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Listening to America

In 1990, a quirky campaign run by the then-upstart music channel MTV encouraged its viewers to Rock the Vote. Now, three decades later, we need a similarly audacious bid to have Americans trust the validity of the vote.
The passing of the United Kingdom’s longest serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, sparks reflections on English history and former British kings named Charles. By George, the House of Windsor may have missed the mark on this one.
Our resident humanities scholar asks, what happens when the glue that holds our society together stops sticking?
The 33-year ordeal of Salman Rushdie came to head with a knife attack at a venerable cultural venue in upstate New York. That the onstage stabbing took place in America is a grim reminder of the need for eternal vigilance in defending the First Amendment.
This large and largely unpopulated western state with a rich history is pioneering a new future by setting aside several million acres of public and private land to serve as natural habitat for returning bison and other displaced animals.
Our resident humanities scholar is spending July leading tour groups that retrace the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It is an annual summer ritual, and one that has him questioning where the trail actually begins.
Assessing a terribly broken system, a veteran analyst details the conflicting dynamics and possible solutions to America's illegal immigration dilemma.
Confronting their harsh legacy, the United States has taken steps to establish a Native American Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s a move that’s long overdue.
The congressional House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol held its first prime-time televised hearing on Thursday evening. Dismissed by critics as show trials, these hearings may test the medium’s ability to capture the nation’s attention.
Competing political narratives about gun violence have not satisfied the yearning for justice after the Uvalde tragedy. Our resident humanities scholar offers four propositions to help us think through a uniquely American and polarizing problem.
With primary season underway, our resident historian examines the origins and role of primary elections in American politics and the intensification of American partisanship.
During his presidency, Roosevelt did more to conserve America’s natural resources and its places of special beauty than any other president. He convened state executives to aid in the cause, which led him to create the NGA.
Public institutions suffer when partisan drama is televised, streamed or leaked. Ill-considered legislation has to be cleaned up by the courts; confirmation processes turn dirty; and selective leaking is used to flip narrow majorities.
Elon Musk’s $44 billion deal to buy Twitter roiled the Internet despite his claims to be acting in the interests of free speech and transparency. An author argues that crowd-sourcing wisdom is a poor substitute for old-school expertise in the search for truth.
As the 50th anniversary of the break-in approaches, a recent book charts the transformation of the Nixon administration’s bungled burglary to a redefinition of America’s relationship with its leaders and institutions.
Weeks after the U.S. and the G7 countries weaponized the global financial system to impose their harshest-ever sanctions on Russia, fissures are becoming apparent. Countries impose but often backpedal on sanctions against bad actors for a simple reason — a reluctance to go to war.
The elevation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the nation’s highest court will not only make history but help shape America’s future, one case at a time.
Defending an "unteachable" classic of American literature has become the life’s work of a Twain scholar, costing him professionally and personally.
After a stormy confirmation process characterized by partisan recriminations in the U.S. Senate, Ketanji Brown Jackson appears to be set to take her seat on the Supreme Court. More than three dozen others have been denied over the last 235 years.
Just 51 years old, nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, if confirmed, would join a growing list of relatively young justices who are likely to serve for much longer than was anticipated when lifetime appointments were first codified.
Congress’ “advice and consent” to the president on appointments to the judiciary has become sharply partisan — and the numbers prove it.
Our resident historian explores three things – court packing, judicial review and meeting the expectations of the appointing presidents – that are not what you thought they were.
The radicalization of a congressional clerk in the 1800s and the introduction of the telegraph set a young country on a new trajectory.
In 1788, Thomas Jefferson hastily wrote an account of his travels in Europe for two friends. That obscure guide sent a Virginia attorney on a journey that connects past and present in unexpected ways.
Concrete, steel and turbines play an outsize role in the past and future of water in western states.
Without Henry, there might not have been a United States. But the central role this sometimes forgotten Founding Father played in America’s Revolution and design of the young republic has been largely overlooked.
Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson and the struggle for a more perfect union.
Virginia’s first Hispanic American attorney general calls for respect for the law and differences of opinion, and cutting back on how much cable news we watch.
A journalist and her husband leave California and head east to take over the 530-acre family farm.
A recent road trip results in an unplanned stop to mark the 131st anniversary of a tragedy on the Great Plains that remains indelibly stamped on a community’s memory.
About This Podcast
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The idea is to go in search of America as it exists today - a journey informed by an intimate understanding of its history - to better understand our troubled time, all of which puts its future in context. Our objective is to find people and places that help us understand what the country is thinking, what we still have in common, where the innovative work is being done, where the best practices are occurring, and who the less well known innovators are.

The collision of technology and society and the fallout consequences can be hard to figure out. History can help. Our Editor-at-Large and resident humanities scholar Clay S. Jenkinson probes important questions about where we are going by first asking about where we have been and why.