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.
Throughline
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Throughline

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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.

Most Recent Episodes

A man stands before the American Flag. Hokyoung Kim for NPR hide caption

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Hokyoung Kim for NPR

Conspiracy

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.

Conspiracy

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A plague doctor in protective clothing. The beak mask was filled with incense thought to purify air and the cane was used to avoid touching patients. Artwork by Paul Furst. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Mask

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.

The Mask

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South Korean mothers and children shield themselves as they watch U.S. 105mm howitzers blast enemy positions across the Han River. The attack occurred during the U.S. drive from Gimpo to Seoul on Sept. 24, 1950. FRANK NOEL/AP hide caption

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FRANK NOEL/AP

Endless War

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 that history from the very beginning.

Endless War

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The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant two days after a meltdown forced a temporary closure of the plant. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive hide caption

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Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Meltdown

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.

Meltdown

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Aerial view of one of the burst dikes on the Mississippi River, April 1927. ullstein bild Dtl./ullstein bild via Getty Images hide caption

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ullstein bild Dtl./ullstein bild via Getty Images

Aftermath

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 vulnerable? This week, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and what came after.

Aftermath

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Adult female mosquitoes are seen under a microscope at the Sun Yat-Sen University-Michigan University Joint Center of Vector Control for Tropical Disease on June 21, 2016 in Guangzhou, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images hide caption

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Buzzkill

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.

Buzzkill

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An artist's depiction of how the Trail of Tears is related to the Treaty of New Echota. Weshoyot Alvitre for NPR hide caption

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Weshoyot Alvitre for NPR

Throughline Presents: Code Switch

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.

Throughline Presents: Code Switch

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A census table listing the number of slaves and freed slaves over the decades. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture/The New York Public Library hide caption

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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture/The New York Public Library

A Race To Know

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.

A Race To Know

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Red Cross nurses assembling cloth masks during the 1918 flu pandemic in the United States. Apic/Getty Images hide caption

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Apic/Getty Images

1918 Flu

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.

1918 Flu

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Eugene V. Debs. Library of Congress hide caption

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Library of Congress

American Socialist

It's been over a century since a self-described socialist was a viable candidate for President of the United States. And that first socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs, didn't just capture significant votes, he created a new and enduring populist politics deep in the American grain. This week, the story of Eugene V. Debs and the creation of American socialism.

American Socialist

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