Throughline

Throughline

www.npr.org/podcasts/510333/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.


How We Vote
Oct 22 • 60 min
Drunken brawls, coercion, and lace curtains. Believe it or not, how regular people vote was not something the founding fathers thought much about, or planned for. Americans went from casting votes at drunken parties in the town square to private booths…
The Electoral College
Oct 15 • 58 min
What is it, why do we have it, and why hasn’t it changed? Born from a rushed, fraught, imperfect process, the origins and evolution of the Electoral College might surprise you and make you think differently about not only this upcoming presidential…
(mis)Representative Democracy, A New Series From Throughline
Oct 8 • 1 min
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Oct 8 • 35 min
Billie Holiday helped shape American popular music with her voice and unique style. But, one song in particular has become her greatest legacy — “Strange Fruit.” The song paints an unflinching picture of racial violence, and it was an unexpected hit. But…
The Everlasting Problem
Oct 1 • 56 min
Health insurance for millions of Americans is dependent on their jobs. But it’s not like that everywhere. So, how did the U.S. end up with such a fragile system that leaves so many vulnerable or with no health insurance at all? On this episode, how a…
The Evangelical Vote
Sep 24 • 64 min
What it means to be an evangelical today and how that has changed over time.
James Baldwin’s Fire
Sep 17 • 45 min
The meaning and purpose of James Baldwin’s work and how his words can help us navigate the current moment.
The Postal Service
Sep 10 • 30 min
The US Postal Service has played a role throughout American history - from the Declaration of Independence to today’s mail-in voting. It was conceived of by the founders as the way to create a united, informed and effective American democracy. But today,…
Reframing History: Mass Incarceration
Sep 3 • 50 min
The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world, and a disproportionate number of those prisoners are Black. What are the origins of the U.S. criminal justice system and how did racism shape it? From the creation of the first…
Reframing History: Bananas
Aug 27 • 58 min
The banana is a staple of the American diet and has been for generations. But how did this exotic tropical fruit become so commonplace? How one Brooklyn-born entrepreneur ruthlessly created the modern banana industry and the infamous banana republics.
Reframing History: The Commentator
Aug 20 • 32 min
Today the foundations of philosophy are seen as a straight line from Western antiquity, built on thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle. But, between the 8th century and 14th century, the West was greatly overshadowed by the Islamic world and philosophy was…
Reframing History: The Litter Myth
Aug 13 • 34 min
There is more waste in the world today than at any time in history, and the responsibility for keeping the environment clean too often falls on individuals instead of manufacturers. But, why us? And why this feeling of responsibility? This week, how one…
America’s Caste System
Aug 6 • 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.
A.D.A. Now!
Jul 30 • 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…
Lives Of The Great Depression
Jul 23 • 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…
Borinquén
Jul 16 • 67 min
We look at Puerto Rico’s relationship with the mainland U.S. and the key figures who shaped the island’s fate.
The Long Hot Summer
Jul 9 • 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…
Mecca Under Siege
Jul 2 • 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,…
There’s Something About Mary
Jun 25 • 42 min
What the story of Typhoid Mary tells us about journalism, the powers of the state, and the tension between personal responsibility and personal liberty.
Why 2020 Isn’t Quite 1968
Jun 18 • 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…
Presidential Power
Jun 11 • 52 min
How the office of the presidency became more powerful than anything the Founding Fathers imagined possible.
American Police
Jun 4 • 64 min
The origins of American policing and how those origins put violent control of Black Americans at the heart of the system.
Hong Kong
May 28 • 45 min
This week, how Hong Kong became one of the most important, and most contested, cities in the world.
Conspiracy
May 21 • 42 min
How conspiracy theories helped to create the U.S. and became the currency of political opportunists.
The Mask
May 14 • 41 min
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.
Endless War
May 7 • 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…
Meltdown
Apr 30 • 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…
Aftermath
Apr 23 • 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…
Buzzkill
Apr 16 • 35 min
This week, three stories of the quiet legacy and the potential future of the mosquito.
Throughline Presents: Code Switch
Apr 9 • 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…
A Race To Know
Apr 2 • 41 min
This week, how race has played a central role in who is counted-in America.
1918 Flu
Mar 26 • 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…
American Socialist
Mar 19 • 63 min
This week, the story of Eugene V. Debs and the creation of American socialism.
Savarkar And India
Mar 12 • 32 min
In the past few weeks Delhi has become the latest place in India convulsed with religious violence as Hindu mobs burned Muslim neighborhoods, mosques and killed over 40 people. The violence comes in the wake of a new citizenship law that excludes…
Public Universal Friend
Mar 5 • 48 min
America in the run-up to the Revolutionary War wasn’t just a period of dramatic political change, it was also a time of great religious and social instability, anxiety and experimentation. And in the midst of it all there arose a self-proclaimed…
The Invisible Border
Feb 27 • 33 min
Today, the border that divides Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is “soft”, in most places you could almost forget that it’s there. But for decades it was a deadly flash point in the bitter conflict known as “The Troubles” . This week, we share…
The Stars
Feb 20 • 58 min
The story of how finding our fates in the stars moved from the fringes to the mainstream and became a multi-billion dollar industry.
Becoming America
Feb 13 • 33 min
When the United States of America was founded, it was only a union of a small number of states. By the beginning of the 20th century, the United States had become an empire; with states and territories and colonies that spanned the globe. As a result, the…
She Got Next
Feb 6 • 61 min
How three women ran and challenged the notion of who could and should be president of the United States.
Vaccination
Jan 30 • 23 min
In this episode, we look back at a 1905 Supreme Court case that set a precedent for whether or not the state can enforce compulsory vaccinations.
Soleimani’s Iran
Jan 23 • 47 min
In this episode, the origins of the shadow commander and what he means to Iran.
Everybody Knows Somebody
Jan 16 • 59 min
In the mid-1980’s a woman who didn’t consider herself a feminist was asked to solve perhaps the biggest problem women face.
There Will Be Bananas
Jan 9 • 56 min
How one Brooklyn-born entrepreneur ruthlessly created the modern banana industry and the infamous banana republics.
Fear of Technology
Jan 2 • 36 min
From the tractor to talking robots, society has feared innovations. But usefulness usually overcomes resistance. Is today any different from the past?
Russia’s Vladimir Putin
Dec 26, 2019 • 36 min
In this episode, we dive into the life of Vladimir Putin and try to understand how he became Russia’s new “tsar.”
Planned Obsolescence
Dec 19, 2019 • 34 min
In a special collaboration with Planet Money, we bring you the history of planned obsolescence – the idea that products are designed to break.
America’s Opioid Epidemic
Dec 12, 2019 • 46 min
Three stories of opioids that have plagued Americans for more than 150 years.
The Electrical Grid
Dec 5, 2019 • 43 min
The battle that electrified our world and the extreme measures that were taken to get there.
Conspiracy Theories
Nov 28, 2019 • 43 min
In this episode, we’ll explore how conspiracy theories helped to create the U.S. and how they became the currency of political opportunists.
A Year Of Wonders
Nov 21, 2019 • 41 min
This week, how the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki awed, terrified and disrupted millions around the world and changed the course of history.
The Siege of Mecca
Nov 14, 2019 • 44 min
This week, how one man led an uprising that would have repercussions around the world and inspire the future of Islamic extremism.
Throughline Presents: Short Wave
Nov 9, 2019 • 25 min
NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel shares the story of Nazi Germany’s attempt to build a nuclear reactor — and how evidence of that effort was almost lost to history.
No Friend But The Mountains
Nov 7, 2019 • 43 min
This week we explore who the Kurds are, who they are to the United States and what, if anything, we owe to them.
ZOMBIES
Oct 31, 2019 • 43 min
This week, how one of our favorite monsters is a window into Haiti’s history and the horrors of slavery.
The Dark Side Of The Moon
Oct 24, 2019 • 40 min
This week, the story of how the U.S. space program was made possible by former Nazis.
A Borrowed Time
Oct 17, 2019 • 44 min
This week, how Hong Kong became one of the most important, and most contested, cities in the world.
The Commentator
Oct 10, 2019 • 30 min
This week, how one Medieval Islamic philosopher put his pen to paper and shaped the modern world.
High Crimes and Misdemeanors
Oct 3, 2019 • 19 min
This week we return to 1868 and the first presidential impeachment in U.S. history — President Andrew Johnson.
American Exile
Sep 26, 2019 • 55 min
In this episode, two stories that challenge the idea of who and why Americans sought refuge in other countries.
Puerto Rico
Sep 19, 2019 • 66 min
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.
Three Chords And The Truth
Sep 12, 2019 • 34 min
We sat down with renowned filmmaker Ken Burns to talk about his new documentary series Country music and his process as a storyteller.
The Litter Myth
Sep 5, 2019 • 35 min
How one organization changed the American public’s relationship with waste and who is ultimately responsible for it.
On The Shoulders Of Giants
Aug 29, 2019 • 40 min
We explore three stories of protest in sports that are often overlooked but essential to understanding the current debate: Jack Johnson, Wilma Rudolph, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
Strange Fruit
Aug 22, 2019 • 31 min
How singing “Strange Fruit” turned Billie Holiday into one of the first victims of the War on Drugs.
Mass Incarceration
Aug 15, 2019 • 48 min
From the creation of the first penitentiaries in the 1800s, to the “tough-on-crime” prosecutors of the 1990s, how America created a culture of mass incarceration.
Scorched Earth
Aug 8, 2019 • 31 min
Colonial powers used concentration camps at the turn of the 19th century to crush rebellions. How a war between Britain and Boers gave rise to some of the first camps.
Huey Long Vs. The Media
Aug 1, 2019 • 32 min
Who was Huey Long? He was a politician that combined progressive economic ideas with an autocratic streak, leading FDR to call him one of the most dangerous men in America.
Milliken v. Bradley
Jul 25, 2019 • 36 min
How a plan to end segregation by busing in Detroit went to the Supreme Court and had lasting implications for the rest of the country.
Rules Of Engagement
Jul 18, 2019 • 50 min
For the last 40 years, the U.S. and Iran have been in almost continual conflict. We look at three different moments in this conflict to better understand where it might go next.
Four Days In August
Jul 11, 2019 • 38 min
This week, we revisit our very first episode about an event from August 1953 — when the CIA helped to overthrow Iran’s Prime Minister.
American Anthem
Jul 4, 2019 • 28 min
This week, we share three stories from NPR Music’s American Anthem series that highlight the origins of songs that have become ingrained in American culture.
Before Stonewall
Jun 27, 2019 • 40 min
The protests at The Stonewall Inn 50 years ago fueled the gay rights movement. But gay activists were fighting harassment and discrimination years before.
The X On The Map
Jun 20, 2019 • 41 min
How the murder of an unarmed black civil rights activist in 1965 lead to the march to Montgomery that ended in “Bloody Sunday.”
Apocalypse Now
Jun 13, 2019 • 56 min
Evangelicals have played an important role in modern day American politics, but what exactly does it means to be an evangelical today and how it has changed over time?
Mitch McConnell
Jun 6, 2019 • 33 min
Mitch McConnell is one of the least popular politicians in the country, so how did he win eight consecutive elections? This week, we share an Embedded ep. that traces his history.
Savarkar’s India
May 30, 2019 • 34 min
Right-wing Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi has won reelection as Prime Minister of India. We look back at Vinayak Savarkar, one of the architects of Hindu nationalism.
A Dream Of Modern China
May 23, 2019 • 47 min
China is a world superpower today. But just over a century ago, the country was in complete turmoil. How one man led a movement to reshape China as we know — Sun Yat-sen.
El Libertador
May 16, 2019 • 56 min
We look back at the rise and fall of Venezuela through the lives of two revolutionaries turned authoritarian leaders: Simón Bolívar and Hugo Chávez.
White Nationalism
May 9, 2019 • 34 min
How has white nationalism shaped U.S. immigration policy in the 20th century? This week, we share an episode we loved from It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders.
Outbreak
May 2, 2019 • 22 min
A deadly smallpox epidemic in the early 1900s and a Boston-area minister who refused mandatory vaccination — how his case ended up in front of the Supreme Court.
Resistance Is Futile
Apr 25, 2019 • 37 min
From the tractor to talking robots, society has feared innovations. But usefulness usually overcomes resistance. Is today any different from the past?
War Of The Worlds
Apr 18, 2019 • 35 min
Two sects of Islam, 1400 years of history, and three stories to help us better understand the Sunni-Shia divide.
Nancy Pelosi
Apr 11, 2019 • 24 min
Nancy Pelosi is widely seen as the most powerful woman in U.S. politics. Follow her rise from a Baltimore political family to becoming Speaker of the House twice.
Opioids In America
Apr 4, 2019 • 44 min
Three stories of opioids that have plagued Americans for more than 150 years.
The Phoebus Cartel
Mar 28, 2019 • 32 min
This week, in a special collaboration with Planet Money, we bring you the history of planned obsolescence – the idea that products are designed to break.
The Border
Mar 21, 2019 • 15 min
In this week’s episode, the history of militarization at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Moth
Mar 14, 2019 • 34 min
In this episode, we dive into the life of Vladimir Putin and try to understand how he became Russia’s new “tsar.”
American Shadows
Mar 7, 2019 • 41 min
In this episode, we’ll explore how conspiracy theories helped to create the U.S. and how they became the currency of political opportunists.
High Crimes And Misdemeanors
Feb 28, 2019 • 17 min
This week we return to 1868 and the first presidential impeachment in U.S. history — President Andrew Johnson.
The Forgotten War
Feb 21, 2019 • 34 min
What’s fueled the hostility between the U.S. and North Korea? We look back at the tangled history.
On the Shoulders of Giants
Feb 14, 2019 • 39 min
We explore three stories of protest in sports that are often overlooked but essential to understanding the current debate: Jack Johnson, Wilma Rudolph, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
Four Days in August
Feb 7, 2019 • 37 min
This week we look back at four days in August 1953, when the CIA orchestrated a coup of Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
Introducing Throughline
Jan 30, 2019 • 2 min
NPR’s new history podcast hosted by Ramtin Arablouei and Rund Abdelfatah. New episodes every Thursday starting February 7th.