Show cover of 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.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


A.D.A. Now! (2020)
The Americans with Disabilities Act 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 in the first place, and what the disability community is still fighting for more than 30 years later.
58:10 30/11/2023
How U.S. Unions Took Flight
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.
47:29 23/11/2023
A History of Hamas
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.
51:41 16/11/2023
Grenada: Nobody's Backyard (2021)
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.
57:51 09/11/2023
The Supreme Court's Shadow Docket
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.
49:42 02/11/2023
The Three Faces of Ataturk
"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.
53:27 26/10/2023
The Dance of the Dead (2021)
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.
50:20 19/10/2023
The Contradictions of Abraham Lincoln
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.
49:16 12/10/2023
Two Miles Down The Road
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.
55:01 05/10/2023
Tenochtitlán: A Retelling of the Conquest (2021)
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.
52:33 28/09/2023
David v Goliath
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.
51:48 21/09/2023
A Tale of Two Tribal Nations
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
51:15 14/09/2023
Silicon Island (2022)
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.
48:49 07/09/2023
How Korean Culture Went Global (2022)
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.
48:25 31/08/2023
By Accident of Birth (2022)
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.
58:24 24/08/2023
The Characters That Built China (2022)
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.
49:22 17/08/2023
The Lavender Scare
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.
51:07 10/08/2023
Getting to Sesame Street (2022)
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
49:13 03/08/2023
The Hidden War
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.
52:24 27/07/2023
All Wars Are Fought Twice (2022)
"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.
47:54 20/07/2023
No Bad Ideas?
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.
51:12 13/07/2023
The Legacy of Henry Kissinger
Depending on where you stand, Henry Kissinger is either a foreign policy mastermind or a war criminal. Some see him as a brilliant strategist who made tough but necessary decisions to advance American interests in a complex world; others point to his infamous order that American warplanes should "bomb anything that flies, on anything that moves" as evidence that he bears responsibility for the loss of countless civilian lives. But one thing both sides agree on is that few figures in the 20th century have had a more profound influence on how the U.S. conducts foreign policy.Kissinger grew up in an orthodox Jewish household in Germany, under the shadow of the Nazis' rise to power; he and his family fled to the U.S. when he was a teenager. Professor Jeremi Suri, author of "Henry Kissinger and the American Century," argues that Kissinger's experiences during the Holocaust have informed his approach to global politics throughout his career, as well as his relationship with democracy, war, and power. Today on the show, how Henry Kissinger shaped, and was shaped by, the 20th century.
49:25 06/07/2023
After Roe: A New Battlefield (2022)
The Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade transformed the landscape of abortion rights overnight. For the doctors, lawyers, feminists, and others who had fought for nationwide legalization, Roe was the end of a long battle. But for the growing movement against abortion rights, it was the beginning of a new battle: to protect the fetus, challenge abortion providers, and ultimately overturn Roe. This is the story of how opponents of abortion rights banded together, built power, and launched one of the most successful grassroots campaigns of the past century.
52:11 29/06/2023
The Labor Of Love
There's a powerful fantasy in American society: the fantasy of the ideal mother. This mother is devoted to her family above all else. She raises the kids, volunteers at the school, cleans the house, plans the birthday parties, cares for her own parents. She's a natural nurturer. And she's happy to do it all for free. Problem is? She's imaginary. And yet the idea of her permeates our culture, our economy, and our social policy – and it distorts them. The U.S. doesn't have universal health insurance or universal childcare. We don't have federally mandated paid family leave or a meaningful social safety net for when times get rough. Instead, we have this imaginary mother. We've structured our society as though she exists — but she doesn't. And we all pay the real-life price.
52:37 22/06/2023
Affirmative Action
This conversation was recorded ahead of the Supreme Court's expected decision on affirmative action. As of publishing, no decision has been issued.The Supreme Court is expected to rule on affirmative action sometime this month. Most of us understand that some colleges use race as a factor in college admissions. But journalist Jay Caspian Kang argues that this focus is too narrow, and that it avoids harder conversations we need to have as a culture. In his view, focusing on the admissions practices of a select few universities creates "a fight for spots in the elite ranks of society" — and blinds us to the bigger problems plaguing American democracy. On today's episode, we talk with Kang about affirmative action's origins in the civil rights era, what it does and doesn't achieve, and what a more equitable education system could look like.
49:41 15/06/2023
Before Roe: The Physicians' Crusade (2022)
Abortion wasn't always controversial. In fact, in colonial America it would have been considered a fairly common practice: a private decision made by women, and aided mostly by midwives. But in the mid-1800s, a small group of physicians set out to change that. Obstetrics was a new field, and they wanted it to be their domain—meaning, the domain of men and medicine. Led by a zealous young doctor named Horatio Storer, they launched a campaign to make abortion illegal in every state, spreading a potent cloud of moral righteousness and racial panic that one historian later called "the physicians' crusade." And so began the century of criminalization.In the first episode of a two-part series, we're telling the story of that century: how doctors put themselves at the center of legal battles over abortion, first to criminalize — and then to legalize.
52:48 08/06/2023
The Ghost in Your Phone
It's hot. A mother works outside, a baby strapped to her back. The two of them breathe in toxic dust, day after day. And they're just two of thousands, cramped so close together it's hard to move, all facing down the mountain of cobalt stone. Cobalt mining is one of the world's most dangerous jobs. And it's also one of the most essential: cobalt is what powers the batteries in your smartphone, your laptop, the electric car you felt good about buying. More than three-quarters of the world's cobalt supply lies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose abundant resources have drawn greed and grifters for centuries. Today on the show: the fight for control of those resources, and for the dignity of the people who produce them.
52:19 01/06/2023
The Freedom of Speech
Book bans, disinformation, the wild world of the internet. Free speech debates are all around us. What were the Founding Fathers thinking when they created the First Amendment, and how have the words they wrote in the 18th century been stretched and shaped to fit a world they never could have imagined? It's a story that travels through world wars and culture wars. Through the highest courts and the Ku Klux Klan. What exactly is free speech, and how has the answer to that question changed in the history of the U.S.?
49:07 25/05/2023
History Is Over (2021)
As the end of the 20th century approached, Radiohead took to the recording studio to capture the sound of a society that felt like it was fraying at the edges. Many people had high hopes for the new millennium, but for others a low hum of anxiety lurked just beneath the surface as the world changed rapidly and fears of a Y2K meltdown loomed.Amidst all the unease, the famed British band began recording their highly anticipated follow ups to their career-changing album OK Computer. Those two albums, Kid A and Amnesiac, released in 2000 and 2001, were entrancing and eerie — they documented the struggle to redefine humanity, recalibrate, and get a grip on an uncertain world. In this episode, we travel back to the turn of the millennium with Thom Yorke and Stanley Donwood and the music of Kid A and Amnesiac.
50:40 18/05/2023
Mythos and Melodrama in the Philippines
Corruption. Wealth. Authoritarianism. Torture. These are the words many people associate with Ferdinand Marcos, the former dictator of the Philippines, and his wife, Imelda. But in 1965, on the day of his presidential inauguration, clad in bright white traditional Filipino clothing, Ferdinand and Imelda were the picture of hope and progress: the Camelot of the Philippines. They styled themselves as mythical figures with a divine right to rule, even as their democratic ascent reached a dictatorial peak.Ferdinand Marcos ruled for two decades. And then, in 2022, more than thirty years after his death, the Philippines elected a new president: Ferdinand's son, Bongbong. Both in his campaign and since taking office, Bongbong has evoked the Marcos era as a golden age — effectively, rewriting history.Welcome to the "Epic of Marcos." In this tale of a family that's larger than life, Ferdinand Marcos is at the center. But the figures that surround him are just as important: Imelda, his muse; Bongbong, his heir; and the United States, his faithful sidekick. The story of the Marcos family is a blueprint for authoritarianism, laying out clearly how melodrama, paranoia, love, betrayal and a hunger for power collide to create a myth capable of propelling a nation. Today on the show, the rise, fall, and resurrection of a dynasty — and what that means for democracy worldwide.
52:10 11/05/2023

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