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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.
Walt Whitman was an American poet, teacher, and journalist who was born in the early 1800s. His poetry shattered the literary conventions of his time and helped redefine the rules for modern American verse. Although highly unconventional, Whitman still had a strong sense of national pride and was deeply affected by the events of the Civil War. Although he never fought in the war, he visited recuperating union soldiers and helped them write letters to their loved ones. Listen to learn more about how Whitman helped Civil War soldiers.
There are two types of gorillas living in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; mountain gorillas and warfare guerrillas! The park is home to 200 mountain gorillas as well as the rebel group M23. While the rebels continue to make money off the park by selling “gorilla treks” to tourists, Virunga is officially closed due to the crossfire between M23 and Congolese troops. Listen to learn more about Virungas gorillas and the danger they face.
The roots of today’s global society reach back over 2,500 years, to Athens and Sparta, two powerful city-states of ancient Greece. The two states, though geographically close, differed greatly in their societal structure and values. Athens was the center of the “golden age” of ancient Greece, an era that produced magnificent buildings, lasting works of philosophy and literature, and an early form of democracy. Sparta, a more rigid, disciplined culture, made advances in military science. Listen to learn how rivalries between the two city-states led to warfare, and how the values of Athens and Sparta are relevant today.
On October 30, 1938, actor and writer Orson Welles staged a radio play titled ‘War of the Worlds,’ which tells the story of a fictional alien invasion of Earth. ‘War of the Worlds’ is the most famous of all the radio plays Welles ever produced because of the frenzy it caused. Some recall the events of the broadcast as a preview to World War II and the very real fear and panic that would be tied to enemy attacks during the war. This audio story recalls the story of ‘War of the Worlds,’ focusing on the events of the broadcast.
The United States economy has experienced slow but steady growth since the 2007-2009 recession. Historically, one result of an improving economy should be an increase in the overall level of prices – inflation. This has not been the case, however, and inflation has stayed low. Inflation has remained low in part because most people don’t worry about it rising, and they aren’t rushing to buy products before they go up in price. Listen to this story from Planet Money and hear what low inflation sounds like, and how your behavior can directly affect whether prices rise or fall.
How accurate are memoirs? This public radio story looks at a scandal involving author James Frey and his memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” Frey was charged with exaggerating, and even lying about, his own life in his memoir. Where should a writer draw the line between fact and fiction in memoirs?
It's easy to imagine what it's like to be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. However, the day-to-day life of a shellfish and wetland ecologist can be a little more difficult to understand. Help your students find out what an ecologist does by hearing from Danielle Kreeger. She's the science director for a group that works to protect and improve the Delaware River and Bay. Listen to hear more about her career as an ecologist.
What is electricity? How does it work? Where does it come from? Everyone has heard of electricity, but most people don’t understand much about it. Scientists have studied electricity for centuries, and they still have many unanswered questions! Listen to an electrical engineer explain some of the things we know, and still don’t know, about electricity.
Executive privilege, or the idea that the president has the right to withhold sensitive information from the public, goes all the way back to the very first president of the United States. The idea has become increasingly relevant lately, as since President Nixon, several presidents have invoked executive privilege in an effort to cover up scandals and other damaging information. Listen to learn about executive privilege, how it works, and when it can and can’t be used.
Nurses save lives. They practice in a variety of traditional healthcare settings, and classifications of nurses earn different salaries. On average, nursing salaries in the United States are 7% higher than the average job salary nationwide. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nursing will be among the ten fastest growing occupations of the next decade. For people who want a good-paying, stable nursing job, one class stands in the way: Anatomy and Physiology. Listen to learn how one technical college adapted its nursing program to increase its rate of student success.
Books allow us to transcend the world we live in, but they also help us to connect to the people and places around us. In this audio story, several young students at a school in Washington D.C. talk about the plot, characterization, themes, and motifs in the book “When You Reach Me.” The author, Rebecca Stead, discusses what motivates and inspires her to write. This book includes clues to solve a puzzle, mysterious notes, time travel, and the excitement of figuring out a book as you read it. Listen to more about the novel, “When You Reach Me” as these students discuss the elements of fiction and question the author about her own creative process.
One of the challenges of learning history is that, without visuals, it is sometimes difficult to know what people, places, or events looked like. In American history, this is true of the Revolutionary War. As a companion piece to his book 1776, writer David McCullough includes an illustrated edition, using art to give readers some idea of what the Revolution looked like. In this audio story, McCullough is interviewed about his book. He discusses some of the most famous paintings of the Revolution, the motivations of the artists, and the historical accuracy of some of the works of art.
America’s Founders borrowed from the ancient Roman Republic when they created the U.S. Government. The Senate, separation of powers, and checks and balances all came from the Romans. The Founders hoped that America would one day be as strong as the great Roman Republic had been. But every empire rises and then falls, and the author interviewed in this audio story says that Americans today can learn a lot about where the United States may be heading by studying the fall of Rome.
Many Internet services are free: email, Internet search, and maps, for example. But what if you had to pay to use them? An economist sets out to discover how much people value various Internet services by asking how much they would need to be paid to give them up. It’s an example of a core economic principle: decision making. Listen to find out which Internet services people value most.
A group of Asian Americans were asked the question: Do you consider yourself brown? Some said “yes,” others said “no,” and the reasons they gave for their answers varied. For some, their answer was based solely on their skin tone. For others, their answer was more complicated and took into account cultural and social factors. In this audio story, a group of Asian Americans discuss the discrimination they have faced based on their skin color. Listen to learn more about why some Asian Americans do or do not consider themselves “brown” and how the way others view them affects their lives.
In modern times, we often remember the ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra as a beautiful temptress largely defined by the men in her life. But a new biography presents another, more complicated picture of this intriguing historical figure. The author reminds us that historians have agendas and biases, and that Cleopatra’s traditional depiction may not be complete or entirely accurate. He explains that Cleopatra was a skilled diplomat and leader, who was very well-educated, strategic, and articulate. Listen to learn more about the many, surprising sides of Cleopatra.
William Shakespeare is commonly considered one of western civilization's greatest playwrights. But a persistent debate continues to rage around his legacy. Did the man we know as William Shakespeare actually write all those poems and plays? This story features two Shakespearean actors who have come to doubt the author. Listen to learn more about the debate surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare's works.
People of all ages laugh, even babies as young as a few months old, although the things they laugh at change as they reach different stages of life. Scientists believe that laughter is a way for people to socialize, have fun, and communicate positive feelings to others like trust and acceptance. Listen to hear a researcher explain what makes babies of different ages laugh and why people sometimes laugh at jokes that are not really funny.
All animals, including humans, need to sleep. Scientists have several theories that help explain why we sleep. In this episode of But Why, a child sleep psychologist describes the evolutionary theory of sleep and explains how sleep benefits the brain and body. Listen to learn more about the science of sleep and its importance for healthy growth and development.
Woolly mammoths were large, elephant-like creatures that lived tens of thousands of years ago, during the last great ice age. The thick, furry coat is one of several traits that gave woolly mammoths an advantage in a very cold environment. Today, the closest biological relative is the Asian elephant, which prefers warmer climates. Scientists were curious about the genetic variations between the woolly mammoth and the Asian elephant, and what might account for the differences between the two species. In this audio story, we hear from a scientist who studied the DNA from the extinct mammoth and compared it to its contemporary descendant. Listen to learn more about what researchers discovered.