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Joan of Arc was an uneducated girl who followed the voices of angels and worked to free France from England’s domination. When she was captured by the English, she was burned at the stake. Later she was pronounced a Catholic Saint. Listen to learn how her religious and political legacy still inspire French politicians today.
John Calvin, one of the central figures in the Protestant reformation more than 500 years ago, has left an indelible mark on American culture. Though we think of his theology as representing the most joyless version of Protestantism possible, some of what we think about him now isn’t particularly accurate to who the man was and what he believed. Listen to find out how one historian views Calvin’s legacy, and what more we can learn from his example.
When American author John Irving was 14 years old, he read "Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens and it changed his life forever. That book played a pivotal role in shaping Irving’s success as a writer. Now the author of more than a dozen narratives and an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Irving continues to base his works on similar themes and ideas found throughout the novels of his literary mentor. Listen to the audio story as Irving explains the ways that Dickens impacted his accomplishments and which one book remains for Irving to read when he can no longer write.
The book "Into the Wild" chronicled the journey of twenty-four year old Christopher McCandless who died in April of 1992 after attempting to survive alone and virtually unaided on a remote Alaskan hiking trail. While McCandless’ official cause of death has been recorded as starvation, author Jon Krakauer has evidence suggesting otherwise. Krakauer, who wrote "Into the Wild," has conducted extensive research on McCandless’ death even after he first published the book chronicling McCandless’ experiences. His findings have led him to believe that McCandless’ death may have been caused by the ingestion of a poisonous potato seed that is only deadly if you are malnourished. Listen to hear what evidence led Krakauer to this conclusion.
Writer Joyce Carol Oates is the successful author of more than 50 novels and even more works of non-fiction, poetry, plays and short stories. Her writing, known for its high quality, is filled with ideas, themes and subjects across multiple genres. Many readers and fans of her work are aware of the violent, dark nature of some of her stories, but may not realize that many of these themes are based on events she experienced in her early years. Oates shares these stories in her recent memoir, “The Lost Landscape.” Listen to hear Oates explore how her early life shaped her not only as a person, but as a writer.
Senator Joseph McCarthy led a crusade against Soviet spies he believed were operating in the United States government. He called Democrats "soft" on the war on communism. This audio story describes why the American public's view of Republican Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaign in the early 1950s continues to be sharply divided.
Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her novels include “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of the Butterflies.“ Growing up in the Dominican Republic, she learned about the massacre of over 20,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in 1937. She was consistently presented with negative stereotypes of her Haitian neighbors. For these reasons, Alvarez felt too ashamed and even afraid to visit Haiti. But she made the trip and then visited again to attend a wedding after the 2010 earthquake. Listen to learn more about how Alvarez needed to cross many borders—internal, historical, cultural—that stood in her way.
From 1975 to 1979 a terrorist organization called the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia, an east Asian nation. The Khmer Rouge launched a genocide against its own people, killing men, women, and children. Two million people out of a total population of 8 million were killed. Today, survivors of the genocide are left to cope with their difficult memories while young people in Cambodia either don’t know about the genocide or don’t believe it happened.
Biologists studying killer whales face the challenge of studying organisms that spend a majority of their time underwater. From extensive research, scientists have learned that killer whales have adapted their sounds to help them catch prey. Scientists are looking to do more research, but it's difficult to find the whales in the first place. Listen to learn more about the methods scientists use to understand killer whale noises.
In the 17th Century, civil war gripped Great Britain. Over the course of the century, war and revolution would eventually lead to the transformation of England into a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch was to share power with Parliament, and the rights of the people would be legally protected. Along the way, England would experience political turmoil and incredible amounts of bloodshed. Part of this story is the trial and execution of King Charles I. Listen to the story of Charles I’s trial and execution, the motivations of the men behind it, and the important legacy it left behind.
Cesar Chavez was an advocate for social change and a founder of the United Farm Workers of America. After years of agitating for workers’ rights, Cesar Chavez is now universally acknowledged as an inspirational leader for justice. When he was honored with a stamp by the US Postal Service, Chavez’s son was interviewed about his life and legacy. Listen to learn more about how Chavez fought for workers and what work still needs to be done.
Christianity and Islam share many things in common. Their holy books contain some of the same narratives and many religious scholars would say they worship the same God. However, war and terrorism have led to widespread misunderstanding for and hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a Catholic raised in England, believes that one key to combatting this hostility is through education. As a believer in this, Fitzgerald has dedicated his life to learning about, and teaching, Islam to both Christian and Muslim students. His goal is for students to have a deeper appreciation for the particular beliefs and customs that make Islam distinct.
Many schools now have gardens where students grow and harvest food that they cook themselves in class. The “Let's Move Initiative,” a program created by former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010, has generated awareness about school gardens and teaching cooking skills that enable students to learn about healthy lifestyle habits in an effort to fight the national obesity epidemic. Listen to learn more about how a gardening and cooking project at a school in Maine is a rewarding way to learn about nutrition and healthy lifestyle skills through hands-on class activities.
The 1960’s are remembered for many turning points in American History. Undoubtedly, two of these are the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Perhaps no president of the time period is more intimately associated with America’s commitment to each than Lyndon Johnson. In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library hosted an event to honor civil right law and Johnson’s civil rights legacy. This audio story discusses that event and provides some of the historical background behind Johnson’s civil rights achievements, including his early relationship with MLK and other leaders, the impact of Kennedy’s assassination, and his eventual successes.
In the early 20th Century Americans streamed to the middle of the country because of the Homestead Acts. These were federal laws that gave people ownership of the land for free. In this audio story you will hear from people who grew up on homesteads in Montana in the early 20th century. Both families were fairly isolated and self-sufficient, working hard to make a living off the land, but their affection for that lifestyle is still strong.
Leonardo da Vinci was the model of a Renaissance man and studied anatomy, botany, music, sculpture, and design. He painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. He also used the scientific method 100 years before Galileo Galilei, who was previously believed to have discovered it. This story describes how da Vinci’s study of patterns in nature was different from other scholars of his time who relied on the Greek and Roman classics. Listen to discover more about the scientific discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci.
When Roman Emperor Hadrian took power of ancient Rome in 117 A.D., Romans were mired in debt and war plagued much of Rome's land. It was similar to when President Barack Obama began his term as President of the United States. He inherited war, financial problems, and social issues. Throughout the two decades of his rule, Hadrian used his position as emperor to bring Rome back to a peaceful and powerful glory. Listen as the audio clip explains the steps Hadrian took to improve the country at the beginning of his rule.
Young Muslim Americans are learning about the life of Muhammad, the seventh century prophet who founded Islam, through a series of lectures called "Portrait of a Prophet." The course, held at mosques across the country, aims to teach Muslims what the prophet was like as a person, including how he treated others, what he liked to eat—even how he wore his hair. Listen to the story to learn about why the classes have been popular in Muslim American communities.
William Shakespeare’s tragic romance of star crossed lovers, based on an Italian tale, graced stages in the 1590’s and continues to capture audiences and imagination today. Modern adaptations demonstrate the timelessness of this romantic tragedy. Juliet appeals so directly to people that they actually write to her! Listen to learn more about the Juliet Club and the 6,000 letters they receive a year.
Vladimir Putin is the current president of the Russian Federation. He has served as either President or Prime Minister since 2000. Russia was in political and economic turmoil when Putin came to power, and many have credited Putin’s policies with making Russia more stable and prosperous. However, aggression against neighboring states, and rumors of corruption have cast a cloud over his administration. This story discusses life in Russia under Putin in the last two decades. Listen to learn more about why people think Putin is such a popular leader, what challenges Russians continue to face under Putin, and what the US still needs to understand about its former political arch-rival.
In 1630s New England, English Puritans came to the colonies to start a new life. This is a few decades before the Salem witch trials, and it’s hard to imagine living in this time and in this very particular culture. One writer made a movie that describes this experience, following one family that was struggling to survive in the New England wilderness. Learn about the social norms and unconscious fears that film explores. Listen to hear more about the inspiration for this movie and what might really scare us.
American soldiers who fought in the trenches of World War I were told they were going into a great adventure to fight for democracy. But new technology, from machine guns to poison gas, made this war more terrible than any previous war. The conditions in the trenches destroyed men’s clothes, food, and spirits. Eight and a half million soldiers and sailors died in the war, including 117,000 Americans. In this audio story you hear from an American solider who recalls what it was like to fight in the trenches of World War I.
"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," tells the story of Arnold Spirit, a young Native American who leaves the reservation to get a better education. In this semi-autobiographical book, author Sherman Alexie discusses big issues including choosing your identity, figuring out where you belong and the hardships American Indians face living on reservations.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of the most important speeches in American history. In it, Lincoln used the dedication of a Union cemetery as an occasion to tie the soldiers’ sacrifice to America’s founding principles. Lincoln spoke for just over two minutes. In just 272 words Lincoln explicitly linked human equality and democracy to the Union war effort. Listen to hear more about the original context of the speech, and hear about Lincoln’s thought process in writing the speech.
Bullies can have a lasting effect. In this audio story, Rob Littlefield discusses his experience being bullied at 13 years old. As a result of his lifestyle, Littlefield was bullied by other students and even physically abused. He had thoughts of suicide because of his experiences. As Littlefield reflects, he imagines what his tormentors might think today about what they did to him. Listen to learn more about Littlefield, how and why he was bullied, and the ways in which teen bullying still affects him today.
More than 350 years ago, the colony of Maryland was founded in the United States by George Calvert and his son Cecil. It was the first and only colony established with religious freedom for Catholics, and was named for the wife of King Charles I of England. The colony of Maryland had some features that became a part of the United States Constitution and legal framework. Listen to find out how the early history of Maryland informs the founding of our country.
People lose weight when sleeping, and much of that weight loss comes from merely breathing. Through a process of matter being recycled along with sweating while sleeping, people lose weight. However, the atoms and molecules involved are so small that it is hard to believe they are so powerful in this process. Listen to learn how this cycle works.
The civil war in South Sudan drove thousands of people from their homes. Many of them were children who were separated from their families. They were called "The Lost Boys." For more than a decade these refugees moved around, and many of them were relocated to the United States. In this radio story you will hear from a Lost Boy who was resettled in Colorado but later went back to Sudan to help his home country.
In Medieval England, British King John was at war with a group of English Barons because he extracted money from them to fight a war with France. To appease the Barons, the king wrote the Magna Carta, which essentially says the King cannot arbitrarily collect taxes from Barons. This revolutionary document, signed in 1215, limited the power of the monarchy and outlined the basic principles of the modern judicial system. The Pope invalidated the document just ten weeks later but its ideas have lived on and served as the basis of portions of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Listen to learn how the British library celebrated the 800th anniversary of this revolutionary document.
People often speculate about whether the Federal Reserve will raise the interest rate or keep it where it is. The Federal Reserve is charged with the responsibility of keeping the U.S. economy on track, and it has the power to raise and lower the interest rate as well as create money. That’s just what it did in response to the financial crisis of 2008—it created three trillion dollars to prop the economy up. Now that the economy has more or less recovered, all that money poses a threat. Listen to this story to find out why and to learn what the Federal Reserve intends to do about it.
For most of the last fifty years, the mall has been one of the most popular destination for teenagers all over America. It’s a place where young people spend time with each other to connect and build relationships. In recent years, though, that trend has changed, as fewer and fewer teenagers are choosing to spend their time at malls and more shopping is done online. Listen to one young person’s attempt to understand why teenage mall culture has changed so much recently.
The mid-1960s to mid-1970s in China proved to be a traumatic period for everyone. During that time, Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao, initiated a political movement designed to purge the country of anything that opposed a communist ideology, which included educators with capitalist leanings. A group called the Red Guard facilitated Mao's efforts by publicly attacking suspected teachers. Now, some of these Red Guards are apologizing for their actions. Listen to learn more about Mao Zedong, the Red Guards, and how the Cultural Revolution affects us today.
Samuel Clemens became famous as an author under his pen-name, Mark Twain. As one of the most famous American authors of his time, Twain is well known for his biting sense of humor and keen sense of observation. As Samuel Clemens, though, his life was complex and tumultuous, often directly contradicting the things his alter ego said in books and articles. Listen to find out how one of America’s greatest novelists lived, and how that may have informed his writing.
Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. In this public radio story you will hear from activists who were present that day and heard the speech. They remember that its power came not only from the words MLK spoke, but the way he spoke them, in rolling cadences that “raised his audience.”
Lewis Carroll’s 1865 fantasy novel, “Alice in Wonderland” is a beloved children’s book. The novel also comments on mathematics. Charles Dodgson, whose pen name was Lewis Carroll, originally invented the story to entertain his friends’ young daughters. Dodgson was himself a serious mathematician who lectured at Christ Church College in Oxford, England. When he put the story on paper to publish it, he ended up writing sections that poked fun at current mathematics, which he was worried were becoming increasingly abstract. Listen to the story to learn more about the mathematical references in “Alice in Wonderland.
Maya Angelou was an author, poet and icon. She grew up during segregation and used her work to empower and give voice to the African American community. Her memoir, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" changed the literary world and opened doors for African American authors and women.
Several times a year, Americans around the country recreate the kind of medieval warfare that occurred in the 1600s. This public radio story describes a medieval ‘war’ put on in Wisconsin by the SCA - the Society for Creative Anachronism. After creating their own weapons and armor, participants gather by the thousands to do battle. You will hear what it sounds and feels like to be part of one of these recreated battles.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Americans of Japanese descent were taken away to internment camps. The terrible conditions they lived in during internment were only surpassed by the shock and humiliation the people suffered as they saw themselves changed overnight from loyal Americans, often American citizens, to “enemy aliens.” In this audio story you will hear first person accounts from people who lived in the internment camps when they were children.
There are few Holocaust survivors still living today. In this public radio story we hear from one woman who escaped a Nazi death camp. She tells the story about being led out of the camp with many other women to an open field to be killed. Thankfully, she escaped, but has lived for over 70 years with survivor’s guilt.
Note: This story contains disturbing details about a Nazi concentration camp.
The ancient Mesopotamian citadel of Ur Bilum, located in Northern Iraq, sits atop a hill overlooking the modern day city of Erbil. Ur Bilum was originally built by a group of ancient peoples known as the Sumerians but was also home to a variety of civilizations including the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Ottomans. More recently, the citadel was home to hundreds of families of Kurdish refugees until 2007 when it was evacuated. This was an effort by Kurdish authorities to gain the necessary approval of the United Nations for the citadel to become a World Heritage Site. Listen to learn more about Ur Bilum’s rich history and the hardships faced by its last inhabitants.