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For many, Henry David Thoreau is best known for his 1854 experiment on simplicity, where he lived in the woods of Massachusetts on Walden Pond. The resulting book Walden; or, Life in the Woods, has connected generations of readers to his vision of self-reliance, closeness to nature and transcendentalism. An art museum located near Walden Pond has launched a show, Walden Revisited, with works inspired by and responding to Thoreau’s work.
Toni Morrison, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature, believes in addressing reality in her writing, no matter how painful. In this audio story, she reflects on writing about unfortunate truths, such as racism. Morrison’s stories are full of complicated characters and interesting dialogue while portraying harsh realities. Listen to hear Morrison reflect on the realities of racism today and learn what Morrison's writing means to one admirer who values Morrison's talent for storytelling.
The Protestant Reformation in western Europe was a 16th century challenge to the practices and authority of the Catholic Church. Tradition holds that the Reformation began when a monk, Martin Luther, posted 95 "theses” questioning papal authority on the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. What followed were decades of religious and political conflict that would reshape Europe for centuries to come. Recently Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, helped commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Listen to learn what the pope’s participation shows about current Catholic-Lutheran relations, and hear how the two branches of Christianity keep working to heal divisions.
Girls growing up in America often receive conflicting messages about ambition. In her new children’s book, Ambitious Girl, author Meena Harris redefines the meaning of ambition for girls. Her story empowers girls to become leaders and encourages them to pursue their dreams. Listen to hear how the experiences of the author’s aunt, Vice President Kamala Harris, inspired the book, and learn why the author wants Black and brown girls, in particular, to see themselves reflected in its pages.
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.
A group of items wrapped in cloth and believed to have spiritual power is known as an African spirit bundle. Found in Annapolis, Maryland in 2008, the African spirit bundle gives us insight into who would have used it and why. It dates back to the early 18th century and is most surprising because of where it was placed. It hung at a crossroads, which in the Yoruba tradition is a place of great danger. Listen to hear more about the items in the bundle and who may have put them there.
The separation of church and state is part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was intended to ensure religious freedom. It’s been debated and challenged for decades. Most recently, the debate centered around what role religious beliefs should have on what students learn in biology class. Should schools teach evolution or intelligent design? Or should schools note evolution is a theory? Listen to learn more about the first major legal challenge to a policy on how to teach biology in Pennsylvania.
Note: Since this public radio story first aired a U.S. District Judge rules the Dover school system could not insert intelligent design into the science curriculum because it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced acts of terrorism. But the response on that day included countless acts of heroism, big and small. Friends, co-workers, emergency workers and strangers did what they could to protect the people around them. Michael Benfante is one of these heroes, though he is uncomfortable with being called a hero. Benfante worked in the second tower of the World Trade Center and as he fled down the staircase he encountered a woman in a wheelchair who needed his help. Listen to learn more about his decision to help carry her out of the doomed building and the lasting impact it’s had on his life.
In the age of American imperialism, perhaps the most well-known event was the Spanish-American War. One of that war’s most recognizable figures was Theodore Roosevelt, who organized and led the volunteer regiment known as the Rough Riders in battle during the war before he became president. Listen to this story to learn about the legacy of the Rough Riders and the parallels between the Spanish-American War and the 2003 Iraq War.
In 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic group in the African nation of Rwanda carried out a genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group. Over 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, often by their neighbors. This story looks back at the Rwandan genocide on the tenth anniversary of this terrible chapter in world history.
When one thinks about the great Renaissance artists from Italy, names like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo typically come to mind. Tintoretto is not nearly as well known but in his time, he was one of the most successful of the great Renaissance painters. The Venetian artist was famous for the speed with which he created his dramatic paintings. This story features a retrospective on Tintoretto’s work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Listen to learn about Tintoretto’s life, reputation, and legacy, and hear descriptions of some of his most famous works.
Was there a single event that launched the modern Civil Rights Movement? Some argue that it was the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy viciously beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s murder gained national attention, in large part because of his mother’s decision to hold an open casket funeral. After years of appeals by the Till family, the Justice Department recently decided to reopen its investigation into the killing. Listen to hear a cousin of Emmett Till describe the impact of the murder on her family and the nation and question how justice can be served in a case more than a half-century old.
In 1780, the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general and American ally, sailed from France to aid George Washington in the American Revolution. His ship, the French frigate, the Hermione, would also see action in battle on behalf of America’s war for independence. Lafayette would be with Washington in 1781 during the decisive Siege of Yorktown, the battle that would hasten the end of the war. In 2015, a replica of the Hermione set sail across the Atlantic, recreating Lafayette’s journey. This audio story describes the process with which the replica was created and examines the significance of Lafayette and his role in the end of the Revolutionary War.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process of putting liquid into shale to remove natural gas. There's concern that when the drillers get rid of wastewater from fracking, it goes into the ground and causes earthquakes. This is happening in places such as Arkansas, and now residents are speaking up to try to put a stop to it. Listen to learn how residents figured out where the earthquakes were coming from and how they are taking the issue to court.
When people think of the history of “Indian Removal” in American history, the most familiar story is that of the 1838 “Trail of Tears,” during which 15,000 Cherokees, 4,000 of whom died, were forcibly relocated from land in the east to federally-owned land in Oklahoma. A lesser known story is the story of Polly Parker, who staged a daring escape from captivity in 1858 at the end of the Third Seminole War. Parker, along with other Seminoles, were being forcibly relocated west. Listen to this audio story to learn about the inhumane treatment native people have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government and how they tried to resist.
The African Meeting House is the oldest standing black church in America. The Meeting House recently underwent a $9 million restoration to make it look like it did in 1855. This audio story looks at the re-dedication of a building that helped shape Boston’s and America’s history. Listen to hear more about the floors where Frederick Douglass walked and the place this building has in African American history.
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14-century, and is widely considered to be one of the influential works of early European literature. It is a “frame story” containing a collection of tales told by a fictional group of religious pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at the Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer made specific use of real locations to root his stories in the world of his time. Listen to hear about how the Canterbury Road has influenced other famous writers, and about how the locations of Chaucer’s tales have changed over the centuries.
By the end of World War II, the city of Berlin, like Germany as a whole, was divided. The eastern part of the city was dominated by a USSR-led communist regime, and the western part had a democratic government influenced by America and Great Britain. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was raised physically dividing the city into East and West Berlin. Travel between the two sides was prohibited. Since the reunification of Germany and the demolition of the wall in 1989, city planners have been trying to rebuild the city, tearing down the old buildings of communist East Berlin and replacing them with new structures. But the new buildings have sparked controversy over what should be preserved and what should be torn down. Listen to this story to hear different perspectives about how the city should move toward a unified future.
The Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries was the largest contiguous land empire in world history, and the man responsible for its growth was the legendary Genghis Khan. Khan united numerous tribes in Asia to form the empire. During its expansion, Khan went as far west as modern day Iraq, a remarkable feat that places Khan in the company of people like Alexander the Great. In the audio story, a biographer of Khan pushes back against the historically negative viewpoint many scholars have of him (that of a brutal barbarian who conquered land and ruled as a cruel dictator) and suggests that Khan was in actuality a visionary, sophisticated and effective leader whose military genius and leadership skills fueled the empire’s growth.
Recent discoveries on the battlefields of Lexington, Massachusetts have altered our understanding of a Revolutionary War battle. In the Minute Man Park, archaeologists discovered musket balls that will help historians understand exactly where militiamen were standing during the battle. The story describes what these militiamen might be feeling during the fighting. Listen to learn how technology helps us continue to adjust our understanding of history.
Author Richard Wright is well known for his novel Native Son and autobiography Black Boy. These books explore what it was like to grow up black and poor in America during the 1930s and 40s. Although Wright became famous for his writing, some Americans, including his own daughter, are still discovering who Richard Wright is and why his writing is significant. Listen to learn more about the impact Richard's Wright’s experiences and writing had on his daughter, his readers, and aspiring writers.
The famous ring featured in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” may have actually existed. This story reveals how Tolkien encountered a supposedly cursed ring from the Roman period shortly before he wrote “The Hobbit.” Many believe that this ring and the details surrounding it might have inspired Tolkien’s novels. Today, the ring is on public display at an English estate. Listen to learn more about the fascinating connections between history, archaeology and J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy series.
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!
As the ocean rises, some island nations might disappear and the coastlines change. This is critical for some island nations that are at risk of slipping under water as sea levels rise. Political, economic, and personal consequences are factors in how the climate problems in these nations are dealt with. Listen to learn what can be done to prevent these catastrophic changes in our geography.
North American river otters have adapted both physically and behaviorally to survive the long, cold winters of North America. This episode of Earth Rangers features an interview with a conservation zoologist about how the river otter’s physical features, behaviors, and social structures help it find the shelter and food it needs to survive, with a particular focus on the important relationship between river otters and beavers. Listen to hear about the physical and behavioral adaptations that help North American river otters thrive.
Roald Dahl’s life was plagued by tragedy, and yet he wrote some of the most famous children’s books of our time, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. This public radio story takes you into Dahl’s life and explores what motivated his writing. Listen to learn more about his relationship with his wife and children, his special writing hut, and the legacy he left behind.
In 1955, racial segregation was legal and common in the United States. Unjust laws and rules dictated where Black people could eat, swim, drink, and shop in public. And while Blacks and whites could ride the same buses, laws in many areas stated that Black people had to sit at the back of the bus. One day, a woman named Rosa Parks decided she had had enough. When told to give up her seat for a white passenger, she refused. Listen to hear what happened after Rosa Parks broke an unjust rule for a good reason.
The September 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center shattered America’s collective sense of safety. The U.S. government responded to the terror with a series of actions that reduced certain threats to the nation’s security, but also led to unintended consequences, including the further spread of anti-American extremism. From the invasion of Afghanistan to the war in Iraq and beyond, the United States has seen both the benefits and costs of its power and global reach. Listen to hear experts in national security assess America’s safety 20 years after the 9/11 attacks.
Can humans and wildlife coexist peacefully? Local farmers in Malawi have witnessed how living near wild elephants can result in violent human-animal encounters. Poachers feed on these circumstances and seize the opportunity to profit. An artificial intelligence solution called EarthRanger has been introduced that can protect the local communities and elephants and bring poachers to justice. Listen to discover how this life-changing solution has impacted elephants and farmers alike.
Franz Kafka worked at an insurance company and wrote in his spare time. He asked that all his personal papers, including literary manuscripts be burned when he died. After Kafka’s death, his friend and literary executor Max Brod ignored Kafka’s wishes and published many of his manuscripts. The Trial, a novel about law, justice and the arrest and prosecution of a man for an unknown crime, was one of these manuscripts. Other people face similar decisions around respecting the wishes of an artist or writer by destroying their work. Listen to a conversation with an ethicist as he discusses the implications of this debate through a modern day example.
Hawaiian is a Polynesian language that has been spoken for centuries in the volcanic islands of Hawaii. The indigenous Pacific Islanders living in Hawaii were prevented from speaking Hawaiian after the U.S. takeover in the late 1800s. By the 1970s, only about 50 people under the age of 18 still knew how to speak the native Hawaiian language. In recent years, Hawaiian people concerned about losing their language and its cultural value have led a movement to revive the language among younger generations. Listen to this story to hear about a Hawaiian language immersion school where parents are learning along with their children in the hope of reconnecting with and preserving an important part of their culture.
Most people can think of ways to splurge, or spend money on something expensive and pleasurable just for fun. Splurging, though, often takes planning and saving money over time. Listen to hear people describe what they would like to splurge on and why, and learn how a 12-year-old accomplished the ambitious goal of buying himself a car.
Scary, shape-changing creatures are universal elements in folktales around the world. In this audio story, author Tracey Baptiste meets with a group of students to discuss her book, The Jumbies, a story based on frightening creatures who populate the folktales of Trinidad and other places in the Caribbean region. In the story, Corinne, the main character, confronts the jumbies with the help of friends she meets in the forest, including a witch. Listen to hear students discuss why they like scary stories and to hear the author describe how she drew on folklore from her childhood to invent an original tale.
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.
The Articles of Confederation, created in 1777 and ratified in 1781 by the Continental Congress, established the first system of government for the United States. Created in the midst of the war for independence, the Articles were strongly influenced by the ongoing struggle against what many American colonists saw as a tyrannical government in England. Designed in part to preserve the independence of the newly formed states, the Articles placed strict limits on what the national government could do, including the power to tax and to create a national judiciary. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 aimed to improve upon the articles and ultimately led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Listen to hear about the first national display of the original Articles at the National Archives in 2009 and learn about the history of this foundational document.
Small green sea slugs puzzle scientists because they can photosynthesize energy, just like plants. These Eastern Emerald Elysia sea slugs also appear to have several different types of DNA. Scientists are hopeful these sea slugs might help them discover more about human DNA and treat human diseases. Listen to learn how these tiny creatures are teaching us more about genetics.
Are humans alone in the universe? This question has endured since people first looked to the heavens. NASA is getting closer than ever before to answering that question. Thousands of planets outside of our solar system have already been discovered, and a recently launched NASA satellite called TESS may discover even more. Will any of the thousands of newly discovered exoplanets be like Earth, able to sustain life? Listen to this story to learn how NASA is searching for Earth’s twin.