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Since World War II, fast food has been central to American food culture. Hamburgers and fries have come to be at the very center of many Americans’ diets. But fast food changed the way we raise and process beef and grow potatoes. It’s also added to the problem of obesity. The growth in fast food culture over the past fifty years has changed many fundamental things about culture, health, and the economy. Listen to hear how fast food has affected life in America by listening to this interview with the author of the book “Fast Food Nation”.
The Great Depression of 1932 was the worst economic crisis worse in American history. President Herbert Hoover was blamed for the government’s failure to pull America out of the depression. During his campaign for president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “New Deal” for America. He knew little at the time of what that New Deal would include, but the term would come to define his response to the Great Depression. Listen to hear about President Roosevelt’s campaign for president, the qualities that made him an effective communicator, and the obstacles he faced as he struggled to present himself as a credible candidate for president.
In Ernest J. Gaines’s 1993 novel "A Lesson Before Dying," the central character, Jefferson—a young black man living in the segregated South in 1948—is accused of murder and faces the possibility of the death penalty. Readers learn that Jefferson is illiterate, and that, as a result, he lacks confidence and self-worth. To spare him the pain of facing death without dignity, his family hires a teacher to help him learn to read and write. Listen to the audio story to learn how Gaines’s character develops “pride through learning.”
The novel "The Book Thief" is narrated by Death. He tells the story of a young German girl saving books from Nazi bonfires to read to the Jewish man hiding in her home. But the novel was actually written by author Markus Zusak. In this public radio story, he explains his choice of Death as the narrator, and the message he hopes teenage readers get from the novel.
The abolition of slavery in the United States didn’t happen all at once. Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery, in 1777, and most Northern States followed suit. This meant that escaped slaves could come North and rebuild their lives as free men and women. From the Underground Railroad, to even mailing yourself in a box, slaves found ways to escape their circumstances and come North. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act changed all that. Why was this Act approved and what was its result? Listen to learn more about escaping slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
In 1815 American soldiers defeated the British on Chalmette Battlefield. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it damaged the battleground that was the site of the Battle of New Orleans. In 2006, the battlefield was reopened for the first time since the storm. The aim was to have a reenactment of the battle to show visitors that the area of New Orleans could pick itself up from devastation and remember its history. Listen to learn about how long the fight lasted and how they made the reenactment so believable.
In this audio story, environmentalist and human rights activist Wangari Maathai, is remembered. A trained biologist—the first Kenyan woman to earn a doctorate degree—Maathai led the fight against mismanagement of Kenya’s natural resources. Over the course of thirty years, her Green Belt Movement planted more than 40 million trees to reverse the deforestation of the country caused by unregulated development. In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This story includes audio of Maathai herself talking about the origin of her love of the natural world and some of the challenges she faced in her environmental work and her work for peace and democracy.
Animal species evolve and adapt over time. This ability to change lays the groundwork for human evolution. Over 375 million years ago an important transition in this lineage occurred - animals living in the sea, began living on land. This complex process happened gradually over generations and an unusual fish fossil found in the Canadian Arctic may help enhance our understanding of this progression.
Marine biologists are studying the sounds that fish make. They believe that sounds are vital to understanding fish behavior. By studying the sounds that fish make when trying to attract mates and when breeding, biologists may be able to stay clear of them during those times to help them reproduce more productively. This protects the fish from human behavior. Listen to learn how this will help fishermen ensure the species don't die out.
Cats are mysterious creatures to us humans for many reasons. One of these reasons is that cats seem to always land on their feet whenever they fall. In fact, cats can be dropped upside down and still land on their feet, every time. But, how do they do this? It seems to defy the laws of physics. The answer has to do with momentum, and is explained by an expert. Listen to hear about how cats achieve this amazing feat.
Our food supply is considered safe today thanks in large part to a movement to improve safety following the publication of the novel in 1906, "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. It was a vivid portrayal of the lives of immigrant families who worked in a meat-packing plant in Chicago. Americans were shocked and disgusted. This public radio story tells of how "The Jungle" galvanized public support to improve the safety of our food system.
Looking back in time, it’s hard to imagine a time when there were next to no food safety regulations in the United States. But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, there were no laws stopping food producers from selling food that endangered the health of their customers. This all changed at the turn of the twentieth century. Listen to hear how one American chemist conducted daring experiments to publicize the damage that tainted food could cause, and how this transformed food safety regulations forever.
In 1927, the automotive pioneer Henry Ford took his pioneering spirit in a new direction--to the jungles of the Amazon in Brazil. He built a fully functioning factory town in the middle of the Brazilian jungle, and called it Fordlandia. Fordlandia’s primary intention was to harvest rubber for Ford tires. But Ford also wanted create a kind of utopia, an experimental “ideal” community. Ford’s experimental plantation eventually failed, leaving it a forgotten ruin. Listen to learn more about the challenges Fordlandia faced and the ultimate reasons for its failure.
On April 14, 1861, the American Civil War began with a Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, a union fort located in Charleston, South Carolina. Eventually, the union surrendered the fort. What would follow would be a war that would cost more American lives than all previous wars combined. This audio story is about the attack on Fort Sumter and, specifically the story behind the first American killed in the war. The story also includes some other interesting stories related to the fort and the attack that began the war.
Robert Morris was a rich merchant from Philadelphia who became a banker and supplier to the American army during the Revolution. He built a fortune through international trade. He was successful at a time when reputation and personal relationships were the only guarantee that payments would be made. Initially against independence, Morris went along with the majority of Congress when it decided in favor, and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was instrumental to the success of the American Revolution, financing the war with his own personal credit. Listen to his story to learn about this important and controversial Founding Father, Robert Morris.
In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson argued that “all men are created equal,” yet during his lifetime he owned over 600 men, women and children. Jefferson wasn’t the only Founding Father who owned slaves and supported slavery. How could men who believed in liberty also believe in slavery? This lesson explores this contradiction, as well as the lives of slaves who made Jefferson’s lifestyle possible.
This story features an interview with author Jay Cantor about his 2014 story collection, "Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka." In this work, Cantor fictionalizes the lives of several friends of renowned Czech writer Franz Kafka’s in order to examine the influence Kafka had on them. In the interview, Cantor explains what drew him to Kafka, the dilemma Kafka created for his close friend Max Brod, and the meaning of the term Kafkaesque. Listen to the story to learn about one writer’s inspiration and his thoughts on a literary giant.
In the 1880s Africa was divided up by European countries. In the 1960s, 17 of those nations gained independence. The effects of colonization are still being felt today. France colonized nearly all of northern Africa and large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Its hold on these countries is central to its image as a nation and world power. Many French leaders say they will give up power and connections but in this interview with a journalist covering Africa, they discuss how France is still very involved in African states they formerly ruled.
Consumer culture in the United States has been a fixture of the holiday season for years, particularly on the Friday after Thanksgiving–also known as “Black Friday.” That’s the inspiration for the title story in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s latest book of speculative fiction, Friday Black. In it, he addresses the topics of race and class as they relate to American consumer culture. Listen to hear an interview with the author as he discusses how his experience of these factors influences his work.
Fungi play a crucial role in decomposition. As they follow this process, fungi release nutrients that the trees around it absorb. Eventually, the fungi attach itself to the roots of the nature around them and begin the cycle of giving and getting to keep the environment in balance. Listen to learn how fungi first colonized land and what would happen if fungi were not able to spread.
The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has published collections of poetry, short stories and essays, books for children, numerous novellas, and—the works for which she is best known—fifteen novels. Atwood’s early novels were mainly works of realistic literary fiction, the sort of novels that literary critics and academics distinguish from “genre fiction” such as mysteries and thrillers, romance novels, and science fiction and fantasy novels. Atwood has written several novels that some critics and readers would call science fiction, but which she prefers to call “speculative fiction.” In this audio story, Atwood discusses her most recent novel, "The Heart Goes Last" and explains why she feels this is not a time for realistic fiction.
Scientists say it’s nearly certain that human activity and fossil fuels are warming the planet. The mainstream discussion focuses on alternative energy and reducing fossil fuel emissions. But the field of geoengineering is looking for more large scale and proactive things we can do to offset warming. Some see this as an exciting way to help the planet, others as a threat. Listen to learn about the strategies geoengineers are exploring to prevent further global warming.
A geologist has turned decades worth of data into music. He created a multitrack sequencer for data instead of music. The data and music show a tight correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide and the amount of ice on the earth. Listen to hear what climate change sounds like and how it is helping scientists understand how humans affect our climate.
In a real-life case that has shades of George Orwell’s "1984," the United States Supreme Court must weigh the public good against privacy. Does putting a GPS monitoring device on the car of suspected criminals violate their privacy? Or does it protect society? Listen to this audio story which addresses the issues in the novel "1984," as you discuss this recent case.
In 1963 there was tension in the South. African Americans were demanding the right to equal treatment under the law. They faced strong, often violent, opposition from Southern authorities. One such conflict arose at the University of Alabama. When the school admitted black students for the first time, Alabama’s governor George Wallace stood at the door to block their entrance. In doing so, he protested desegregation and clashed with President John F. Kennedy’s administration. Listen to hear more about George Wallace’s contentious views and his lasting impact on politics.
George Washington was the hero of the American Revolution with a victory at Yorktown in 1781. He could have used his victory to seize power, but he went home to Mount Vernon. In this audio story, the remarkable characteristics of George Washington are considered. He is a historic figure not only because he was a great general, statesman and politician, but also because he voluntarily gave up power. His action cemented the United States as a democracy, in which citizens, rather than absolute rulers, have the power to govern the nation. Listen to hear how Washington’s actions are analyzed and interpreted.
Gerrymandering is the manipulation of the boundaries of voting districts in a way that favors one political party, usually by dividing up groups of opposing voters. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to draw congressional districts. Often, whichever party has power in the legislature gerrymanders in its own favor. The majority of legal experts agree that gerrymandering is unfair, but is there any legal way around the Constitution? In 2015, the United States Supreme Court heard a case about the state of Arizona’s strategy for avoiding gerrymandering. Listen to this audio story to learn about the arguments for and against an approach to redistricting that does not involve the legislature.
Scientists have wondered why giant squid and colossal squid have such enormous eyes. Their eyes are the size of basketballs. Their thinking about this question has been hampered by the rarity of these animals and the difficulty of preserving eye specimens. Using some clever techniques and luck, researchers have been able to measure the size of giant squid eyes. This has led to an interesting hypothesis about why their eyes are so enormous.
Venezuela has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, but its economy has collapsed, and its government isn’t doing too well either. The country is beset by shortages—of everything. Listen to this story to find out how a country rich in natural resources has descended from wealth and democracy into financial and political chaos.
Throwing a curveball is one of the most difficult pitches in baseball. Bill Lee, a former pitcher for the Red Sox, explains how important it is to consider physics when trying to throw a curveball. Listen to learn how objects travel through space and how gravity affects a curveball.
Gravity keeps our feet on the ground, it creates a curve ball, and it can also be used to find new planets. The star at the center of our solar system maintains life on Earth and its gravitational pull creates the orbit of planets. But our sun is just one of many stars in an ever expanding universe. Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to our solar system and new technology is allowing us to better understand our neighbor. Observations of Alpha Centauri date back to 1592, but it wasn’t until 2012 that astronomers in Chile were able to identify a planet orbiting one of the stars in Alpha Centauri because of its gravitational wobble. Listen to learn more about the properties and potential of this new planet.
Even though it is the weakest of all forces, gravity is why we exist. Gravity keeps the earth, moon, and sun in orbit. It keeps us on the ground instead of floating in space. Listen to hear how gravity affects the velocity in rockets, the shapes of planets, the trajectories of baseballs, and even the strength of the human leg bones.
In 1741, New York City was shaken by an uprising led by African slaves. New York was a British colony and had a very large slave population. After a series of fires burned homes in Manhattan, including the Governor’s house, many black slaves were imprisoned, hanged, or burned. There was a great fear that slaves were conspiring against their owners. Listen to hear about the history of the revolt and what the revolt of 1741 can tell us about society today.
We owe a lot to the Ancient Greek civilization. Everything from architecture to medicine to music is based on Greek culture. This audio story describes the influence of ancient Greek culture, specifically in music, and how it has shaped what we know today.
A series of young-adult novels called “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”, by Rick Riordan, has struck a chord with millions of readers. In the novels, Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood to train with other demigods (the children of gods and humans). He then goes on various adventures involving Greek mythology mixed in with the modern world. Recently, independent bookstores have been running day camps for children, inspired by the fictional camp from Riordan’s novels. Listen to hear about how an actual Camp Half-Blood harnesses Greek mythology to create learning experiences for kids, and about Greek mythology’s continued appeal today.
Cassandra Gonzalez is a very young single mother. She had her daughter while she was still a teenager, and as she approaches her early twenties she is struggling to balance her desire to enjoy her life with the responsibilities and expectations of motherhood. Listen to learn more about the challenges she faces, and what she does to confront them.
Author Marjane Satrapi created the graphic novel “Persepolis”—later adapted as a movie—about her experience growing up during the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Satrapi was a rebellious teenager, fighting to maintain her beliefs and individuality while living under a government that dictated how its people should live—for example, mandating that women must wear veils. Listen to hear about the Iranian government’s reaction to the movie and how others reacted to it.
What defines your identity? Is it what you believe? Where you were born? Or what you look like? In this audio story, African American poet, writer, and artist Claudia Rankine talks about her exploration of the connections between race and blonde hair. Rankine’s initial response to the question, “Why might a person choose to go blonde?” was that people simply wanted to lighten their hair. But she soon wondered if there might be more to it. To find out, she interviewed and photographed women of all skin tones who chose to dye their hair blonde. The result was a gallery exhibit entitled “Stamped.” Listen to hear about what the artist discovered when she explored the connections between race, identity, and blondeness.
In 1791, in what is now known as Haiti, Toussaint Louverture led a revolt against slavery that led to independence from France. In a time of many other attempted revolts, this was perhaps the most famous and successful. It went on for many years until 1804 the independent state of Haiti was formed. Louverture is interesting in that he is a complex and contradictory historical figure. Previously enslaved, Louverture gained his freedom in 1776 and, according to recently discovered evidence, gained wealth and social standing before the revolution. The story shares details about some of the contradictions of Louverture’s life, including the fact that he may have, at one time, been a slave overseer himself. Listen to hear about the revolt in Haiti and more about this politically smart and charismatic leader.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland. She escaped and came back to lead hundreds of enslaved people to New York and Canada along the route of the Underground Railroad. She was also a spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Nearly 200 years after her birth, Harriet Tubman is being honored with a visitor center in her name, located near her birthplace in Maryland. The visitor center depicts her life and the Underground Railroad, including interactive images that show her journey to the north. Listen to learn more about Harriet Tubman and this inspirational and historic place.