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The U.S. warship the USS Constitution is docked in Boston Harbor. It's the oldest commission warship in the world. The USS Constitution played a key role in the War of 1812. Listen to this audio story to learn how the warship USS Constitution got its nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 as it battled British warships off the U.S. coast.
The earliest known fossil that lead to humans was recently discovered in Ethiopia. Scientists have uncovered a lower jaw with five teeth. The jaw is estimated at about 2.8 million years old, and is nearly half a million years older than the previous record for a human-related fossil. This bone could help explain a branch in the human family tree. Listen to the story to find out how this fossil could fill a gap in the history of human evolution.
Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, “The Feminine Mystique,” remains one of the landmark works of Feminist literature. At a time in American history when most women were expected to find fulfillment as housewives and mothers, Friedan’s book challenged the male-dominated post-WWII culture, and helped pave the way for the “Women’s Liberation Movement" of the 1960s and 1970s. This audio story looks at “The Feminine Mystique” on the 50th anniversary of its publication, with three women discussing their relationship with the groundbreaking book. Listen to learn more about the origins of “The Feminine Mystique,” and what relevance it may still hold for the gender politics of today.
In the 1920’s thousands of orphan children were shipped on trains from the streets of New York City to America’s Midwest. Some found a loving family, but others had a very difficult life experience. “Orphan Train” is a novel by Christina Baker Kline, that talks about the story of Niamh, an Irish girl who was sent on one of these trains after losing her parents in a fire. Listen to the author talk about Niamh and other orphan’s experiences, and think about whether the benefit to some members of society was worth the pain of others.
Outsourcing happens when a company in the U.S. stops hiring American workers and hires workers in foreign countries instead. The benefit for the U.S. company is that workers in other countries make much less money than American workers, so the company saves money. In the early 2000s, more Americans began to protest against outsourcing because it created unemployment in the U.S. This public radio story introduces a man who built a business around helping companies outsource, and who stands by the practice despite its controversial aspects.
There is debate whether fish like the bluefin tuna are going to go extinct. Some argue that the decline in bluefin results from excessive fishing. However, long time bluefin fishers like Eric Stewart, disagree with this stance as he sees an increasing population of bluefin. Listen to hear from both sides, and how one bluefin tuna can swim across the entire ocean.
The federal government now recognizes the Pamunkey tribe from Virginia. Tribe members waited a long time to achieve this acknowledgment, fighting a long legal battle and facing opposition from various groups. Pamunkey’s new status as a recognized tribe gives them access to certain rights and privileges they did not have before. This tribe played a crucial role in early American history, and now they can look forward to a brighter future. Listen to hear more about what federal recognition means for this Native American tribe.
America looked different before Columbus arrived in 1492. Historian Charles Mann paints a vivid picture of pre-Columbian America. It was a world of glittering cities, advanced technology, monumental architecture, and powerful empires. Listen to learn what happened to it all and how it could have been destroyed by European might or a natural disaster.
During the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, leaders of industry and finance had unprecedented wealth, influence, and power. These men made fortunes and also donated money to build colleges, museums, and libraries. Today we are seeing a new rise of influential moguls, which is a very small group of men with incredible power and money with the ability to change the world. This story discusses the similarities and differences between the super-rich of today and of the Gilded Age. Listen to hear more about the characteristics of the incredibly wealthy.
At its height, the Persian Empire stood as one of the ancient world’s largest and most powerful empires. One of its most famous leaders was the king known as Cyrus the Great who ruled Iran from 550-530 BC. One of the Persian Empire’s great treasures is the Cyrus Cylinder, which tells the story of Cyrus The Great’s rule. The cylinder depicts Cyrus as a king who was seen both as a great political and military leader, as well as the ancient world’s equivalent of a humanitarian. Evidence for all of these characteristics can be found on the Cyrus Cylinder. The audio story describes the cylinder as one of the oldest declarations of human rights found in archaeology. It also describes the pride modern Iran, often criticized for human rights violations, has for the legacy of Cyrus the Great.
Scientists have now figured out the genetic code to one of the oldest known plagues. Eight hundred years before the Black Death struck in 1347, there was another plague that occurred in Europe in the 6th century CE. Scientists have now figured out the genetic code to the oldest known epidemic and discovered that the “Justinian plague” was the first outbreak of bubonic plague. Listen to hear about how a farmland gave scientists answers to centuries worth of questions.
Infectious diseases like plague don’t just impact humans, they can spread and decimate animal populations as well. One scientist saw the impact of plague in prairie dog colonies and among black footed ferrets. He questioned whether the scientific understanding of plague cycles and transmission was accurate. Listen to learn what scientists discovered about plague and its larger impact on ecosystems.
Racial segregation in the United States was challenged in two landmark Supreme Court cases. The first, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) involved a Louisiana law segregating railroad cars. The second, and more famous, Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), centered on segregation in public schools, but both centered on whether or not segregation was constitutional. In Plessy, the court ruled that segregation was constitutional. However, nearly 60 years later, the court came to the opposite conclusion. This audio story includes interview clips with descendants of three of the important people from these two cases. Listen to hear how they learned about their connection to these historic cases and how their lives have been impacted.
American poet Emily Dickinson was known as an eccentric recluse throughout her life. Dickinson maintained many of her friendships through letter writing, while she wrote poetry privately. Her unusual poetry style wasn’t truly discovered until after her death in 1886, when her sister Lavinia found nearly 1,800 of her sister’s poems. Though Lavinia had promised to destroy her sister’s papers, she instead had the poems published, which led to Emily’s fame as a great American poet. Listen to learn how her poetry continues to be an inspiration today.
Seamus Heaney is considered one of Ireland’s greatest poets. He was prolific, writing 13 collections of poetry along with plays and books, and was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Heaney grew up in rural Ireland and later wrote about the political and cultural struggles of his country. This audio story remembers the life of Seamus Heaney, who died in 2013. A fellow poet, Robert Pinsky is interviewed and describes Heaney as a generous and decent person along with being a great writer. Listen to hear Pinsky read one of Heaney’s poems and discuss the qualities of his friend.
The crossover dribble is a basketball move. But to some people it’s more than just a move, it is poetry. “The Crossover,” is a Newbery-Award-winning basketball novel by author Kwame Alexander. Students can relate in many ways to the themes in the novel, such as struggling with relationships, loneliness, and loss. In this audio story you will hear from the book’s author and hear students discuss how basketball is a kind of poetry in motion and how language and writing can capture that sense of cadence and rhythm as well. Listen to learn more about how author Kwame Alexander was motivated to write about the poetics of basketball and how readers relate to and are inspired by the tragedy and triumph in “The Crossover.”
When World War I ended on November 11, 1918 the world sighed with relief. The death and destruction of “The Great War” was over. In modern history the first World War is often overshadowed by the second, but its legacy of war poets cannot be overlooked. From soldiers in battle to people on the homefront, poetry was used to process and communicate the realities of war and loss. Listen to learn more about these poets and hear some of their works.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, had a dramatic impact on the political landscape in the United States. The focus shifted from domestic issues to national security, and the initial partisan unity after the election dissolved into an edge for President Bush and the Republican party. Five years later, public support of the war had soured, and Democrats were back into the White House. Listen to learn how partisan politics have shifted in the years since September 11th.
The glaciers in the European Alps started melting rapidly in the 1860s. But that didn’t correspond with the warming of the European climate at the end of what is known as the Little Ice Age. That warming didn’t occur until the 1910s. To understand the causes of the glacial melt, scientists considered the possible impact of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 1840s. The recent melting in the Rocky Mountains of America could be caused by the same reasons. Listen to this story to learn about the theory that dust and soot are contributing to how quickly glaciers are melting.
Like many agricultural civilizations, the Aztecs survived based on a complicated, varied agricultural system. In fact, to really understand ancient Mesoamerican people, you need to understand the significance of corn. Surprisingly, one of the foods that the ancient Aztec people ate was what we call ‘popcorn’ today, which the Aztecs called “totopoca”. This story explores popcorn’s roots, beginning with the Aztec cultivation of corn, and shows how, with European conquests, popcorn began to spread around the world.
This is the story of Jeff White, an aggressive, fearless bully in a small town. White explains his behavior and his feelings about it, as well as why he thinks it works for him. After time in juvenile detention, White explores the possible reasons for his bullying, looks deeper into his personal interests, and discusses what he thinks about his future. Listen to learn more about White’s behavior, his experiences in school and in jail, and his relationships with other people.
In 1968 the Soviet Union invaded Prague, Czechoslovakia to crush a democratic uprising later called the Prague Spring. The Soviets were afraid that the democratic reforms introduced by the Czech communist party would lead to revolution against Soviet rule. The Czech people resisted the Soviet invasion force for as long as they could, and provoked global outrage against heavy-handed Soviet repression of human rights. This story looks back on the Prague Spring.
The ancient ruins of Pompeii are facing many problems as a result of being exposed to bad weather—and possibly neglect. Italian art experts and archaeologists blame the Italian government for skimping on maintenance of the famous city, exploiting the ruins instead of protecting them. This audio story looks at how weather and even budget cuts threaten the historic ruins of Pompeii.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the youngest man elected as the President of the United States, and the first and only Roman Catholic to serve as president. His election represented a departure from the status quo. The message Kennedy delivered in his inauguration speech on January 20, 1961 served as inspiration for an entire generation. Listen to hear excerpts of his speech and learn how it inspired four young people to action.
More money is spent on treating cancer than preventing it within the United States. However, scientists are getting closer to finding out if cell growth within our bodies promotes already existing cancer. Scientists are examining microscopic cells to test if certain spices and foods affect the reduction of cell growth. Listen to learn about the budget behind cancer research and how human behavior can increase the chance of cancer.
On the morning of April 12, 2015 Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man from Baltimore, was arrested by police and fell into a coma as a result of spinal cord injuries sustained while in police custody. He died a week after his arrest. The officers involved have been suspended with pay but there have been no public answers about what happened. Peaceful protests in Baltimore turned violent, leading to riots and property destruction. This incident tapped into anger and resentment in a city known for racial segregation, economic marginalization and police violence. The six police officers involved in Gray's death were charged with a range of crimes including murder. They have pled not guilty. Listen to learn more about the way these tensions played out in one neighborhood in Baltimore during the violence.
In the early 20th century, a French novelist named Marcel Proust wrote a massive, seven-part novel called “Remembrance of Things Past,” that attempted to capture the strange and subjective nature of time and memory. It is considered by many to be one of history’s greatest novels and Proust’s greatest literary achievement. In this audio story, an author and a philosopher discusses the concepts of time and memory in Proust’s work. Listen to learn about Proust’s ideas about time and memory, and what those ideas might have to teach us today.
Bullying can happen to anyone in any place. One former bully explains how she bullied, the reasons why she bullied, but she also reflects on her experience as the victim of a bully. A professional psychologist also offers her perspective on why kids bully and ways in which we can increase empathy and support both for the bully and the bullied. Listen to learn more about Alice, her experiences and transformation, and the ways in which community building can lessen the incidence of bullying for everyone.
What should the government spend its money on? With a growing national debt this has become an important question. Economists see the government’s role in providing goods and services to be one that fills a need. The government should pay for things that make our lives better but that the private market cannot or will not provide. Listen to this story from Planet Money to learn the reasons why government has decided to pay for public goods such as lighthouses and autopsies.
Puritans who arrived in New England in the 17th Century faced a harsh and brutal new existence. The conditions were so brutal that, as this story reminds us, many newborn babies died. Puritan settlers dealt with the reality of their lives by turning to religion and, in the case of Anne Bradstreet, to writing. Anne Bradstreet was a woman who became one of America’s earliest popular poets in a time when few women could read and write. Listen to this story to hear about the circumstances that led Anne Bradstreet to begin her life as a poet and the challenges she overcame during her life.
The War of 1812 was, at the time, the greatest national crisis America faced since the adoption of the Constitution. During the war’s worst period, the British burned much of Washington D.C. to the ground. The war ended months after the burning with a treaty that ensured America’s survival, but the burning of Washington remains a critical experience in the history of American warfare. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of that event, journalists illustrated what it would have been like to report something like that today. In the story, the British attack on Washington is revisited as if it were a breaking news event. Listen to learn more about the burning of Washington D.C. during this war.
“The Canterbury Tales” is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14-century, and is widely considered to be one of the influential works of early European literature. It is a “frame story” containing a collection of tales told by a fictional group of religious pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at the Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer made specific use of real locations to root his stories in the world of his time. Listen to hear about how the Canterbury Road has influenced other famous writers, and about how the locations of Chaucer’s tales have changed over the centuries.
‘Harry Potter’ is a popular series of fantasy novels written by British author J.K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the life of a young wizard as he makes his way through magical schooling, forming friendships and fighting supernatural enemies. The title character, Harry Potter, has a tremendous impact on the wizarding world. It turns out that the boy wizard may also have an effect on the real world. According to a recent study, reading “Harry Potter” books could influence readers’ empathy and attitudes. Listen to find out how J.K. Rowling’s work might make a real difference to readers.
While J.D. Salinger still receives acclaim for his novel "The Catcher in the Rye”, few Americans know about the regret he felt after writing it. “The Catcher in the Rye” was a huge success for the aspiring writer, but that fame came at a price. A new biography and accompanying documentary explore Salinger’s life and the experiences that inspired him to write as well as those that led him to desire a more private existence. Listen to learn more about J.D. Salinger’s life, the effect “The Catcher in the Rye” had on him and on America, and the release of previously unpublished works that may shed new light on this reclusive American author.
The "cash for clunkers" program was a limited federal government program in the U.S. that gave people credits to trade in their old, gas guzzling, polluting cars for newer ones. The goal was to get older cars off the road to improve pollution. Because the “cash for clunkers” program did not allow the re-sale of old car engines, junkyards were forced to turn the cars into scrap metal. Listen to learn what this scrap metal can be turned into.
Machu Picchu is an ancient city high in the Peruvian Andes. Sometimes referred to as a “cloud city,” it is one of the most significant archeological sites in the world. It was built around 1450, with an incredible architectural design that allowed it to remain standing for centuries, despite being situated atop multiple fault lines. There are many theories about the purpose of the city, but many believe it was a once sacred center for the Incas, the ancient civilization that lived there. In 1911, an explorer discovered Machu Picchu and brought this amazing city to the attention of the United States. This audio story discusses an author who retraces the steps of the person who discovered Machu Picchu. Listen to learn about this journey and more about the city of Machu Picchu.
For many, Henry David Thoreau is best known for his 1854 experiment on simplicity, where he lived in the woods of Massachusetts on Walden Pond. The resulting book "Walden; or, Life in the Woods," has connected generations of readers to his vision of self-reliance, closeness to nature and transcendentalism. An art museum located near Walden Pond has launched a show, Walden Revisited, with works inspired by and responding to Thoreau’s work.
Toni Morrison, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature, believes in addressing reality in her writing, no matter how painful. In this audio story, she reflects on writing about unfortunate truths, such as racism. Morrison’s stories are full of complicated characters and interesting dialogue while portraying harsh realities. Listen to hear Morrison reflect on the realities of racism today and learn what Morrison's writing means to one admirer who values Morrison's talent for storytelling.
A group of items wrapped in cloth and believed to have spiritual power is known as an African spirit bundle. Found in Annapolis, Maryland in 2008, the African spirit bundle gives us insight into who would have used it and why. It dates back to the early 18th century and is most surprising because of where it was placed. It hung at a crossroads, which in the Yourba tradition is a place of great danger. Listen to hear more about the items in the bundle and who may have put them there.
The separation of church and state is part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was intended to ensure religious freedom. It’s been debated and challenged for decades. Most recently, the debate centered around what role religious beliefs should have on what students learn in biology class. Should schools teach evolution or intelligent design? Or should schools note evolution is a theory? Listen to learn more about the first major legal challenge to a policy on how to teach biology in Pennsylvania.
Note: Since this public radio story first aired a U.S. District Judge rules the Dover school system could not insert intelligent design into the science curriculum because it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.