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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Gert Berliner fled Germany during the Holocaust, he had to leave his entire family behind despite being only 14-years-old at the time. Almost 80 years later, his son Uri is attempting to reconstruct his family history around that traumatic event and rediscover long lost relatives. Listen to hear how one toy monkey connected the Berliners to new relatives and helped bring a family closer in the wake of incredible trauma.
In the pre-Columbian world, Mayan civilization thrived in what is now modern-day Mexico and Central America. The Mayans created an advanced civilization that included developments in math, astronomy and writing among other achievements. Spanish conquests were destructive to Mayan history and culture. However, archaeologists have helped the world rediscover the rich civilization of the Mayan people. In this audio story, we learn about the discovery of over 200 Mayan artifacts found in a cave on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which researchers hope will give insight into the rise and fall of Mayan civilization.
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” has been an American classic for 75 years. This novel centers around a poor young Irish girl and her family struggling to make it in Brooklyn. It’s loosely based on the author’s experiences growing up in New York. Listen to find out what middle schoolers think of this celebrated novel and what the author changed when she turned her real life into fiction.
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.
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.
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.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume were two of the most prominent philosophers of the late 18th century. Despite being in many ways opposed to one another in terms of ideas, they briefly became friends--and then almost immediately afterwards, bitter enemies. Listen to learn about the relationship between these two great thinkers, and how it turned out to be more human than you’d expect.
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.
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.
The annual celebration to commemorate the works of Irish author James Joyce is called Bloomsday and is celebrated on June 16th. While many readers think Joyce’s writing is difficult to understand, Frank Delaney has started a weekly podcast about Joyce and “Ulysses” to help himself and other readers decipher “Ulysses” more easily. Delaney’s podcast includes a rap about the events in “Ulysses”, and he hopes it will continue to be produced for several years to come. Listen to hear more about James Joyce and “Ulysses” as well as more about Frank Delaney’s lengthy podcast project.
John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novella Of Mice and Men tells the story of two migrant workers during the Great Depression. George is committed to protecting Lenny, who is well-meaning but limited in his cognitive and social skills. George does all he can to keep Lenny out of trouble, and so the two are often on the move. Of Mice and Men has been adapted for film and stage. Listen to this story to hear how an actor who played Lenny on Broadway reflects on how his own background informed his portrayal of this iconic character.
A new threat to human health, a disease called COVID-19, is spreading rapidly around the globe. The cause of COVID-19 is a coronavirus, named for the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus particles. In this audio story, an infectious disease doctor describes COVID-19 and its symptoms, compares the novel (or new) coronavirus to the better-known coronavirus that causes the common cold, and explains why being novel helps the virus to spread. Listen to learn what scientists want people to do in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect the health of individuals, families, and communities.
Author Jane Austen is well known for her novels that reflect on romance and the familial and cultural standards of late 18th century England. Some paint Austen as a drab spinster, but a new biography by Paula Byrne explores the real Austen through objects that were important to her in her life and literature. This portrait of an opinionated, fun loving Austen will help you understand her life, family and themes she revisits in her works.
The Amish are a Christian religious group who are known for their isolation and rejection of modern technology. Popular culture has shaped our understanding of the Amish community, from the Harrison Ford movie Witness to TLC’s show Breaking Amish. But this lens on the Amish doesn’t show the complexities of their religious culture. Listen to learn more about the Amish and their complicated but thoughtful relationship with technology.
In several recent presidential elections, the popular vote—the national totals of all voters in an election—and the Electoral College vote, which is the political process that actually chooses the president, have been inconsistent. This story explores the origins of Electoral College, explains who can be part of it, and describes how they go about becoming official electors. Listen to learn more about this complicated process and its potential problems, as well as why we still use it today.
Every language has its own collection of idioms, phrases that you can’t take literally. The meanings of idioms have nothing to do with the words in the phrase. Understanding these phrases in different languages is a unique challenge for anyone learning a second language. Listen to hear about the idioms used in a wide array of different languages.
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.
Global warming is expected to increase summer temperatures making cities even hotter. As concrete and asphalt within cities retain heat, it can increase health risks. The sun mixes with city pollution to create ozone that can irritate people's lungs, especially if they have breathing problems such as asthma. Listen to learn how public health officials are trying to help those living in the hottest areas.
Game wardens in California are now using DNA fingerprinting analysis to help protect illegal poaching of wildlife. There are many species, from large game to shellfish, which are being illegally caught or killed for food. Since there are so few game wardens to patrol the state, they are relying on forensic evidence to help track poachers. Listen to learn about the latest in DNA fingerprinting technology.
Venice, Italy stood for a thousand years as a gateway between the Islamic world and the West. During this time the city-state was determined to maintain trade with Muslims. Even after defeating the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, Venice continued to trade with the Ottomans. It kept commercial links with the Islamic world, often blurring the lines between the arts and cultures of east and west. A museum exhibit in Venice is highlighted in this story, and describes the history of that relationship. Listen to learn more about the mutual influences that Venice and the Islamic world had on one another, and what those influences might teach us today.
Some World War II veterans exposed to mustard gas were denied disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has said it doesn’t have enough evidence to grant the benefits. Veterans of Vietnam were exposed to a different toxic chemical, Agent Orange. This story explores how the Agent Orange Act was lobbied for and enacted, requiring the VA to provide disability benefits to Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange. Listen to learn about how legislation similar to the Agent Orange Act could help to provide compensation for World War II veterans who were exposed to mustard gas.
Alaska is home to 54 active volcanoes. Scientists, called volcanologists, watch and study these volcanoes to try and predict when they are going to erupt and so they can give warnings to the nearby communities. In 2008, Mount Redoubt, one of Alaska’s most famous volcanoes that is known to be active and dangerous, began to show signs of erupting. Listen as a volcanologist explains how taking a closer look at what goes on deep down below the surface of a volcano like Mount Redoubt can reveal warning signs that indicate a possible eruption.
As nations look for clean energy alternatives many are turning to wind and solar, but Indonesia is turning to its volcanoes. Indonesia has 130 active volcanoes. These volcanoes generate geothermal heat that is releases through vents and hot springs throughout the country. Power companies are learning to harness and redirect this heated steam into power plants in order to generate electricity. Indonesia’s geothermal energy potential is huge, but start up costs and oil subsidies might prevent this burgeoning clean energy from taking off.
The name “Disney” is known globally as an entertainment giant that includes animated films, TV shows, and theme parks. In fact, one cannot fully understand the growth of children’s entertainment in the 20th century without knowing more about the man who revolutionized the industry: Walt Disney. Disney was a self-made man who built his media empire from the ground up. Listen to learn about the obstacles Disney overcame to achieve his success and how he created Mickey Mouse, one of the most famous cartoon characters of all time.