Subscribe to Throughline+. You'll be supporting the history-reframing, perspective-shifting, time-warping stories you can't get enough of - and you'll unlock access bonus episodes and sponsor-free listening. Learn more at plus.npr.org/throughline
Hot Labor Summer has continued into fall as workers in industries from retail and carmaking to healthcare and Hollywood have organized and gone on strike. Public support for the U.S. labor movement is close to the highest it's been in 60 years. And that's no surprise to people who work in one particular industry: the airlines. Airline workers — pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, baggage handlers, and more — represent a huge cross-section of the country. And for decades, they've used their unions to fight not just for better working conditions, but for civil rights, charting a course that leads right up to today. In this episode, we turn an eye to the sky to see how American unions took flight.
On October 7th, the organization Hamas, which is also the ruling government of Gaza, perpetrated an attack just across the border in Israel. The Israeli government says that the attack killed around 1200 people, most of them civilians. And Hamas also kidnapped hundreds more, including women and children, and took them back to Gaza as hostages. In response, Israel has bombarded and invaded Gaza. More than 11,000 people have been killed, and many more displaced. Since that day we've heard from many of you, our listeners, with questions about Hamas. So we took a few weeks to talk to experts on all sides to answer those questions – people who know the history deeply, and have even participated in it. Today on the show: the origins of Hamas, the context in which it developed, and what it represents to Palestinians, Israelis, and the rest of the world.
A Marxist revolution, a Cold War proxy battle, and a dream of a Black utopia. In 1983, Ronald Reagan ordered the U.S. military to invade the island of Grenada. Forty years later, many Americans don't remember why — or that it even happened. This week, Martine Powers, from Post Reports, brings us a story of revolution, invasion, and the aftermath of unresolved history.
Roe. Brown. Obergefell. Dobbs. These Supreme Court decisions are the ones that make headlines, and eventually history books. But today, the vast majority of the Court's work actually happens out of the public eye, on what's become known as the shadow docket. The story of that transformation spans more than a century, and doesn't fall neatly along partisan lines. Today on the show: how the so-called court of last resort has gained more and more power over American policy, and why the debates we don't see are often more important than the ones we do.
"Authority, without any condition and reservation, belongs to the nation." A military commander named Mustafa Kemal uttered these words in 1923, on the eve of the founding of the Republic of Turkey. He would later rename himself Ataturk, "Father of the Turks." And he was outlining a vision for the future: a future where old empires were buried and new nations reigned supreme. That vision would resonate beyond the borders of the new Turkey, becoming a shining example for leaders around the world of how to build a single unified national identity — no matter the cost.
Long before it was a sugary moviefest, the Halloween we know was called Samhain. The Celts of ancient Ireland believed Samhain was a night when the barrier between worlds was thin, the dead could cross over, and if you didn't disguise yourself, evil fairies might spirit you away. Over time the holiday shape-shifted too, thanks to the Catholic Church, pagan groups, and even the brewing company Coors. From the Great Famine of Ireland to Elvira and the Simpsons, we present the many faces of Halloween.
In 1855, Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to his best friend, Joshua Speed. Speed was from a wealthy, slave-owning Kentucky family; Lincoln believed slavery was wrong. You are mistaken about this, Lincoln wrote to Speed. But, differ we must." One way for Lincoln to have dealt with his best friend, I suppose, would be to say you're a horrible person, you're morally wrong, and I shun you," says NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Lincoln did not take that approach, which I think might be a little controversial today."You might know Steve primarily for hosting NPR's Morning Edition. He also writes histories, and his newest book, "Differ We Must: How Lincoln Succeeded in a Divided America," takes a long hard look at Lincoln the politician: the man who went out of his way to build political consensus, even with people whose views he considered noxious. It's a case for why we should collaborate, and yes, compromise with people across the aisle – not because it's nice or the right thing to do, but because it makes our government work. Today on Throughline, a conversation with Steve Inskeep about the contradictions of Abraham Lincoln.
Deborah and Ken Ferruccio saw the toxic chemical spill while they were driving home late one summer night in 1978: a big smelly swath of brown oil on the side of the road. Reverend Willie T. Ramey saw it too. He was a pastor at two local churches and a respected community leader. And not long after that highway spill, he agreed to meet the Ferruccios just after midnight in a barn in Warren County, North Carolina. The Ferruccios told Reverend Ramey they needed his help. Someone was dumping toxic waste in their county, and they needed to organize. Today on the show: how a group of local citizens in a poor, rural, majority Black community came together to fight an iconic battle for environmental justice – and how their work laid a path that leads right up to today.
In a sense, 1521 is Mexico's 1619. A foundational moment that for centuries has been shaped by just one perspective: a European one. The story of how Hernán Cortés and a few hundred Spaniards conquered the mighty Aztec Empire, in the heart of what's now modern Mexico City, has become a foundational myth of European dominance in the Americas. And for a long time it was largely accepted as truth. But in recent decades researchers have pieced together a more nuanced, complicated version based on Indigenous accounts: a version that challenges what one historian calls "the greatest PR job in the history of the West." In this episode, the real story of the fall of Tenochtitlán.
In the year 1258, more than 100,000 soldiers amassed outside the great Islamic city of Baghdad. They were the Mongol Army, led by the grandson of the fearsome Genghis Khan. Within weeks, they'd left the city – which had stood as the center of power and commerce in the Muslim world for nearly 500 years – smoldering in a grotesque heap. And that was just the beginning. The Mongols would continue to push West, conquering Muslim cities until there was just one left in their way: Cairo. In the valley where it is said David once met Goliath, an unlikely group of slave soldiers fought a battle that would decide the fate of the Islamic world. A battle you may never have heard of that's as important to world history as D-Day or Gettysburg. It's a story full of personal and societal rivalries, political scheming, vengeance, and treachery – a real-life Game of Thrones. The Battle of Ayn Jalut.
The word "reservation" implies "reserved" – as in, this land is reserved for Native Americans. But most reservation land actually isn't owned by tribes. Instead it's checkerboarded into private farmland, federal forests, summer camps, even resorts. That's true for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, where the tribe owns just a tiny fraction of its reservation land. But just northwest of Leech Lake is Red Lake: one of the only reservations in the country where the tribe owns all of its land. So what happened? In this episode, we take a road trip through Leech Lake and Red Lake to tell a tale of two tribal nations, the moments of choice that led them down very different paths, and what the future looks like from where they are now
In a world where computer chips run everything from laptops to cars to the Nintendo Switch, Taiwan is the undisputed leader. It's one of the most powerful tech centers in the world — so powerful that both China and the U.S. have vital interests there. But if you went back to the Taiwan of the 1950s, this would have seemed unimaginable. It was a quiet, sleepy island; an agrarian culture. Fifty years later, it experienced what many recall as an "economic miracle" — a transformation into not just one of Asia's economic powerhouses, but one of the world's.
From BTS to Squid Game to high-end beauty standards, South Korea reigns as a global exporter of pop culture and entertainment. Just 70 years ago, it would have seemed impossible. For the next episode in our "Superpower" series, exploring U.S. connections to East Asia, we tell the story of South Korea's rise from a war-decimated state to a major driver of global soft power: a story of war, occupation, economic crisis, and national strategy that breaks around the world as the Korean Wave.
In August of 1895, a ship called the SS Coptic approached the coast of Northern California. On that boat was a passenger from San Francisco, a young man named Wong Kim Ark. He was returning home after visiting his wife and child in China, and he'd taken similar trips before. But when the ship docked, officials told him he couldn't get off. The customs agent barred him according to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which denied citizenship to Chinese immigrants. Though Wong Kim Ark had been born in the U.S. and lived his whole life here, the agent said he was not a citizen. U.S. history, politics, and culture is deeply linked to East Asian countries like China, South Korea, and Taiwan. This month, we're telling some of those stories, in our series "Superpower." Today, the story of Wong Kim Ark, whose epic fight to be recognized as a citizen in his own country led to a Supreme Court decision affirming birthright citizenship for all.
Today, China is a global superpower. But less than two hundred years ago, the nation was in a state of decline. After what became known as the 'century of humiliation' at the hands of Western imperialist powers, its very survival was in question. A movement arose to fight off foreign interference and preserve Chinese culture in the face of intense pressure from a rapidly-changing world. And the key to that movement was language.In this episode, we follow three key reformers who worked to modernize written and spoken Chinese, sometimes risking their lives to do so. Their work simplified Chinese, standardized it, and took it from an inaccessible language built for the elite to a modern language for the masses. It was a struggle that spanned generations, changed the fate of millions of people, and helped create the powerful modern nation-state of China.
One day in late April 1958, a young economist named Madeleine Tress was approached by two men in suits at her office at the U.S. Department of Commerce. They took her to a private room, turned on a tape recorder, and demanded she respond to allegations that she was an "admitted homosexual." Two weeks later, she resigned. Madeleine was one of thousands of victims of a purge of gay and lesbian people ordered at the highest levels of the U.S. government: a program spurred by a panic that destroyed careers and lives and lasted more than forty years. Today, it's known as the "Lavender Scare." In a moment when LGBTQ+ rights are again in the public crosshairs, we tell the story of the Lavender Scare: its victims, its proponents, and a man who fought for decades to end it.
American schools have always been more than where we go to learn the ABCs: They're places where socialization happens and cultural norms are developed. And arguments over what those norms are and how they're communicated tend to flare up during moments of cultural anxiety — like the one we're in now. When it premiered in 1969, the kids' TV show Sesame Street was part of a larger movement to reach lower-income, less privileged and more "urban" children. It was part of LBJ's Great Society agenda. And though it was funded in part by taxpayer dollars, Sesame Street is a TV show, not a classroom, and it set out to answer the question of what it means to educate kids. Today: how a television show made to represent Harlem and the Bronx reached children across a divided country, and how the conversations on the street have changed alongside us
How does a country go from its leader winning the Nobel Peace Prize to all-out war in just one year? That's the question surrounding Ethiopia, which has become embroiled in one of the deadliest wars of the 21st century. The U.S. has called it an ethnic cleansing campaign against Tigrayans, a minority group in the country; some human rights organizations have called it a genocide. But many people outside Ethiopia and its diaspora had no idea it was happening. In U.S. media, it's hardly discussed, even as violence has intensified throughout the country. In this episode, we tell the story of Ethiopia — the oldest independent country in Africa — and the political, cultural and religious factors that led to this war.
"All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory," writes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen. This week on Throughline, we want to pause the news cycle to think about not just how war is experienced or consumed, but how it's remembered. A refugee from the Vietnam War, Nguyen calls himself a scholar of memory — someone who studies how we remember events of the past, both as people and as nations. As the war in Ukraine continues and conflicts around the globe displace millions, we speak with Nguyen about national memory, selective forgetting, and the refugee stories that might ultimately help us move forward.
Humans have always created. But historian Samuel W. Franklin argues that "creativity" didn't become a social value until the Cold War. Today, we're at another inflection point for humanity, technology, and national identity. The meaning of originality is blurring; there are legal disputes about what constitutes original art; and AI can write a song like your favorite artist in seconds. So what does it mean to put creativity on a pedestal? And what would it look like to tear it down? On this episode, we talk with Franklin, author of "The Cult of Creativity: A Surprisingly Recent History," about original thinking, AI, and how the human drive to create gets branded, packaged, and sold.