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In the mid-1890s, when the U.S economy was in a depression, news spread across the country that rich deposits of gold had been found in the Yukon and Klondike regions of Alaska and Canada. Thousands of people flocked to the frozen Northwest in the hopes of striking it rich. The voyage was dangerous and conditions in the remote gold fields were exceedingly harsh, but this didn’t stop the unprecedented wave of migration that came to be known as the Yukon Gold Rush. Listen to hear about three individuals of the time: a prospector, a con man, and a detective.
The Industrial Revolution changed forever both the way goods are made and the lives of the workers who make them. In the early years, workers did not like the changes. They challenged the factory owners, sometimes violently destroying the machinery that was transforming their lives. These protesters were called Luddites. Listen to learn about how these protestors tried to keep their world from changing.
Michael Jordan is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. From 1982, when he helped North Carolina win the NCAA title, to his retirement in 2003, he dominated basketball and became a global phenomenon whose stardom transcended the game. Jordan was legendary for his competitiveness, work ethic, and high expectations of his teammates. Listen to learn the story of Michael Jordan, from his high school years to his rise to global stardom, and the qualities that helped him succeed.
Early humans traded goods to get what they needed, but bartering was not practical when one person did not want or need what the other had to offer. Eventually money was invented to make economic exchanges easier and more practical. Listen to hear how our money system evolved, what early currencies looked like, and why people must agree on the worth of currency for it to have value.
The Grand Canyon has amazed visitors and scientist alike since it was discovered. The debate over what created this geologic wonder has been reignited in recent years. Is the Grand Canyon 6 million years old or 70 million? Listen to learn more about this debate between two geologists who have very opposing viewpoints.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in the early 1800s, escaped as a young adult, and went on to become the most famous abolitionist of his time. A renowned author, speaker, and activist, Douglass also became an early master of what is now known as "public relations," or use of the media. Douglass purposefully used photography to depict himself as a dignified counterpoint to derogatory depictions of African-Americans. Listen to learn how Douglass’s use of photography furthered the abolitionist cause.
Higher Education in the United States is largely independent from the government, and provides value in the form of knowledge, degrees, and increased earnings. College campuses are known for being at the forefront of progressivism and the fight for racial equality, but this wasn’t always the case. In the early days of the American colonies, academic institutions were closely involved in the development of slavery. Listen to hear how one history professor explored the complicated legacy of slavery in American higher education.
The phrase “no two snowflakes are alike” is actually scientifically accurate. Snow forms high in the atmosphere, and despite its uniform appearance, each snowflake is different based upon where and how it was formed. Although snowflakes are non-living, they grow and change from the time they are formed to the time they reach the ground. Listen to learn how snow is formed and why it exists in some places but not others.
The Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, measures the worth of all the goods and services produced in a country. Knowing the GDP helps countries monitor how strong or weak their economies are. When the GDP gets bigger, conventional wisdom says that the economy is healthy and growing, while a shrinking GDP means that something is wrong. The GDP provides a way to see the fluctuations in a nation’s economy over time. But the usefulness of the GDP is limited. Listen to this story to find out why.
In 12th century France, the Catholic Church began the Inquisition for the purpose of stamping out heresy. In later Middle Ages the Inquisition expanded in response to the Protestant Reformation and also expanded to other European countries and their empires in the Americas. This audio story draws parallels between the Inquisition of medieval times and the surveillance and bureaucracy of the present day. It also discusses similarities to methods used in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, at the United States’ detention camp. Listen to hear how the institutionalizing of the Inquisition hundreds of years ago is linked to persecution today.
This story explores an important economic question: When a kid loses a tooth, how much should the tooth fairy pay? That may sound like a joke, but the tooth fairy’s payoff provides an example of inflation—the amount the price of goods increases each year—and of the economic principle called “income elasticity of demand.” Listen to the story to find out what teeth are going for these days, and what economists have to say about it.
Storms and cold weather play an important role in Mary Shelley’s famous horror novel “Frankenstein.” Apparently, the bad weather in her story may reflect the weather at that time. When Shelley was writing the novel, the world was enduring a particularly cold and gray few years. Scholars hypothesize that the weather influenced Shelley to write about the weather for the novel. Listen to hear more about how true-life conditions affected this writer, and consider how climate change may influence future works of literature and art.
Time is something that every person on the planet thinks about every day. It is talked about like a commodity: “spend time” or “waste time” are phrases that are often used. But, what is time? Scientists have grappled with this subject for a long “time”! Listen to hear more about time and why the current system is used to keep track of time.
Writing college application essays can be stressful. Some companies are trying to help applicants through the process by analyzing essays of admitted students, gathering data, and offering targeted advice. But one college counselor cautions that sometimes, trying to follow these tips can lead students astray. Instead, she hopes that students will look to themselves for inspiration and write essays using their own voice. Listen to hear more about how students can stay true to themselves as they write college essays.
Language is complex, but children are natural language learners. Language itself is unique to humans, and many scientists want to know more about how humans are capable of learning language. Some theories suggest humans are born to be able to process and use language; however, a researcher studying language learning in children, thinks differently. He has been studying the sounds, grammar, vocabulary as well as eye movements and brain activity in children, and he has made some discoveries. Listen to learn more about language research that helps to explain why we have language and how we learn it.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented all immigration of Chinese laborers. Chinese immigrants were detained at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay at the turn of the 20th century because of the Exclusion Act. This audio story describes the Chinese poetry carved on the walls of a detention barracks by Angel Island detainees. Their poetry tells a story of humiliation and mistreatment of innocent Chinese people trying to start a new life or join loved ones already in the United States.
A United Nations report in 2014 shows that human activities are changing the planet. The scientists are more confident in their conclusions that humans are causing global warming. There are rising sea levels, higher temperatures and impacts on wildlife. This conversation with a public radio reporter looks at the long term trend in global temperatures and what humans can do to reverse the trend.
In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, an all powerful Capitol controls and exploits the districts of Panem for resources. The inequality and concentration of power in Panem has struck a nerve for readers, reflecting on their lives and their governments. Heroine Katniss Everdeen has become a symbol of resistance adopted by political parties and protest movements across the globe. Why and how does this dystopian novel reflect the real world? Listen to learn more about the link between The Hunger Games and our world today.
Hurricanes are huge storms that can cause major damage and destruction. Scientists predict that hurricanes will gain in strength due to climate change. Since nothing can be done to stop hurricanes, scientists are working on methods to better predict hurricanes so that people can prepare well in advance. This audio story describes how climate change affects hurricanes. Listen to hear how hurricanes affect land and why predicting a hurricane is so challenging.
The play "Hedda Gabler" by Henrik Ibsen was written in 1891. It features a female protagonist who feels trapped and bored by her loveless marriage and the rules of Victorian society, and relieves her frustration through manipulating others. A play called "Heddatron," is a comedic reinterpretation of "Hedda Gabler." The producers of "Heddatron" updated the play for a 21st century audience by incorporating robots into the cast. As new forms of technology are showing up in unexpected places, the integration of robots in this play challenges our thinking about the role of technology in our culture and our society. Listen to this story to learn why the producers decided to bring robots into a century-old play, and what challenges they faced in bringing their reinterpretation to the stage.
The Tibetan Plateau is one of the highest and coldest places on Earth. Many of the world’s tallest mountains, including Mt. Everest, is on the Tibetan Plateau. For millions of years, animals living in this region have needed to adapt to extremely cold temperatures. When an ice age took over Europe and Asia about 2.5 million years ago, this adaptation may have given animals living on the plateau an evolutionary advantage. Listen to hear about the discovery of the woolly rhino on this plateau and the new theories resulting from the discovery.
In 1969, Lynn Girton fell in love with a woman for the first time ever, not even understanding what homosexuality was. Her adopted daughter Molly is also gay, and despite this commonality has had a very different experience of life. Listen to hear mother and daughter discuss their different experiences of gender, identity, and sexuality.
In 2015, the United States resettled nearly 70,000 refugees as wars and political instability continue to drive people from their home countries. Resettlement isn’t easy for the person coming to a new country. One of those people, Barwaqo Mohamed was born and grew up in Somalia, but came to the U.S. as a political refugee in 2006. In this audio story, Barwaqo talks about her experience as an immigrant with a journalist who volunteered to tutor her in English for over four years. Barwaqo describes herself as a natural at learning languages and that helped her fit in. Listen to the interview to learn how that skill has served her since she came to the U.S.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. European immigrants in the late 1800s populated our nation and were granted citizenship upon entry. The immigration system has changed dramatically since, and America’s borders are no longer open to all. Hostility towards immigrants has led to a crackdown on illegal immigration in various states. Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Acts” commonly known as SB 1070 was passed in 2010 and became the strictest anti-immigration measure in recent history. Listen to learn how this law has impacted Arizona and its immigrants.
In the original Constitution, the founders laid out a process through which a president could be removed from power, known as impeachment. In this audio story, a history professor explains how impeachment works. She also gives a brief history of presidential impeachments, explaining some of the issues in each case. Finally, she sounds a warning about impeachment, namely that it is should not be used for political purposes but rather as a mechanism for holding a president accountable for job performance.
Maritime trade in today’s world is still very important as ships bring clothing to department stores and TVs to electronic stores. This public radio story explains how the International Maritime Organization, founded in 1958, oversees world shipping today. The IMO deals with problems the ancient Greeks would have recognized, including piracy.
Energy and how it converts to power is a never-ending exploration for scientists. The most significant issue concerning energy right now is how to store it, especially for long periods of time. It's possible to get solar energy from the sun, but what happens to the energy when it's not a sunny day? There's also the problem of having enough space to hold all of this energy. Listen to learn how scientists are trying to figure out how energy can be stored long-term to power the things we use every day.
Scarcity is a basic economic problem: people have unlimited wants and needs, but the world has limited resources. Resources in that equation include materials, capital, and labor. A pasta factory in southern Italy faced a very particular sort of labor shortage. The Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy had enough employees to keep up with production schedules, but the employees weren’t showing up to work. The absentee rate among workers threatened the survival of the plant. Listen to the story to learn how bosses and managers changed employees’ attitudes and behavior and solved their scarcity issue.
In the developed world, a lot of money changes hands without anyone actually touching it. That’s because many people get paychecks, do their shopping, and pay their bills electronically. When you put your debit card into an ATM, you assume that the machine is connected to a trusted institution and knows how much is in your account and will, in fact, give you the amount of cash you asked for. In other words, you trust the process and the bank. But what if you couldn’t? Listen to find out how people in Myanmar are trying to adjust to banking electronically in a setting where it’s not always reliable.
The University of Maryland’s Incentive Awards Program celebrated its first group of graduates along with new award winners at a reception in the university president’s backyard. The program awards full scholarships to promising, at-risk, local students who have overcome major obstacles to succeed. The university president who established the program expressed great pride in the success of the program and its students, many of whom are the first in their families to earn a college degree. Listen to hear the stories of several program participants, challenges they faced, personal qualities that helped them succeed, and their aspirations for the future.
In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay in which he predicted that by the time his children were grown up, people would be working just 15 hours a week. Today, in some countries, people do work a bit less than they did fifty years ago, but Keynes’s prediction was essentially wrong. There is a counter-intuitive response to incentives, and that is one factor that keeps people working long hours. According to his descendants, Keynes himself was a workhorse who couldn’t slow down. Listen to this audio story to learn more about Keynes and why making money doesn’t necessarily free us to work less.
The rivalry between India and Pakistan dates back to the partition of the former British colony in 1947. Lines were drawn along religious lines. Pakistan was a region for Muslims and India a region for Hindus. More than 60 years later the relationship remains tense. Listen to hear a story about partition from the perspective of India and learn about recent events in India that have intensified the rivalry. This piece, told from the viewpoint of India, is a companion piece to the audio story at the heart of the lesson Trouble between India and Pakistan Dates Back to Partition which focuses on partition and the Pakistani perspective.
Students in Bellingham, Washington, pushed to introduce composting programs at their high schools and these programs have proved successful. This story follows food from the school cafeteria to the compost site where microorganisms transform it to home gardens and nurseries where compost is applied as fertilizer and mulch. Listen to hear from an insider's view of an industrial scale composting site and how we can learn how to compost.
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird was written more than 50 years ago and yet its themes of racism and civil rights remain relevant today. In this story author James McBride who wrote The Color of Water explains why the book inspired generations of American writers.
Update: This story first aired in 2010. In July 2015, a newly discovered novel written by Harper Lee in the 1950s was published. The novel is called Go Set a Watchman.
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was only one of many schools being desegregated in accordance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This public radio story describes the attempt by nine black students to integrate Central High School in 1957. But the protests against its desegregation made Central High the symbolic focus of white resistance to civil rights for black Americans.
Google Maps is playing an unexpected role in modern-day disputes over borders, or so called "border wars." In 2010, Nicaragua claimed the Costa Rican island of Isla Calero and defended its actions by pointing out that Google Maps showed the island as Nicaraguan. A year later, the Netherlands complained that Google Maps gave land claimed by the Netherlands around the Ems River to Germany. Google says its Maps tool is only for “entertainment purposes”, and should not be used to make “territorial, political, or military decisions.” This public radio story explores how satellite mapping has changed border disputes.
Recently, Colorado State University (or CSU) proposed changing its policy of allowing students to carry concealed handguns on campus. The change has aroused opposition as well as support. In this public radio story the lawyer for a gun-rights advocacy group and a local sheriff both speak out against the move, with the advocacy lawyer claiming the group will sue the University if it moves forward and the sheriff stating that he will not enforce the law.
It is difficult to conceptualize the magnitude of our solar system but the journey of the Voyager spacecrafts can help. In September 1977 NASA launched the Voyager spacecrafts to gain information about the far off giant planets in our solar system. The spacecrafts and the project endured after studying Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and continued to travel away from earth and through our solar system. Thirty-five years after Voyager 1 left Earth, and over 11 billion miles away, it became the first man-made object to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space. Listen to learn what researchers have been researching from the edge of our solar system.
During the Great Depression, high unemployment affected millions of Americans. In this audio story, people who lived through the depression as young people share their experiences of being out of work and hungry, and depending on relatives or strangers for food. The lack of any government safety net for the unemployed meant that people who could not find work were on their own, and many had to resort to begging to survive.
Household management involves using resources wisely and being thrifty to stay within a budget. The word “economy” comes from the Greek word for household management, oikonomia. This management is difficult when people have too little money to buy what they need, which was the case for many after the stock market crashed in 1929. In an effort to make sense of what was going on, members of the U.S. government began to talk about what they called “the economy,” and they developed methods to quantify the situation and account for economic fluctuations. Listen to the story to learn more about the invention of what we call the economy and some of the means by which we measure its strength.