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The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century, and is widely considered to be one of the most 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.
At the height of the Roman Empire, the Roman Colosseum was its center of sport and spectacle. Many stories, some apocryphal, depict the games in the Colosseum as brutal and bloody, with gladiators pitted against exotic animals and each other in fights to the death. A new project seeks to restore the Colosseum closer to how it originally looked. In doing so, people can be reminded that it was a center of arts and culture as well as gladiatorial combat. Listen to learn about a new Colosseum project and how it can help change people’s perspective on the building’s history.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban government is guided by a strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. The Taliban trace their roots to a particular branch of the religion called Deobandi Islam based in northern India. Deobandi Muslims have been living in India largely peacefully for more than a century, however. They say the Taliban have adopted a more radical brand of Islam, and they claim to have no ties to the group. For the Deobandi, the comparison with the Taliban threatens their own security in India. Listen to learn more about the Deobandi Muslim roots of Taliban ideology.
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.
Oceans are home to millions of sea creatures, but not everyone is lucky enough to be able to take a trip to the ocean to see these creatures up close. This is where aquariums come in. Aquariums allow people to connect with nature and learn about many different species of ocean animals. But aquariums may not always be the best place for those animals to live. Listen to the president of Baltimore’s National Aquarium discuss some of the amazing animals in his care and the challenges of providing them with everything they need.
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.
The Holocaust is one of the 20th century’s most horrific crimes against humanity. Included in its history are stories of survival and those who became rescuers. Telling a children’s story about the Holocaust is challenging, given the subject matter, but a recently released book focuses on two inspiring stories. The first is of Nicholas Winton, a British banker who led an organization that saved Czech children from the Nazis, and the second is of Vera Gissing, a Czech girl who was among the children he saved. Listen to learn about this powerful story and the lives of two extraordinary people.
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.
Geologists organize the time since Earth began by dividing it into smaller units. These units of time are based on their unique characteristics. Geologists determine the characteristics of a specific time according to evidence left on Earth during that time. For instance, dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic era, and it is determined by fossil records. The latest unit of time that geologists are defining is the Anthropocene epoch. The Anthropocene’s unique characteristic is the impact of humans on Earth. Listen to hear more about the Anthropocene and what evidence geologists are considering as they determine when it began.
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.
The bowhead whale lives its entire life - which amazingly can span over 200 years - in the frigid Arctic waters near the North Pole. The bowhead whale is unlike most other whales as it doesn’t seasonally migrate in search of warmer waters. A thick layer of blubber and the ability to hold its breath for up to 30 minutes makes it possible for bowhead whales to live in the deep, freezing water. Listen to hear even more incredible facts about this unique ocean mammal.
The roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict trace back centuries. Israelis and Palestinians have cultural, religious, and social differences, but have shared space for a long time. In 1948, Israel became an independent state, creating a refugee population of Palestinians as Israel expanded its borders. Certain areas in Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, are occupied by Palestinians, while some areas like Jerusalem have both Israelis and Palestinians living among each other. The result has been segregation between the groups within Israel and a lack of empathy for others. Listen to hear the different opinions among Israelis and Palestinians.
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.
Although racial segregation had been outlawed 20 years earlier, in 1974 most Black children in urban Detroit were not attending integrated schools. Their parents sued, claiming that discriminatory housing practices were preventing Black families from moving into suburbs, blocking their access to the new and better schools being built there. The Supreme Court’s decision in that lawsuit upended Brown v. Board of Education, the decision establishing that separate schools were unequal, and shaped the future of integration and bussing plans throughout the country. Listen to hear why, more than half a century after segregation was ruled unconstitutional, more than 9 million American students still attend racially segregated and underfunded schools.
The United States Constitution gives specific powers to each branch of government. This separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches is meant to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful. In the last decade, the Legislative branch has been unnerved by the growth of Executive power under President Bush and President Obama. Listen to learn about an FBI raid in 2006 that had congressmen from both parties alarmed.
Playwright Arthur Miller wrote plays that spoke to the common man. From his commentary on the American dream in Death of a Salesman to McCarthyism in The Crucible, Miller wrote hard-hitting personal dramas that also resonated with a wide spectrum of American people, especially the working class. Listen to learn more about Miller’s roots, his writing process, and how his personal background—particularly his house and writing space—compare to backgrounds shared by his characters.
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.
Shakespeare’s classic play Hamlet has been performed many hundreds of times since its original performance in 1609. In honor of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, the touring company from the Globe Theater in England planned an ambitious tour, performing one of the bard’s greatest tragedies in every nation on Earth over two years. They chose the play Hamlet and performed it in 197 countries. Listen to learn how they planned to accomplish this monumental task, and what the world can learn from Hamlet.
As plants and animals reproduce over time, they are able to change and adapt to ensure or improve their chances of survival. The evolutionary goal of reproduction is paired with the concept of natural selection and survival of the fittest to determine who will reproduce. From colorful plumage to size, different species use different strategies to ensure reproduction and mate selection. The sand tiger shark has a unique strategy to ensure successful reproduction - and it depends on the timing of mating. Listen to learn more about the ultimate sibling rivalry while in the womb.
The increasing acidity of the oceans could eventually affect your dinner plate. There is a decrease in the number of juvenile oysters known as "seed" due to the increase of CO2 in the ocean. Listen to learn how workers are dealing with the issues and how it affects the seafood we eat.