HISTORY This Week
A Concubine Rises to Rule China
April 27, 1856. In Beijing’s Forbidden City, one of the emperor’s consorts, a woman named Cixi, has given birth to a son – the emperor’s first heir. This landmark event is met with mass celebration. But in just five years time, the emperor will be dead and Cixi will be planning a coup to take power for herself. How will she ever succeed?
Special thanks to our guests: Jung Chang, author of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China and Professor Ying-chen Peng, author of Artful Subversion: Empress Dowager Cixi's Image Making in Art.
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Reflecting on History26:42August 14, 2023. The HTW team is ready to talk. In a special episode that wraps up Season 4, Sally asks the people behind the scenes about lessons they've learned from telling hundreds of true stories about the past. It’s a great conversation you’re not going to want to miss. And when you’re finished, please fill out our listener survey: bit.ly/htw2023.
History’s Undelivered Speeches35:06August 8, 1974. President Richard Nixon sits in the Oval Office, addressing the American people. He tells them: I’m going to resign. The news is shocking, but not unexpected. Today, it might even seem inevitable. But in the days leading up to the big decision, Nixon himself didn’t know what he would do. At night he roamed the halls of the White House, torturously weighing his options. He even ordered a speechwriter to draft a statement announcing his refusal to resign. Sally Helm sits down with political speechwriter Jeff Nussbaum to talk about this curious kind of a document: a speech that could’ve changed history if only it had been given. They discuss what Nixon, and two other speech givers, would have felt preparing multiple drafts, as they faced an uncertain future, and how the world would be different had these speeches been given.Special thanks to our guest: Jeff Nussbaum, author of Undelivered: The Never-Heard Speeches That Would Have Rewritten History.
Special Announcement00:48We’ll be back next week with a regular episode, but please listen to this for an important HTW update!
The Donner Party Turns Deadly28:22August 4, 1846. A few months into their journey from Illinois to California, a group of pioneers encounters trouble. They’ve just found a note from their guide. It essentially says, “That shortcut I told you to take through the Wasatch Mountains – don’t.” The setback disastrously delays their trip. Weeks later, when they reach the Sierra Nevada, it’s dangerously late in the season. Soon, a winter storm traps them in the mountains. What did they have to do to survive? And what’s the truth behind the legendary Donner Party? Special thanks to our guest: Daniel James Brown, author of The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride.
Destroyer of Worlds (Replay)28:16July 16, 1945. It happened within a millionth of a second. In the New Mexico desert in the early morning hours, a group of scientists watched in anticipation as the countdown began. It was silent at first, yet hot and unbelievably bright. Then came the sound. The first-ever atomic bomb explosion... was a success. How did scientists working on the Manhattan Project create what was then the most powerful weapon in history? And how did the bomb’s existence forever change our sense of what human beings are capable of? Thank you to our guest Dr. Jon Hunner, a professor emeritus of U.S. history at New Mexico State University and author of Inventing Los Alamos: The Growth of an Atomic Community and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the Atomic West. This episode originally aired July 13, 2020.
Barbie for President!32:22July 29th, 1992. The Baltimore Sun runs a feature about a surprise candidate in the upcoming presidential race: Barbie. The 11.5-inch icon of girlhood and glamor is running for office – and flying off the shelves. But how did a plaything become important enough to make national news? To answer that question, we take you on a journey through doll history, from French porcelain beauties to cherubs that stood for women’s suffrage. And of course, the doll who taught us how fun life in plastic could be. How did these dolls revolutionize play and even politics? And what do they have to tell us about ourselves? Special thanks to our guests: Florence Theriault, doll expert and founder of Theriault’s antique auction firm; Pat Wahler, author of The Rose of Washington Square: A Novel of Rose O'Neill, Creator of the Kewpie Doll; and Robin Gerber, author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.
John Muir’s Quest to Save the Great Outdoors27:33July 19, 1869. Naturalist John Muir watches the sun rise over the Sierra Nevada mountains. He’ll write in his journal of the stirring birds, glowing treetops, and even rocks that “seem to thrill with life.” He’s so taken with this landscape that he’ll decide to stay in the Yosemite Valley and try to protect it with the only weapon he has: the pen. How did Muir collide with the political forces of his day and help bring about National Parks as we know them? And how did he change the way many Americans think about the natural world?Special thanks to our guest: Dean King, author of Guardians of the Valley: John Muir and the Friendship That Saved Yosemite.
The USS Indianapolis’ Secret Mission Turns into Tragedy27:12July 16, 1945. It’s the summer of 1945 and World War II is underway. The USS Indianapolis has just set out from Mare Island on a top-secret mission. The famous vessel is delivering enriched uranium and other components of “Little Boy” to Tinian Island. The mission is technically a success, but for the men aboard the Indianapolis, the challenges are just beginning. On July 30, the ship is struck by two Japanese torpedoes, stranding its sailors at sea. For three and a half days, survivors are left floating in the Pacific Ocean, fending off sun exposure, dehydration, and shark attacks – and waiting for help. Were any able to survive? And could this attack have been prevented?Special thanks to our guest: Sara Vladic, co-author of Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man. She’s also the director of the documentary USS Indianapolis: The Legacy.
Chasing Utopia26:47July 8, 1843. Amidst the rolling hills of rural Massachusetts, a group of Transcendentalists come together to form a collective built around self-perfection and reverence for nature. And on this day poet Ralph Waldo Emerson stops by for a visit. Their name for this experimental Eden? Fruitlands. But every Eden has its fall, and by the time autumn winds blow over their 90 acres, the Fruitlanders are in trouble. How did a group of thinkers, writers, and educators come together to form one of the most famous utopian failures of the 19th century? And what can we learn from their attempt?Special thanks to our guests, Richard Francis, author of Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia. And Catherine Shortliffe, Engagement Manager of the Fruitlands Museum and the Old Manse at The Trustees.