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Listening to America

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.
A liberal arts education is about more than preparing students with skills in demand in the marketplace. Author Roosevelt Montás explains how studying "the classics" can change lives and matter more than ever.
Historian H. W. Brands’ new book draws out the complexities of the country’s original great struggle and what it can tell us about where we are today.
Journalist and historian Jay Cost says this is not the time to get rid of parties but have them rise to the challenge and help make a more perfect union.
Author and federal judge Jeffrey Sutton argues the legislative branch of states should take a larger role in constitutional experimentation, and we should ask less of the judicial branch.
Robert P. Jones says systemic racism is in the DNA of American Christianity and the communities it helped shape but holds out hope for redemption. The opportunity lies in telling a truer story about the founding of the church.
As world leaders gather for the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow next week, a group of scientists who are also mothers are fighting to preserve the climate for their children here at home.
The former heavyweight boxing champion and philanthropist floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee, danced at the edge of death and spoke truth to power. A new Ken and Sarah Burns documentary compels us to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror of the "great one."
Governing’s humanities scholar in residence lays out four coping strategies for dealing with the troubled state of America. One of them demands something of us for the common good.
A new report from the federal government brings urgency to a veteran geologist’s longtime warnings about the crippling of the Colorado River.
The country is long on problems but short on levers that might help lift it out of a quagmire of its own making.
In the 1930s, the U.S. became adept at building world-leading infrastructure to support its growing competitive economy and social aspirations. Today, the advantage has slipped in favor of China and other players.
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.