Throughline

Throughline

The past is never past. Every headline has a history. Join us every week as we go back in time to understand the present. These are stories you can feel and sounds you can see from the moments that shaped our world.... Show More

Episodes

August 5, 2020 40 min
"Race" is often used as a fundamental way to understand American history. But what if "caste" is the more appropriate lens? In conversation with Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, we examine the hidden system that has shaped our country.
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July 29, 2020 62 min
This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is considered the most important civil rights law since the 1960s. Through first-person stories, we look back at the making of this movement, the history of how disability came to be seen as a civil rights issue, and what the disability community is still fighting for 30 years later.
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July 22, 2020 47 min
The Great Depression was a revolutionary spark for all kinds of things — health insurance, social safety nets, big government — all of which were in response to a national crisis. Through the personal accounts of four people who lived during the Great Depression, we look back at what life was like back then and what those stories can teach us about the last time the U.S. went through a national economic cataclysm.
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July 15, 2020 67 min
Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 and for much of the next fifty years Puerto Ricans fought fiercely about this status. Should they struggle for independence, or to be a U.S. state, or something in between? In this episode, we look at Puerto Rico's relationship with the mainland U.S. and the key figures who shaped the island's fate.
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July 8, 2020 43 min
Starting in 1965, summer after summer, America's cities burned. There was civil unrest in more than 150 cities across the country. So in 1967, Lyndon Johnson appointed a commission to diagnose the root causes of the problem and to suggest solutions. What the so called "Kerner Commission" returned with was hotly anticipated and shocking to many Americans. This week, how that report and the reaction to it continues to sha...
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July 1, 2020 45 min
Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, is effectively canceled this year, due to concerns around the spread of the coronavirus. But, for two weeks in 1979, visits to the holy site were also upended when a group of Islamic militants seized Mecca, taking thousands of visitors hostage.
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June 24, 2020 42 min
When a cook who carried typhoid fever refused to stop working, despite showing no symptoms, the authorities forcibly quarantined her for nearly three decades. Perfect villain or just a woman scapegoated because of her background? What the story of Typhoid Mary tells us about journalism, the powers of the state, and the tension between personal responsibility and personal liberty.
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June 17, 2020 28 min
Protests, racial divisions, political polarization, and a law-and-order president – it's easy to draw comparisons between 2020 and 1968. But, Adam Serwer, who covers politics at The Atlantic, says that a much better point of comparison actually starts a century earlier – 1868. This week, we share an episode we loved from It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders that explores a moment when white Republicans fought for years for ...
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June 10, 2020 52 min
What can and can't the president do, and how do we know? When the framers of the U.S. constitution left vague the powers of the executive branch they opened the door to every president to decide how much power they could claim. This week, how the office of the presidency became more powerful than anything the Founding Fathers imagined possible.
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June 3, 2020 64 min
Black Americans being victimized and killed by the police is an epidemic. A truth many Americans are acknowledging since the murder of George Floyd, as protests have occurred in all fifty states calling for justice on his behalf. But this tension between African American communities and the police has existed for centuries. This week, the origins of American policing and how those origins put violent control of Black Americans at t...
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May 27, 2020 45 min
Last week, the Chinese government made the latest and perhaps the most serious move yet to crack down on Hong Kong's semi-autonomy. It's just the latest such effort by Beijing in the decades-long tensions between China and Hong Kong and it seems to take advantage of the quarantine calm that has subdued months of protests. But when did these tensions begin and what have Hong Kongers been fighting for?
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May 20, 2020 42 min
Since the beginning of the pandemic, conspiracy theories about the coronavirus have exploded. But conspiracy theories themselves are nothing new - in fact, they're fundamental to American life. In this episode, how conspiracy theories helped to create the U.S. and became the currency of political opportunists.
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May 13, 2020 41 min
The N95 respirator has become one of the most coveted items in the world, especially by medical professionals. But how did this seemingly simple mask become the lifesaving tool it is today? From bird beaks to wrapping paper to bras, we follow the curious history of one of the most important defenses in our fight against COVID-19.
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May 6, 2020 36 min
North Korea's famous for being a black box, one of the most secretive and authoritarian countries in the world. It has a nuclear stockpile. A history of erratic behavior. And a particular fixation on antagonizing the outside world — especially the United States. This cycle of antagonism isn't an accident – the U.S. has played a formative role in the history of North Korea. And North Korea's leaders have been invoking th...
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April 29, 2020 54 min
In the early hours of March 28, 1979, a system malfunction began what would become the worst nuclear accident in American history. What ensued punctured the public's belief in the safety of nuclear energy and became an awful study in the consequences of communication breakdown during a crisis. This week, the fallout of who and what to trust when a catastrophic event occurs.
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April 22, 2020 55 min
In 1927, the most destructive river flood in U.S. history inundated seven states, displaced more than half a million people for months, and caused about $1 billion dollars in property damages. And like many national emergencies it exposed a stark question that the country still struggles to answer - what is the political calculus used to decide who bears the ultimate responsibility in a crisis, especially when it comes to the most ...
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April 15, 2020 35 min
In the whole of human history, no predator has killed more of us than the lowly mosquito. And this killing spree, which we still struggle in vain to stop, means the mosquito has been an outsized force in our history — from altering the fate of empires to changing our DNA. This week, three stories of the quiet legacy and the potential future of the mosquito.
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April 8, 2020 32 min
The Principal Chief of Cherokee Nation told his people to stay strong during this pandemic, and to remember how much they've endured over a long history that includes the Trail of Tears. This week, we share an episode from Code Switch that takes a look at an almost 200-year-old Cherokee family feud, the right to representation and what both things have to do with the Trail of Tears.
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April 1, 2020 41 min
For nearly as long as there has been a United States there has been a census, it is in some ways how we know ourselves. And in every single census there has been at least one question about race. The evolution of these questions and the fight over asking them is at the heart of the American story. This week, how race has played a central role in who is counted-in America.
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March 25, 2020 38 min
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic it's tempting to draw comparisons to the most severe pandemic in recent history - the 1918 flu. But as much as we can learn from the comparison, it's important to also understand just how much these two pandemics differ. This week, what we can learn from what happened then and, just as importantly, where the comparison should end.
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