The Experiment-logo

The Experiment

History Podcasts

Each week, we tell the story of what happens when individual people confront deeply held American ideals in their own lives. We're interested in the cultural and political contradictions that reveal who we are.

Each week, we tell the story of what happens when individual people confront deeply held American ideals in their own lives. We're interested in the cultural and political contradictions that reveal who we are.


United States


Each week, we tell the story of what happens when individual people confront deeply held American ideals in their own lives. We're interested in the cultural and political contradictions that reveal who we are.




In Between Pro-life and Pro-choice

Rebecca Shrader had always thought that abortion was morally wrong. As a devout Baptist Christian, she volunteered at a clinic designed to discourage women from getting abortions. And when she got pregnant for the first time, she knew she would carry the baby to term, no matter what. But when Rebecca’s pregnancy didn’t go as planned, she started to question everything she had always believed about abortions, and about the people who choose to have them. This episode of The Experiment was...


Protecting the Capitol One Year After January 6

On January 6, 2021, William J. Walker was head of the D.C. National Guard. He had buses full of guardsmen in riot gear ready to deploy in case Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally turned dangerous. But when rioters violently stormed the Capitol building, the Guard was nowhere to be found. Walker says he was forced to wait for three hours before his superiors allowed him to send in his troops. “My soldiers were asking me, ‘Sir, what the hell is going on?’” Walker says. “‘Are they watching...


Is There Justice in Felony Murder?

This week, The Experiment takes a look at the charge that sent Anissa Jordan to prison for a crime she didn’t even know had been committed. We consider how the felony-murder rule disproportionately punishes youth of color and women, and the debate over whether the same rule is key to holding police officers responsible in the killings of civilians. This episode of The Experiment originally ran on April 29, 2021. A transcript of this episode is available. Further reading: “What Makes a...


The Wandering Soul

As the Vietnam War dragged on, the U.S. military began desperately searching for any vulnerability in its North Vietnamese enemy. In 1964, it found one: an old Vietnamese folktale about a ghost, eternal damnation, and fear—a myth that the U.S. could weaponize. And so, armed with tape recorders and microphones, American forces set out to win the war by bringing a ghost story to life. Today, The Experiment examines those efforts and the ghosts that still haunt us. This story originally aired...


How ‘Passing’ Upends a Problematic Hollywood History

Hollywood has a long history of “passing movies”—films in which Black characters pass for white—usually starring white actors. Even as these films have attempted to depict the devastating effect of racism in America, they have trafficked in tired tropes about Blackness. But a new movie from actor-writer-director Rebecca Hall takes the problematic conventions of this uniquely American genre and turns them on their head. Hall tells the story of how her movie came to life, and how making the...


A Friend in the Execution Room

Was anybody willing to be a spiritual adviser to a Muslim man on death row? That’s the question that went out by email to a local group of interfaith leaders in Indiana. Nobody answered. After a week without responses, the management professor Yusuf Ahmed Nur stepped forward. A Somali immigrant who volunteered at his local mosque, Nur would counsel Orlando Hall in the weeks leading up to his execution. But Nur didn’t expect he’d end up standing beside Hall in the execution chamber as he was...


What Does It Mean to Give Away Our DNA?

Just as the Navajo researcher Rene Begay started to fall in love with the field of genetics, she learned that the Navajo Nation had banned all genetic testing on tribal land. Now she is struggling to figure out what the future of genetics might look like, and whether the Navajo and other Indigenous communities should be a part of it. Further reading: “Race, Genetics, and Scientific Freedom,” “Return the National Parks to the Tribes,” “​​The Search for America’s Atlantis,” “Elizabeth...


Justice, Interrupted

Last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor announced that the Supreme Court had broken with tradition and changed its rules for oral argument. This came after a study revealed that women are disproportionately interrupted by men in the highest court in America. This week, we’re re-airing a More Perfect episode about the Northwestern University research that inspired the Court’s changes. This story originally aired on More Perfect, a Radiolab spin-off about the Supreme Court. A transcript of this...


Who Would Jesus Mock?

The satire site The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian answer to The Onion, stirred controversy when some readers mistook its headlines for misinformation. In this episode, The Atlantic’s religion reporter Emma Green sits down with the editor in chief, Kyle Mann, to talk about where he draws the line between making a joke and doing harm, and to understand what humor can reveal about American politics. Further reading: “Who Would Jesus Mock?” A transcript of this episode is...


The True Cost of Prison Phone Calls

Ashley C. Ford was just a baby when her father was sentenced to 30 years behind bars. Prison phone calls—a $1.4 billion industry in the United States—were often prohibitively expensive for her family, so Ford maintained a fragmentary relationship with him through handwritten letters and short visits, while her loved ones tried to shield her from her father’s past. With limited contact and unanswered questions, Ford filled in the blanks with fantasies of her father as the perfect man. This...


The Original Anti-Vaxxer

This week, President Joe Biden rolled out a large-scale federal mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for two-thirds of the American workforce, impacting more than 100 million people across the public and private sectors. Some lawmakers have already called the mandate unconstitutional, and Arizona is the first state to sue to block it. This week on The Experiment: As the struggle between individual liberty and public safety rages, we revisit the story of the first Supreme Court battle over...


The Unwritten Rules of Black TV

The Atlantic staff writer Hannah Giorgis grew up in the ’90s, watching dozens of Black characters on TV. Living Single, Sister, Sister, Moesha, and Smart Guy were just a few of the shows led by Black casts. But at some point in the 2000s, those story lines and some of the Black writers behind them seemed to disappear. In a cover story for The Atlantic, Giorgis traces the cyclical, uneven history of Black representation on television. One writer whose career encompasses much of that history...


What 9/11 Did to One Family

On September 11, 2001, Bobby McIlvaine was killed, along with nearly 3,000 other Americans. In the 20 years since, his parents and brother have searched for ways to live through, and with, their grief. The writer Jennifer Senior’s brother was Bobby’s roommate when he died, and in the cover story for The Atlantic’s September issue, she visited with each member of the family to understand their personal journey through the aftermath of national tragedy. “The McIlvaines very early on saw a...


A Uyghur Teen’s Life After Escaping Genocide

Here in the United States, 19-year-old Aséna Tahir Izgil feels as though she’s a “grandma.” Aséna is Uyghur, an ethnic minority being imprisoned in labor camps by the Chinese government. The pain she witnessed before escaping in 2017 has aged her beyond her years, she says, making it hard to relate to American teenagers. “They talk about … TikToks … clothing, malls, games, movies, and stuff,” she says. “And then the things I think about [are] genocide, Uyghurs, international policies … all...


Can America See Gymnasts for More Than Their Medals?

Ever since Kerri Strug and the Magnificent Seven won Olympic gold in 1996, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team has been a point of pride for many Americans. But over the past five years, athletes have been coming forward with allegations of widespread abuse in the sport. Former gymnasts say they were forced to train and compete with broken bones and that they were denied food. And dozens of women have testified that they were sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar, the former doctor who worked with...


Why Can’t We Just Forget the Alamo?

The epic, oft-told origin story of Texas centers on the Lone Star State’s most infamous battle: the Battle of the Alamo, where American heroes such as Davy Crockett fought to the death against the Mexican army to secure Texas’s independence. The only problem, according to the writer and journalist Bryan Burrough, is that this founding legend isn’t all true. In June, Burrough and two other Texan writers set out to debunk the myth of the Alamo, only to find themselves in an unexpected battle...


The Myth of the ‘Student Athlete’

In June, the Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling on college sports: Student athletes will now be able to receive educational benefits such as free laptops and paid internships. The decision may have seemed relatively small, but in this episode of the Experiment podcast, the Atlantic staff writer Adam Harris explains how it could change the way we think about college athletes. College sports rake in billions of dollars a year for schools. But athletes themselves have historically been...


The Hate-Crime Conundrum

Hate crimes in the United States have reached their highest levels in more than a decade, prompting bipartisan support for legislation to combat them and increased resources for law enforcement. But the recent COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act has spurred resistance from an unexpected source: activist groups that represent the people these laws are meant to protect. This week on The Experiment, our correspondent, Tracie Hunte, investigates the 150-year history of legislating against racist violence...


The Great Seed Panic of 2020

Last summer, an unexplained phenomenon gripped nightly newscasts and Facebook groups across America: Unsolicited deliveries of obscurely labeled seed packages, seemingly from China, were being sent to Americans’ homes. Recipients reported the packages to local police, news stations, and agriculture departments; searched message boards for explanations; and theorized about conspiracies including election interference and biowarfare. Despite large-scale USDA testing of the packages, the...


America Has a Drinking Problem

From the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Rock to the rise of the pandemic “quarantini,” alcohol has been a foundation of American society and culture. The Atlantic's Kate Julian explores how this tool for cohesion and cooperation eventually became a means of coping, and what history can teach us about improving our drinking habits. This conversation originally ran on the podcast Today, Explained, hosted by Sean Rameswaram. Further reading: America Has a Drinking Problem Be part of The...