from people who grew up on homesteads in Montana in the early 20th century. Both families were fairly isolated and self-sufficient, working hard to make a living off the land, but their affection for that lifestyle is still strong.
Leonardo da Vinci was the model of a Renaissance man and studied anatomy, botany, music, sculpture, and design. He painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. He also used the scientific method 100 years before Galileo Galilei, who was previously believed to have discovered it. This story describes how da Vinci’s study of patterns in nature was different from other scholars of his time who relied on the Greek and Roman classics. Listen to discover more about the scientific discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian sculptor, painter, engineer, and inventor who lived during the Renaissance period. Though he had many talents, da Vinci is perhaps best known for his marvelous pieces of art. After being commissioned to create a portrait of a silk merchant’s wife, he produced the Mona Lisa. The painting is currently located at the Louvre Museum in Paris, but it wasn’t always hanging behind bulletproof glass as part of the museum’s collection. Listen to hear the story of how the Mona Lisa was stolen, and learn why it eventually became the most popular painting in the world.
When Roman Emperor Hadrian took power of ancient Rome in 117 A.D., Romans were mired in debt and war plagued much of Rome's land. It was similar to when President Barack Obama began his term as President of the United States. He inherited war, financial problems, and social issues. Throughout the two decades of his rule, Hadrian used his position as emperor to bring Rome back to a peaceful and powerful glory. Listen as the audio clip explains the steps Hadrian took to improve the country at the beginning of his rule.
Young Muslim Americans are learning about the life of Muhammad, the seventh century prophet who founded Islam, through a series of lectures called "Portrait of a Prophet." The course, held at mosques across the country, aims to teach Muslims what the prophet was like as a person, including how he treated others, what he liked to eat—even how he wore his hair. Listen to the story to learn about why the classes have been popular in Muslim American communities.
Mary Mallon, known as “Typhoid Mary,” was a carrier of typhoid fever in 1906 who showed no symptoms. It was determined that Mary, a cook, had unknowingly infected 22 people. She was later quarantined against her will and forced to undergo testing. Mary’s experience is an historic example of the tension between public safety and personal freedom. Listen to hear the fascinating details of Mary’s story and learn how author Susan Campbell believes medical professionals could have handled her case differently.
Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in the United States. Born in Senegal, Wheatley was taken to Boston, Massachusetts and enslaved. Since she was too weak for manual labor, Wheatley was taught to read and write instead. She published her first poem in 1767. A two-page letter by Wheatley, previously unpublished, was recently auctioned. Listen to learn more about Phillis Wheatley, the contents of this letter, and why it is so significant to scholars, historians, and collectors.
Langston Hughes was one of the most influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African American art and culture that occurred in the late 1920s through the early 1930s. In 2015, Hughes’s letters were collected in "Selected Letters of Langston Hughes" by a team of editors. The letters reveal much about how Hughes viewed his writing, how he dealt with criticism, and how he felt about friends and peers. Listen to this interview with one of the editors of the collection to learn what Hughes’s letters reveal about who he was as a man, an African American, and a writer.
William Shakespeare’s tragic romance of star crossed lovers, based on an Italian tale, graced stages in the 1590’s and continues to capture audiences and imagination today. Modern adaptations demonstrate the timelessness of this romantic tragedy. Juliet appeals so directly to people that they actually write to her! Listen to learn more about the Juliet Club and the 6,000 letters they receive a year.
The Lewis and Clark expedition into the Louisiana Purchase and beyond changed America. The team of explorers identified new plant and animal species, opened trade routes, and brought back stories of the West that fired the country’s imagination. They also made contact with Native American tribes, eventually leading to devastating outbreaks of disease and loss of native land. This audio story follows the team of adventurers as they discovered the West and pursued their plan to bring back an unusual pet for the president – a prairie dog.
From 1804 to 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led an expedition to explore North America beyond the Mississippi River. Their expedition, pushed by Thomas Jefferson and approved by Congress, was motivated by a combination of geopolitics and scientific curiosity. Their journey west and return to St. Louis is a remarkable and profound American story of sacrifice, discovery, conquest, and adventure. This audio story centers around the 200 year anniversary of their expedition. In the story, the details of the journey, its participants, and its historical legacy, both good and bad, are addressed.
Vladimir Putin is the current president of the Russian Federation. He has served as either President or Prime Minister since 2000. Russia was in political and economic turmoil when Putin came to power, and many have credited Putin’s policies with making Russia more stable and prosperous. However, aggression against neighboring states, and rumors of corruption have cast a cloud over his administration. This story discusses life in Russia under Putin in the last two decades. Listen to learn more about why people think Putin is such a popular leader, what challenges Russians continue to face under Putin, and what the US still needs to understand about its former political arch-rival.
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.
Microscopic creatures have always lived around, on, and inside of us. While some of these tiny bugs can cause illness, others do us no harm, or may even help us. In this audio story, an entomologist discusses her study of Demodex mites, the tiny bugs that live on just about everyone’s faces. Listen to hear what scientists know--and don’t know--about these microscopic critters and how studying them could reveal truths about ancient humans.
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.
The Palace of Versailles is one of France’s national treasures. Home to several French kings, site of Bismark’s proclamation of the German Empire in 1871 and of the signing of the treaty ending World War I, Versailles has a rich history. Maintaining the enormous, elegant palace requires time, money, and labor. Though difficult, those in charge of conservation believe the task is crucial for preserving France’s past and educating current and future generations. Listen to learn more about the history of Versailles, and hear how caretakers are searching the world to recover the castle’s lost furnishings.
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.
Less than a third of Americans believe that scientists and other STEM-related professionals communicate well. Why is this the case, and how can science communication be improved? Alan Alda, an acclaimed actor and comedian, has devoted the second half of his career to answering these questions. He created the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, focused on helping scientists communicate effectively with the public. Listen to hear what inspired Alda to take on the project and what he believes are the keys – and obstacles – to successful science communication.
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 the time, the states were not united, and each state had its own set of laws and ways of doing things. 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.
Frank Li, the protagonist of David Yoon’s novel Frankly in Love, lives a double life: one as his first generation immigrant parents’ perfect son who only dates Korean girls, and another where his girlfriend is white. Listen to hear author David Yoon talk about his own experiences growing up as a Korean-American and how his personal life inspired this coming of age story.
Although historians of the medieval era often focus on Europe, it was also a time when Islamic societies, including the Mali and Songhai Empires in West Africa, were thriving. Documents recently found in caves and mud homes in Mali are shedding new light on West Africa during this period. Medieval Mali was a highly literate society with an extensive written record, one that scholars around the world are seeking to better understand. Listen to learn about the efforts to preserve thousands of recently discovered documents reflecting an advanced culture that many students of history know little about.
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.
Is scientific discovery always a force for good? Marie Curie’s quest to introduce radioactivity to the world, for which she won two Nobel Prizes, sparked that question. Curie's discoveries of radium and polonium led to therapeutic and diagnostic breakthroughs, but they were also weaponized – into horrific bombs and lethal poison. Listen to the actress who played Curie in the 2020 movie “Radioactive,” released during the COVID-19 pandemic, discuss what she learned about the pioneering scientist’s unusual life and complicated legacy.
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.