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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Modern Hebrew is one of the two official languages of Israel. But for 1,700 years it wasn't spoken. This radio story describes how new words are added to the Hebrew language today. It also explores the history of Hebrew, its decline over the centuries to a point where almost no one spoke it, and how it was revived in the 1800s by one dedicated Israelite.
Heirloom seeds are more than 50 years old and are not genetically modified. Jere Gettle, author of "The Heirloom Life Gardener," is particularly fascinated by heirloom seeds and he noticed they were being dropped by seed catalogs in the 1980s. The plants they produce are typically different from what we see in the grocery store. Listen to learn more about Gettle’s fight to bring heirloom plants back to our dinner tables.
Budgeting, paying bills, and managing bank accounts are all important personal finance skills. One high school in Vermont gave students an opportunity to learn about the world of personal finance in a unique way. A local non-profit group teamed up with employers and financial institutions to create a game that resembled the classic “Game of Life,” and invited students to play the game and learn about money management in the process. Listen to hear about the challenges and insights students had as they participated in the process of learning about personal finance.
In 1928, Ernest Hemingway began writing "A Farewell to Arms," a novel with big themes: the horrors of war, the power and pain of love, the inescapable cycle of life and death. The novel is set in World War I era Italy and tells the story of an American ambulance driver who falls in love with an English nurse. Although unmarried, the two conceive a baby and escape together to Switzerland, where tragedy strikes: the woman dies in childbirth. The heartbreaking ending—famous for bringing the most stoic readers to tears—is a major discussion point of this audio story, as it was discovered in recent years that Hemingway wrote over forty endings for the novel. Listen to hear why Hemingway wrote so many endings and why, ultimately, he chose to stick with his original, heart-wrenching conclusion.
Cells are used in research to make scientific discoveries. A certain set of cells are among the most widely used in biomedical research worldwide. These HeLa cells have been used to research almost every disease and have played an important role in many scientific breakthroughs including the development of the polio vaccine. The cells come from a woman named Henrietta Lacks who has been mentioned in more than 70,000 published scientific papers. Listen to hear more about how these cells are used and the issues of privacy with her family.
Henry Clay is an overlooked and very important 19th century American politician. As a Senator, House Speaker, and Secretary of State, he helped shape antebellum America’s growth and, some say, helped hold off civil war for decades. He is credited with doing this through compromises that enabled America’s territorial expansion without allowing the issue of slavery to be a barrier. In this audio story, an historian tells the story of the Missouri Compromise, brokered by Clay, and looks at his legacy and relevance in today’s politics, where compromise is often seen as a sign of weakness.
Herman Melville’s classic American novel “Moby-Dick” tells the story of whaling captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale Moby-Dick. This somewhat simplistic plot retelling misses the thematic and historical undertones of this massive novel. The novel was a critical and commercial failure when it was released in 1851 but experienced a resurgence after World War I. Listen to learn about the writing of “Moby-Dick” and how Melville was influenced by the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shakespeare, as well as the tensions of pre-Civil War America.
Serving in the military during a war can lead men and women to experience events that affect them for the rest of their lives. Louis Zamperini was one example. Laura Hillenbrand wrote a best-selling novel, “Unbroken”, which tells his story. It is set in World War II where Zamperini fought for survival on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean, was held as a POW by Japan, and later struggled in civilian life to deal with his war memories. This story, told at the time of his death in 2014, is a previous interview with Hillenbrand, where she recounts Zamperini’s story of survival during the war and his struggle to find closure in the decades following his return home. Listen to hear this extraordinary story of courage, despair and redemption.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan ended World War II in 1945. At the time, Americans were happy the war was over and some people even wanted to drop more atomic bombs. This radio story describes how Americans’ attitudes towards dropping atomic bombs on Japan changed from mostly positive to mostly negative, in the years after the second World War.
During the Holocaust, six million Jews and others were killed by Germany’s Nazi regime, led by Adolf Hitler. Some Jews and members of other persecuted groups survived by fleeing to safety or going into hiding. Others were freed from concentration camps when World War II ended in 1945. What happened to these survivors? Listen to hear from one Holocaust survivor in Israel and learn why she and many others currently live in poverty.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 not only changed many Americans sense of security, but it also changed the organization of the security apparatus of the U.S. Federal Government. It led to the creation and funding of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This department receives billions of dollars in funding every year to improve state and federal readiness efforts. But there is a growing debate about the role and effectiveness of the department and the way this money is spent. Listen here to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the Department of Homeland Security.
Homer’s poetry has been read both in translation and its original Greek for thousands of years. “The Iliad“ and “The Odyssey“ contain many of the most enduring images and characters in literary history. As time passes, the original texts become more and more distant and the language, even with updated translations, become more daunting. One woman translated these stories, some into music, so that the language is accessible. Listen to hear how a new translation of Homer’s works aim to bring those characters to life for a new generation.
Two men imprisoned in Somalia began tapping messages to each other through a thick wall. One man had Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina”. Because they were forbidden to talk, one man tapped the story out on the wall, letter by letter, to the other man. The more the other man heard of the novel, the more he understood his own situation and feelings and ultimately, how to get through one of the most difficult experiences of his life. Listen to this story about how a book can inspire empathy and change your life.
Published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” changed the way Americans viewed slavery and was a driving force that steered the political direction of the country during the 1850s as well. For many Americans, the characters in the novel are familiar, although their names have taken on new and unexpected meanings, and the novel’s theme still resonates today. Listen to learn more about the cultural impact of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in America and discover Harriet Beecher Stowe’s inspirations for writing the novel as well as how the novel still reminds us of what “freedom” means today.
Adults have a wide range of opinions about teenagers and other youth, positive and negative. Often, these are based on stereotypes, not necessarily experience. Regardless of how these opinions were formed and what they are, they certainly have an impact on young people everywhere. In Baltimore these opinions and the reactions to them may have a lot to do with the social unrest that has built up in the city. Listen to learn about how a group of teenagers from Baltimore feel they are viewed by adults, and how they feel about those views.