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Rare earth minerals are very important to today's electronics. Your iPod, laptop, and television use them. They make electronics light so they don't need much power. But the Chinese have a lock on the production of rare earth elements and this could become a problem for the US.
History tells us that peaceful empires are very rare. In the 21st century, China is the fastest-growing world power. China claims that its rise is peaceful: it has no plans to invade and conquer new territory. But is it possible for any nation to grow without causing any conflicts? In the 15th century the Chinese explorer Zheng He sailed across the Eastern Hemisphere from Taiwan to India to Arabia to Africa. He was on a trade mission, but the kingdoms he encountered were not really free to choose whether or not they would become part of the Chinese trade empire. This public radio story looks at China’s past to draw some conclusions about its future.
Chinese foot-binding was a common practice in the 1800s. This practice created tiny stumps of feet by breaking bones and wrapping the feet tightly. It was very painful, and made many women unable to walk properly. But the bound feet were prized by the wealthy class as the ultimate sign of feminine beauty. The custom was banned in 1912. This public radio story features women whose feet were bound talking about the pros and cons of this old Chinese tradition.
The completion of the transcontinental railroad is one of America’s defining moments. The ceremony marking its completion is immortalized in the famous “Golden Spike” photograph at Utah’s Promontory Point. However, often overlooked in the story of the railroad’s construction is the role of Chinese laborers, who worked under brutal and often dangerous conditions to complete it. This audio story chronicles efforts by their descendants to gain greater recognition for their ancestors’ role in building the transcontinental railroad. Listen to learn details about the restaging of the famous photograph at Promontory Point and the Chinese immigrant experience in America.
Two thousand years ago, Rome was the capital of an empire. It was a republic with elections, a Senate, and sophisticated political processes. Marcus Cicero is considered one of Rome's greatest orators and provided counsel to government leaders, including Julius Caesar. There was a power struggle between the two ambitious men, Julius Caesar and Marcus Cicero, that led to the collapse of republican government and eventual dictatorship. Listen to learn more about Cicero and how the fall of Rome relates to politics today.
Roman historians wrote extensively about Roman civilization and its decline, but much less has been written about Rome’s early years. In this audio story, author Anthony Everitt discusses the rise of Rome from a small city on the Tiber River to a massive Mediterranean empire. He shows how Romans built their empire in part by offering citizenship to the people they conquered. Listen to an historian explain the strategies Romans used to build their empire, and learn how American government draws on ideas dating to the Roman Republic.
In ancient Greece, people were thrown out or ostracized from the city because they broke the rules. Anyone could get ostracized – kicked out of the city for 10 years – based on voting done by the citizens using broken pieces of pottery. This public radio story explores the nature of corruption and voter fraud in ancient Athens.
There is debate about whether violent or non-violent resistance is more effective when faced with oppression. There have been conflicts and resistance movements over time that show the effectiveness of fighting back without violence. There were two points of view in the Civil Rights Movement as well as in uprisings in many countries. Listen to hear why those fighting in the civil war in Syria finds it necessary to use arms to fight oppression.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was illegal. Yet, due to a loophole in the law, Louisiana’s public schools were still segregated six years later. That changed when Ruby Bridges’ parents chose to send Ruby to first grade at the all-white school near her home. While Ruby helped integrate Louisiana’s public schools, her path was not easy. In this audio story, Ruby discusses what it was like to be the only Black student in an all-white school. Listen to hear how and why Ruby became one of the youngest heroes of the civil rights era.
People of all races from all over the country participated in desegregation demonstrations in the South in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called on clergy—religious leaders—from around the nation to participate in nonviolent protest demonstrations. These clergy joined a growing movement that would sweep the nation, demanding equal rights for people of color and creating a legacy of social change. Listen to hear the story of a Rabbi who participated in these marches and was arrested and threatened with violence.
The first African American volunteer infantry unit of the Civil War was the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts. A monumental relief sculpture in Boston honors the 54th Regiment and its commander, Robert Gould Shaw. When the regiment was crushed at the battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina, Shaw, a white man, was the first to take a bullet, making him a hero to his surviving men. Listen to hear how his sacrifice inspired sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a uniquely powerful monument.
Ancient civilizations often devised clever methods for delivering clean water to cities. The aqueducts of Rome are a famous example. Recently, archaeologists uncovered a water filtration system used in the ancient Mayan city of Tikal to supply clean water to its residents, a system similar to ones that are used today. Remarkably, the city was not built near water, so in addition to filtering the water, the Maya had to dig reservoirs to collect it. Listen to learn about the Mayan method of purifying water and how contaminated water may have eventually led to the civilization’s decline.
Carbon exists in all living things, including proteins, DNA, and fats. When living things exhale, the result is carbon dioxide. As our world develops, we produce more carbon dioxide with the burning of fossil fuels and the use of cars, trains, and planes. This gas is causing an imbalance in the atmosphere that affects the warming of the planet. Listen to hear how much carbon dioxide humans are responsible for and the effects of global warming.
Fiction writing begins with a story idea. In this audio story, the idea comes from a young Arab-American girl who is a fan of mysteries. She works with an adult Arab-American writer to develop her original story idea into the first draft of a cliffhanger–a story that stops at a suspenseful moment, leaving the characters in a desperate state. Listen to learn more about the fiction writing process as well as how authors sometimes give readers an invitation to imagine what might happen next in the story.
Migration has been a huge part of human history. Experts agree that early humans started out in Africa and began to migrate out of Africa to different parts of Europe and Asia around 100,000 years ago. This migration occurred in waves but we don’t know why early humans left Africa. Recent research supports the theory that climate change may have been the force that drove early humans out. Looking at things such as dust, buried pollen, and coral, scientists have been able to show a correlation between changes in these things and periods in early human history of migration. As early humans looked for new food sources, the research indicates, they began to relocate. Listen to hear more about what may have caused humans to migrate.
The Roman Empire was one of the largest and longest lasting in history. Theories about what led to its collapse have ranged from the barbarian invasions to internal corruption to economic instability. However, a recent theory that is added to the mix is climate change. New research has contributed to the theory that climate change destabilized Rome and made it vulnerable to collapse. In this audio story, this theory is discussed, including the scientific evidence, specifically the study of tree rings, that supports it. There is also discussion about whether this was naturally occurring or a man-made phenomenon.
American doctors rely on clinical trials to determine which drugs to use in treatment. Researchers have found that clinical trials have not been effective in creating drugs for America’s diverse population. When clinical trials are too homogeneous, they can miss important potential discoveries. Patients who are diverse ethnically and racially can respond differently to medications, leading to dire consequences in some cases. Listen to learn how a lack of diversity in clinical trials affects patients and how researchers are trying to fix it.
There is a debate over whether cloud seeding is an efficient way to produce more snow and rain in places where droughts are the worst. Opponents claim that the chemicals that are sprayed into the air to create more water are toxic and could cause health issues in the future. Others believe this is the only way to for some gas and electric companies to obtain more energy. Listen to learn about the other concerns at hand and the history of this process.
Men serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War suffered extreme stress as they prepared daily for nuclear war. But when the Cold War ended, they were not recognized as veterans because they weren’t technically in combat. In this audio story you hear from several Air Force pilots who flew on nuclear training missions who are disappointed they are not treated like other combat veterans. It explores their fight for recognition as veterans by the federal government.
In Brazil today, there are still laws dating back to Portuguese colonization. If you were to buy a home in the Brazilian city of Petropolis, you would make the usual payments, but also something more: a tax or tribute to a local family. These families, the descendants of Portuguese colonial royalty and nobles, legally still own over half the country’s land and charge a “rent” to property owners due to laws left over from 500 years ago. Listen to hear how this system, called enfiteuse (Pronounced: en-fee-TEE-oh-see), affects wealth distribution in Brazil, and what citizens are doing about it.
The eye-popping colors and designs on butterfly wings are not just for show, but are an important adaptation that helps the insects fend off predators. Some butterflies have wings containing toxins, signaling danger to birds and other hungry hunters. Others fold their wings for camouflage or flutter them so the colors confuse birds giving chase. Listen to hear an insect scientist explain more about the amazing ways butterflies’ colorful wings help them survive.
Throughout time, the American dairy industry has been in desperate need of workers and this attracts immigrants from all over the world. This story begins in the home of an immigrant family as they start their workday. Listen to learn about the experiences of new immigrants to the United States, from Guatemala, who work on dairy farms in northern New York and Vermont.
The Communist Revolution in the Soviet Union led to a totalitarian dictatorship that killed or imprisoned tens of millions of people. It was a period of cruelty that has not been forgotten in Russia today. However, some former Communist rulers are still in current-day Russia’s government, which means there’s a complicated relationship with the Soviet past and bringing back some Soviet-era practices. Listen to this story to understand how Russia’s Communist past still plays a role in present-day politics.
Confucius was a philosopher who was born more than 2500 years ago in China, and his ideas have become central to China’s identity. His ideas became Chinese imperial philosophy and they were especially popular during the pivotal Han and Tang and Song Dynasties. Today, China is working to broaden not only its economic and diplomatic power, but also its cultural influence, and is looking back to Confucianism for help. China hopes that extending their soft power will lead to an increase in its ability to export Chinese values as well. But this story finds that Chinese values may not be applicable across all cultures. Listen to hear more about this soft-power powerhouse and how a centuries-old philosopher still leads a nation.
Over the course of American history, debates have raged over the extent of presidential powers. When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution, they intended for there to be limits on what presidents could do without congressional approval or oversight. Nonetheless, presidents from Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century to Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan in the 20th century exercised an extraordinary amount of power. This story looks at presidential power in the 21st century, focusing on the “war on terror”. Listen to hear to what extent, and for what length of time, presidents should be granted expanded power.
During colonial times, free settlers were not the only arrivals to North America. Enslaved Africans and indentured servants, or people who agreed to work for several years in exchange for paid travel, accompanied their masters. A third, far less known group of servants also came to the colonies. Convicted criminals were punished with either three- or seven-year sentences as unpaid servants in the colonies. Listen to find out who these people were and how they played a role in the United States colonial history.
Giant volcanoes appear every few million years, and their eruptions are rare, but they are deadly. The ash and gas released into the atmosphere have the potential for significant harm. So scientists are studying two new suspected volcanic “hot spots" and are trying to figure out why they erupt. Listen to learn how seismic waves give scientists a picture of the large regions where intense volcanic activity could develop in the distant future.
Until the 1500’s, it was understood that the earth was the center of the universe and that all celestial bodies revolved around it. In his book On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Nicolaus Copernicus challenged that accepted idea by providing evidence that, in fact, earth, along with the other planets, revolved around the sun. In this audio story, the story of Copernicus and his revolutionary idea is retold. The story delves into how and why Copernicus shared his belief with the world. The story compares the resistance to accepting Copernicus’ belief with modern debates over topics like climate change.
What makes up a coral? This audio story takes you to an underwater observatory where a scientist is studying coral reefs. The scientist has found that CO2 in the ocean is making the ocean warmer and dissolving the coral reef system. But the scientist also discusses how coral reefs can recover. Listen to this story to hear the factors that threaten coral reefs and how they can recover.
Flags represent the shared identity of a group of people, and every country has a flag designed with colors and symbols that are meaningful to its citizens. Flags are often considered symbols of national pride, uniting people with shared heritage, culture, and values. They have also been used historically to help people distinguish friend from foe. Listen to hear how flags can bring people together or keep them apart and how learning about flags can help people understand and respect each other.
When the two towers of the World Trade Center were attacked on September 11, 2001, the towers collapsed on themselves, creating a disaster area known as Ground Zero. A perimeter wall was quickly built around the area to contain the destruction in an effort to rebuild. One journalist spent five months with unrivaled access to the recovery effort and wrote about the experience. Listen to learn more about Ground Zero and how 9/11 changed America.
Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a creative and sensitive retelling of one man’s experiences during the Holocaust. As a graphic novel, Maus uses comic strips and drawings to help tell its story. The drawing on its cover, however, has been met with controversy in some parts of the world. Featuring a prominent swastika at its center, the cover art has faced objections in places like Russia and Germany. Listen to hear more about how well-intentioned rules around censorship can lead to unintended consequences.
Is it possible to find “genuine pockets of goodness” on social media these days? Artist Johnny Sun and famed Hamilton playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda think so. They were strangers to each other until they met in the comments section of Twitter and went on to publish Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You, a book which coupled Miranda’s beloved daily Twitter affirmations with Sun’s quirky, expressive illustrations. Listen to Sun tell the story of how his search for positivity in the social media community brought him into Miranda’s orbit and transformed both his career and mental health.
The Vietnam War has a controversial legacy in United States history and culture. The U. S. was immersed in the conflict in Vietnam for 20 years. The draft of young men to fight far from home in the seemingly endless war led to widespread resistance and protest against the war itself. This discontent led to a disrespect of veterans when they returned. Since then the sacrifice of soldiers has been honored in memorials, movies and books. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in 1982 in Washington DC. But it was controversial at the start because it honored soldiers by etching the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers killed in polished black granite. Listen to this radio story to learn the history behind this war memorial.
The Federal Reserve System is the central bank of the United States. It is responsible for the effective operation of the U.S. economy and conducts the nation’s monetary policy, stabilizes prices and moderates interest rates, and promotes the safety of individual financial institutions. In 1907, J. P. Morgan organized other leading financiers to backstop a run on banks and bring an end to a nationwide financial crisis. Later, with the encouragement of a powerful senator, a group of New York bankers went on to develop a plan for a central bank that was eventually adopted and that is still in effect today. Listen to the story to learn more about the formation of the Federal Reserve and America’s central banks by Congress.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, fear and shock led to the United States' entry into World War II. The U.S. government declared all people of Japanese ancestry enemies, sending more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps for almost three years. They were forced to abandon their homes, lives and belongings and move to bare barracks. Listen to this audio story and learn how art was a fundamental way for these internees to cope with fear and bring strength, comfort and beauty to camp life.
In his book, The Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina uncovers the truth about the crimes that occur daily on the high seas due to lack of laws and regulations. Trafficking, illegal fishing, pollution, and modern slavery are a few examples of the serious problems Urbina explores. Listen to learn why these crimes occur, how they impact the ocean’s health, and what consumers can do to help reduce these illegal acts.
For 12 days in October 1962, the world seemed poised on the brink of nuclear war. This public radio story describes President John F. Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It focuses on his role in finding a way to avoid his military advisors’ recommendation that the U.S. launch a military attack on recently discovered Soviet nuclear missiles being built in Cuba. It includes archival sound of his military advisors and the voice of Kennedy as he tells the American people about the crisis. It examines how Kennedy's actions avoided war.
The largest sea invasion in history happened June 6, 1944 during World War II. It was named D-Day, and the Allied forces landed on 5 beaches of Normandy, France to liberate the German-occupied territory. Every year, on June 6th, many countries commemorate this important battle that marked a turning point during World War II. In this audio story, an American soldier discusses his combat experiences on D-Day, the challenges as a soldier in WWII, and the encounters with the terrors of war. Listen to learn more about D-Day as well as how this soldier feels now as he reflects on this historic battle.
Trees can stand up to 100-mile an hour winds during strong hurricanes. Why do some trees survive and others don’t? The answer may be in a mathematical pattern in tree growth—first observed by Leonardo da Vinci. The rule states that smaller tree branches have a precise, mathematical relationship to the branch they came from. A scientist that is studying how air flows around objects is also studying this pattern in tree branches and looking for an explanation. Listen to hear more about these observations about trees and mathematics in nature.