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Early humans and their ancestors survived by successfully mastering their environments to meet their daily needs. They learned to control fire for cooking food, developed early stone tools, and over time, created increasingly more complex and finely-crafted tools. Recent research suggests that as far back as 165,000 years ago in southern Africa, early humans understood that fire could help them craft more effective tools. Listen to hear a scientist describe the evidence for early human “pyro engineering” and what it tells us about our evolution and development.
Until recently, few people knew that the American space program’s early success was due in large part to a group of African American women known as “human computers.” They were brilliant mathematicians but were made to use segregated offices, bathrooms, and equipment. Their stories are told in a book and movie by the same name, Hidden Figures. One such overlooked mathematician was Katherine Johnson, who began working at Langley in 1953. Her report laying out trajectory equations for getting a craft into orbit played a key role in the program’s success. However, despite the vital roles Katherine and her colleagues held, their contributions were mostly unheard of until the publication of Hidden Figures. Listen to learn more about the obstacles these African American women faced and how a story this significant stayed buried for decades.
Typically in the National Football League it’s all about the quarterback. But that is not the case in “The Blind Side”, a book about American football and the position of offensive left tackle. The author argues that the previously underappreciated position is vital to the game today. Incorporated into the story is offensive left tackle Michael Oher, who grew up in poverty, was adopted, and then played college football. Lewis traces the evolution of this pivotal position and explains how contracts and cash have shaped football. Listen to learn more about the author, American football, and the real-life story of Michael Oher.
"Blood diamonds" are typically mined in war zones and used to finance some of Africa’s most brutal civil wars. The uncut diamonds are sometimes mined in areas controlled by rebel forces in Africa. A system known as the Kimberley process was designed to certify uncut diamonds that can be proven to come from countries that support basic human rights. Listen to this story to learn about the diamond certification program and its influence in protecting human rights.
Kentucky was one of four states that were slave states but did not declare secession from the Union during the U.S. Civil War. They are known as "border states." Kentucky began the U.S. Civil War as officially neutral. This public radio story describes Kentucky’s experience as a neutral border state. In the story you hear from descendants of a family whose ancestors fought on both sides of the Civil War, a common experience in border states.
Many old buildings have stories to tell. One building in downtown Boston, 26 Court Street, played an important role in Boston’s fight to help end slavery. Trials held in this courthouse galvanized the abolitionist movement in Boston during the 1850s. Before and after this building was a courthouse, it served several other purposes that are also part of Boston’s rich history. Listen to learn more about this building’s history, as well as its future.
To work in many occupations, people need to get a license. Licenses are issued by states and usually require some kind of education or training, test, and/or fee. Licensing exists to protect consumers from untrained, unqualified workers. But there’s another side to licensing. Listen to learn about how licensing also offers economic benefits to people in licensed professions as it keeps others out of the job market.
The two-month Bread and Roses strike of 1912 carried out by textile factory workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts marked the beginning of the labor movement. The workers, made up overwhelmingly of immigrant women and children, walked off the jobs they had risked everything to travel to America to take. This public radio story looks back at the strike and what themes resonate today.
The classic novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is essentially a story about belonging. In this audio story, a British author has written a contemporary novel that borrows elements from Emily Brontë’s life and her novel to tell a modern story about belonging. The author of The Lost Child was born in St. Kitts in the West Indies and moved to Britain when he was just four months old. Listen to learn more about how one author’s search for identity and belonging influenced his craft.
In the 19th century, British explorers sent many expeditions in search of an Arctic Sea passage--the famed Northwest Passage--that would connect the continents of Europe and Asia. The search to find this shortcut between continents captivated the imagination of the British public. At that time, the search for the Northwest Passage had already been going on for 300 years. But in the early 19th century, after the defeat of Napoleon, England resumed the search with renewed vigor. These expeditions, however, resulted in failure. The most notorious failure was the voyage of Sir John Franklin from which no one survived. This audio story introduces this doomed expedition. Listen to learn more about England’s motivations for finding the Passage, and the harrowing experience of Franklin’s expedition.
Note: This story involves a discussion of cannibalism. (4:30 - 5:28)
During the American Revolution, colonists were not in agreement as to whether or not to stay united with the British Empire or to support the movement for independence. Throughout the war, many colonists elected to pledge their support to the British. They were called loyalists. All throughout the colonies, especially in the south, there were flare ups of violence between supporters of independence, often referred to as patriots, and loyalists. When the war came to an end, loyalists were faced with difficult choices. In the United States, they were looked upon as traitors and losers. Fearing violence, many loyalists wound up fleeing the colonies for other parts of the British Empire. This audio story looks at what happened to British loyalists.
The war in Syria has been broadcast around the world on TV and in social media. This audio story is told from the first person perspective of a mother who is watching the war on YouTube and struggling to figure out what she should do to support those who are fighting for a “new Syria.” The story follows this Syrian American woman and her daughter as they travel to Turkey to help the Syrian war refugees.
Many people have a negative reaction to the sound of a buzzing insect. Past experience or an allergic reaction may inspire a person to run from or even swat at a bee. However, bumblebees actually help humans, and right now they need the help of humans to maintain their survival. Listen to learn more about bees and hear a conservationist talk about what can be done to keep the population thriving.
What methods do current leaders use to influence the people they govern? During the Progressive era, Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to directly address the people using what he called the “bully pulpit.” Bully, at the time, meant terrific or great. The pulpit figuratively referred to his position of power, as president, from which he advocated his agenda through the use of the media. Listen to hear more about the relationship between President Theodore Roosevelt and the media and how they combined their influence to bring about reform.
Energy experts are thinking about ways to replace coal that’s burned in American power stations. One alternative is to burn plants because they can produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. This results in biomass power. Listen to learn about a movement in the Midwest that uses millions of acres of grass for biomass power.
Byzantium was chosen by Roman Emperor Constantine I in 330 A.D. as the new Roman Capital, Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire was extraordinary in its ability to survive without interruption for over eight centuries. One of the reasons they were able to preserve their scarce resources and survive for so long was in large part because they avoided war. In this story, the author of a new book on the Byzantine Empire explains how the Byzantines dealt with their many enemies and remained stable. He compares their strategy to that of the ancient Romans and to the U.S. strategy in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Listen to hear more about what they can teach us about foreign policy.
For such a small molecule, caffeine has long been a controversial substance. Throughout the day, the human body produces a molecule called adenosine that can induce feelings of fatigue. Caffeine is a molecule that reverses the effects of adenosine. This results in feelings of alertness. But the impacts of caffeine can be dangerous. Listen to hear what determines whether caffeine is beneficial or harmful, and how to prevent caffeine-related deaths.
Discussion of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions often occur at the national level. Nations promise to lower emissions and scientists look for alternative energy sources. But new software is providing data for this emission reduction discussion at a local level. The software allows people to have a view into their carbon emissions on the level of a city, neighborhood, block and even household. Listen to learn how scientists and local officials are working together to track and understand emissions at the local level.
Food gives our body the energy needed to function and thrive. But what is energy? Where can you find it and how can you calculate it? This public radio story explores the energy in a cheese curl by burning it. Listen to learn about a great lab that allows you to calculate the energy in food.
Before World War II, a wind chill table and a formula were developed which scientists followed until it was updated at the beginning of the 21st Century. Scientists are still trying to understand the best way to calculate wind chill. Listen to learn from people who often experience cold temperatures and how some factors can affect how cold we feel more than others.
During the 1930s about 2 million people, many of them U.S. citizens who were born in the United States were deported to Mexico. Federal, state, and local officials took part in "repatriation" campaigns. During the Great Depression, many people thought Mexicans were taking the few jobs available, and these deportations were seen by some as a solution to unemployment. Listen to this audio story, to learn about how California recently apologized for the illegal deportation of Mexican-Americans in the1930's.
More people have been deported from the U.S. in the last decade, starting under the Obama administration, than at any other point in history. Deportations occur for any number of reasons–criminal activity, improper paperwork, and so on–but regardless of the reason, they always have an impact far beyond the person who is removed from the country. Listen to hear how having her father deported has affected one teen and her family.
There have been many consequences of the political upheaval of the Arab Spring movement in Egypt in 2011. One of them is the severe drop in tourism as a result of the violence. This has hurt the country's camels and horses that used to carry tourists around ancient Egyptian sites. They are losing their jobs and going hungry. In this public radio story you hear from Egyptians who are struggling to make a living off tourism and are wondering when things will improve.
Albert Camus (1913–1960) was a French writer-philosopher born in the North African country of Algeria, a French colony until 1962. In 1957, Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His celebrated novels The Stranger and The Plague reflect his absurdist and existential philosophies. Tragically, the writer died in a car accident at the age of 46 at what some consider to be the peak of his career. Listen to hear how Camus and his work were viewed during his lifetime and after his untimely death.
Landscapes evolve very slowly, over thousands of years, which makes them both fascinating and a little difficult to study. Mathematicians have looked at landscape features, including mountains and big rock formations, and wondered where their interesting shapes come from. To find answers they began experimenting, except they didn’t use rocks - they used candy! The process allowed them to speed up their investigation and find the answers they were looking for. Listen to learn how hard candy helped mathematicians study and understand landscapes.
Though Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22 was published more than a half century ago, its ideas and attitudes remain relevant today. The book’s title has even become a part of our language. The novel, which takes place on the battlefield during World War II, was inspired by Heller’s own experiences in war. He decided not to write a typical war novel, though, and early critics were surprised and even offended by the book’s tone and content. Listen to hear why Catch 22 felt new and different at the time it was published, and learn how its ideas have continued to endure today.
Spanish colonization in the Americas staring in the 16th century was accompanied by the Catholic Church hoping to convert as many Native Americans to Christianity as possible. A central figure was Father Junipero Serra, who forcibly converted thousands of Native Americans to the Catholic faith. That’s why in 2015 when Pope Francis, the first leader of the Catholic Church from Latin America, awarded the 18th century Spanish priest sainthood, there was a backlash from Native Americans. Descendants of Native Americans say Serra is responsible for destroying their traditions and ways of life. Listen to the audio story to hear both sides of this story and the controversy surrounding the Pope’s decision to make Father Serra a saint.
In 2013, a treasure trove of ancient remains was found hidden in a deep underground cave in South Africa. The bones belonged to a previously unknown human relative called Homo naledi that lived about 250,000 years ago. The fossils were found within the Rising Star cave system, inside the Dinaledi Chamber, which is very difficult to reach. Listen to hear from a team of archaeologists working at the site and learn how the recently discovered species is both similar to and different from modern humans.
Siddhartha Guatama was born into an aristocratic family in ancient India. He later gave up that life in search of spiritual enlightenment which led him to found Buddhism. Bodhi Day, celebrated on December 8, commemorates the day that Siddhartha Gautama became the first Buddha. On this day, Buddhists around the world reflect on his journey out of suffering and towards enlightenment. Listen to hear a Buddhist scholar and minister explain the purpose of Bodhi Day, the spiritual path of Siddhartha Gautama, and the basic tenets of Buddhism.
Mark Twain was an American author who was born and raised in Missouri. Published in 1884, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn stirred controversy from the start. People felt the subject matter, specifically the portions of the plot that dealt with slavery, and the ethics and hypocrisy surrounding it, was unpleasant and in bad taste. Today, the book is still controversial, primarily because of the narrator’s and characters’ use of the “n” word. Listen to hear different perspectives on whether Huckleberry Finn, or any literature, should be censored.
There is no natural hole to the center of the planet Earth, so seeing what is in the center is difficult. Scientists haven’t ever drilled deeper than 2,000 feet into the Earth’s crust. Seismographs are used to measure earthquakes, which send waves of motion through the earth’s crust. Listen to hear about how scientists have tried to discover what is in the center of our planet.
During Miguel de Cervantes’ life, Spain was at a critical place: It was both at its peak of power and also on the verge of toppling over. At the same time, people began to look inward, to think about who they were as people, and they began to realize that their choices shaped the world around them. Don Quixote is a story of two kinds of journeys: the physical journey of Don Quixote and Sancho, but also a psychological journey in which both friends begin to question and learn about themselves as human beings. Listen to hear why Don Quixote was such a groundbreaking novel, and why it will continue to influence readers for generations to come.
Thirty years ago, the nation watched in shock as the space shuttle Challenger exploded soon after take off, tragically killing all seven crew members, including a civilian teacher. This shuttle had launched and landed successfully nine times before this tenth launch. One of the rocket engineers feels partially responsible to this day. In a recent interview, he explains that he and his colleagues had anticipated the failure, and had warned officials that conditions weren’t right for the launch. When NASA ignored their warnings, the consequences were fatal. Listen to hear more from a NASA engineer’s perspective on this tragic event.
Government policies designed to prevent overfishing inadvertently made halibut fishing in Alaska very dangerous. Fishermen pushed back, and a new policy was put in place that has made the industry safer. It regulated competition by making the fishing more efficient. Listen to this story to understand how government mandated changes in the market structure had unintended consequences.
A dominant theme in the study of American History is reform, with individuals and organizations pushing back against big moneyed interests and protecting the rights and power of the people. The Grange, an organization founded after the Civil War, is one of those organizations. The Grange was founded as a fraternal organization made up of farmers interested in protecting local agriculture from the rising costs of independent farming. Over time, the power of the Grange has declined. This audio story explores the history of the Grange and some of the issues the national Grange faces today as new members try to steer it in a new direction.
Ice is an essential component of the ecosystem of the Bering Sea region. For example, sea ice cover can dramatically affect the levels of phytoplankton which has enormous effects on the entire food web. In this public radio story we hear about the health of the Bering Sea ecology by studying scientific observations.
Manatees, the vegetarian aquatic mammals that inhabit the waters of Florida, depend on natural warm water springs to survive the winter. However, those warm water sources have diminished over the years due to an increase in development around the area. Listen to learn how local power plants are maintaining the warm water to try to help the manatees.
The Mexican-American War was a major turning point in U.S. History for a number of reasons. Not only did the U.S. acquire an enormous amount of territory as a result, but the war also shaped cultural attitudes about borders for generations. However, the Mexican-American War has not been viewed in the same way over the course of history. Listen to hear how different historians have viewed that period in history differently over time.
Charles Dickens was the first literary celebrity of his era. He wrote about the working poor and the dangerous working conditions in England. A visit to the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts served as an inspiration for Dickens to continue writing about these London realities. Listen to this story to learn how Dickens reflected and questioned English society in his work.
Making a T-shirt takes a lot of time, but it can be made cheaply. The origins of your T-shirts probably come from Mississippi, where cotton is grown, and the shirts were probably spun in Indonesia. In this story, reporters track the assembly of a T-shirt to Bangladesh and try to understand why that Asian country is currently "the cheapest place in the world to make a T-shirt." Bangladesh has established a specialization in garment production, and Bangladeshi garment factories further specialize in the production of cotton garments. Listen to the story to learn how these factories manage to undercut the prices of their competitors in other major garment producing countries and what the future may hold in store for them.