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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.
A 29-year-old single mother of three children recently graduated from Montana State University. She faced numerous challenges in earning her degree, but setting a good example for her children helped motivate her to persist. In this interview, she discusses how and why she earned her college degree. Listen to hear her inspirational story, learn her advice for other “nontraditional” college students, and find out what is next for this new college graduate.
Over the course of American history, the Executive Branch and, in particular, the presidency, has grown in scope and influence. As the U.S. has become more heavily involved in foreign affairs over the past century, presidents have benefitted from daily briefings that inform them of potential global trouble spots and the pros and cons of intervention in various locations. This audio story is about the beginning and growth in importance of the presidential daily briefing. Specifically, the story tells how global crises have shaped its importance as part of the president’s responsibilities.
The luxury goods company Hermes makes and sells a high-end purse it calls the Birkin Bag. The Birkin costs $10,000—often more—and it is nearly impossible to find one to buy. Because very few bags are available, the Birkin has become a status symbol, something only very few people can buy. Its scarcity raises its value, which could explain why a purse can cost so much money. Listen to find out why a retail company, that by definition wants to sell things, makes it so difficult to buy their product.
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.
For some, John Brown is a venerated historical figure. For others, he is divisive. His famous raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859, meant to induce a slave rebellion, could be seen as both a righteous act in support of slave liberation and as an act of domestic terrorism. No matter how one views Brown, it is indisputable that his raid was a major turning point as the nation drew closer to civil war. In this story, a journalist discusses Brown, going into great detail into the story of his raid and its historical legacy.
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.
When economists track the performance of the U.S. economy, they pay attention to factors like economic growth, inflation, and unemployment. One economic model, the Phillips Curve, suggests that when unemployment is low, inflation increases, and vice-versa. But is that always true? Listen to learn about the relationship between unemployment and inflation, and about how economists’ interventions can actually change it.
Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution in England, and then America, and the whole world. But the new manufacturing came at a high price: coal pollution. This public radio story takes you to the place where the Industrial Revolution began, and explains how coal, iron, and steam created a new world. Coalbrookdale was one of the busiest coalfields in Europe, but today it seems quiet and clean. Is it really? The world is still powered by fossil fuel, which pumps greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—we’ve just changed the way we burn the coal.
Human beings have a long-standing fascination with dinosaurs that dates back to the discovery of the first fossils. To this day, people of all ages visit museums and fossil sites to study and learn more about these prehistoric creatures. This audio story features the answer to a seemingly simple question: how did the dinosaur age begin? Listen to hear what scientists know about the beginning of the age of dinosaurs. The story may contain a few surprises!
Most people don’t like to spend time thinking about snot, slime, and mucus. Believe it or not, these are important substances that keep humans and animals safe. In fact, there are scientists who study snot! Listen to hear one of these scientists talk about what snot is made of, which animals produce the most slime, and how humans and animals use snot and slime to stay safe and healthy.
Does tickling have a purpose? Why are certain parts of the human body especially sensitive to tickling? Scientists believe the tickling response evolved in early humans to help them protect themselves from predators and insects. Tickling also gives scientists clues about how the brain signals other parts of the body to respond. Listen to hear more about the protective response of tickling, and learn why it is impossible to tickle yourself.
Animals use their whiskers for more than just looking cute. This audio story features an interview with a scientist who studies how whiskers are used by different animals. Listen to hear how animals use whiskers to learn about the world around them and about an experiment that helps scientists learn how whiskers work.
During Jim Crow, systemic racism cut into virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life. This included an act as seemingly simple as shopping. For African-Americans, shopping in a store meant being badly treated including being ignored by sales people. The Sears Catalog, which had photographs of hundreds of products and gave people the ability to order them by mail, was revolutionary for black Americans because it allowed them to have the same shopping experience as white Americans. This audio story deals with the ways in which the idea of shopping by catalog leveled the economic playing field during Jim Crow.
The Tuck family gains immortality after drinking from a magical spring, but living forever brings sadness as well as joy. That is the premise of Natalie Babbitt’s classic novel Tuck Everlasting, about a 10-year-old girl who learns the Tuck family’s secret and wrestles with the decision about whether to drink from the fountain herself. Listen to hear fifth graders share their ideas about the book’s central themes, including death, eternal life, and living each moment to the fullest.
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 novel Esperanza Rising tells the “riches to rags” story of a girl who lived comfortably in Mexico in the 1930s until her family’s situation changed. She and her family had to move to California, where they worked in farm labor camps and lived in poverty as migrant workers during the Great Depression. Listen to hear an excerpt and a book discussion and learn how the author’s grandmother’s experiences inspired her to write the novel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
American novelist Toni Morrison is best known for her novels exploring the experiences of African Americans. When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, she said at the ceremony that she was “pleasantly haunted by ghosts.” In this interview, Morrison discussed the ghosts inhabiting 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 sparked 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 is written in three parts: hell, purgatory, and heaven. It 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.