In this episode, we visit one of the most iconic national parks in the United States: Yellowstone. Megan Kate Nelson talks to us about how Yellowstone came to be a park, as well as how all the amazing geothermal features and animals came to be in the area.

Guest bio: Megan Kate Nelson

Megan Kate Nelson was born and raised in Colorado; she is now a writer and historian living in  Massachusetts. She earned her BA from Harvard University in History and Literature and her PhD from Iowa in American Studies. She taught at Texas Tech, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, MIT, and Brown before leaving academia to become a full-time writer in 2014. 

Her most recent book, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West, was published by Scribner in February 2020. This project was the recipient of a 2017 NEH Public Scholar Award and a Filson Historical Society Fellowship, and was chosen as a Top Ten History Book of 2020 by Smithsonian Magazine, and a 2020 Best Book in Civil War History by Civil War Monitor. In March 2022, Scribner will publish her next book, This Strange Country, which tells the story of the creation of Yellowstone National Park in the context of Reconstruction.

Dr. Nelson is the author of two previous books: Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Georgia, 2012) and Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, 2005). She writes about the Civil War, the U.S. West, and American culture for The New York TimesWashington PostThe AtlanticSmithsonian MagazinePreservation Magazine, and Civil War Times. Her column on Civil War popular culture, “Stereoscope,” appears regularly in the Civil War Monitor



In this week’s episode, we’re talking about something that’s big and also true—from a certain point of view. We’re kicking off an intermittent series called Big If True in Literature and Culture with a discussion of ents, giant tree-people in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. We learn about what they are, what they do, and why they’re so cool.

Guest bio: David Montgomery

David H. Montgomery is a Minneapolis-based journalist and podcaster. Currently he works as a data reporter with MPR News, using data and visualizations to cover politics and COVID-19. He is also the host of The Siècle podcast about France’s overlooked history in between Napoleon and World War I. He graduated from Grinnell College and enjoys the Chicago Cubs, board games, and overthinking everything.


The News

A special edition of Big If True: Today we’re talking about big news companies: who they are, what they do, and how they make sure what they’re telling us is fair and accurate. We’ll hear from two experts: Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, and Steve Inskeep, the co-host of several shows at NPR.

Guest bios

Yoni Appelbaum

Yoni Appelbaum is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Ideas section. Appelbaum is a social and cultural historian of the United States. Before joining The Atlantic, he was a lecturer on history and literature at Harvard University. He previously taught at Babson College and at Brandeis University, where he received his Ph.D. in American history.

Steve Inskeep

Steve Inskeep, photographed for NPR, 13 May 2019, in Washington DC.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR’s Morning Edition, as well as NPR’s morning news podcast Up First.

Since joining Morning Edition in 2004, Inskeep has hosted the program from New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco, Cairo, and Beijing; investigated Iraqi police in Baghdad; and received a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for “The Price of African Oil,” on conflict in Nigeria. He has taken listeners on a 2,428-mile journey along the U.S.-Mexico border, and 2,700 miles across North Africa. He is a repeat visitor to Iran and has covered wars in Syria and Yemen.

Inskeep was hired by NPR in 1996. His first full-time assignment was the 1996 presidential primary in New Hampshire. He went on to cover the Pentagon, the Senate, and the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he covered the war in Afghanistan, turmoil in Pakistan, and the war in Iraq. In 2003, he received a National Headliner Award for investigating a military raid gone wrong in Afghanistan. He has twice been part of NPR News teams awarded the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton for coverage of Iraq.

Inskeep is the author of Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi, a 2011 book on one of the world’s great megacities. He is also author of Jacksonlanda history of President Andrew Jackson’s long-running conflict with John Ross, a Cherokee chief who resisted the removal of Indians from the eastern United States in the 1830s.

He has been a guest on numerous TV programs including ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, CNN’s Inside Politics and the PBS Newshour. He has written for publications including The New York TimesWashington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic.

A native of Carmel, Indiana, Inskeep is a graduate of Morehead State University in Kentucky.


Whale Sounds

In this episode, we’re exploring the sounds of the ocean—specifically, the sounds made by the biggest animals ever to live: blue whales.

Guest bio: Dallas Taylor

Dallas Taylor is the host and creator of Twenty Thousand Hertz, a lovingly crafted podcast revealing the stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds. Dallas is also the Creative Director of Defacto Sound, where he has led thousands of high-profile projects ranging from blockbuster trailers and advertising campaigns to Sundance award-winning films and major television series. Dallas is a sought-after speaker at conferences, a regular contributor to major publications, and a respected thought leader on the narrative power of sound. Follow him @D_LLAS.


Aircraft Carriers

In this episode, we’re learning about the biggest ships in the navy: aircraft carriers! Find out what it’s like to live on this gigantic ship and also fly off it at tremendous speed!

Guest bio: Cdr Carlton McClain

Commander Carlton McClain

Commander Carlton McClain, a native of Florence, SC, graduated and received his commission from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997 with Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and earned his naval aviation wings in February of 2000.
McClain’s operational assignments were Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 123, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN71) and USS Enterprise (CVN65); Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 125, USS Carl Vinson (CVN70); and served as Assistant Air Officer, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN72).
McClain’s shore assignments were Pilot NATOPS Officer at Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120, the E-2/C-2 Fleet Replacement Squadron; Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School Operations Officer at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center; E-2D Operational Test Director at Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 1 during Fleet introduction of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. He completed an overseas tour as Airspace Manager/Air Defense Officer, Commander U.S. Navy Central Command, 5th Fleet. He currently serves as Officer In Charge, E-2D Fleet introduction Team.
McClain has participated in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Mountain Resolve, Unified Response, New Dawn, and Inherent Resolve. He has accumulated over 4,700 flight hours and 368 carrier arrested landings. His personal decorations include Meritorious Service Medal (2), Air Medal (5), Navy Commendation Medal (3), and various unit and individual awards.

(Commander McClain spoke to us as a private citizen; his views do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Navy.)


Giant Clams

In this episode, we explore the truth about giant clams—and their skills as farmers and sunlight-diverters! Our guest Alison Sweeney tells us about where giant clams live, how they get so big, and why they glow!

Guest bio: Alison Sweeney

Dr. Alison Sweeney is Associate Professor of Physics and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. Before going to Yale, Alison Sweeney was associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. Alison’s group focuses on the mechanisms by which novel materials arise in natural evolution, and the mechanisms by which evolution finds novel routes to self-assembly. She was a postdoctoral scholar and research scientist in the group of Dan Morse at the University of California, Santa Barbara, focusing on marine biophotonic materials. Sonke Johnsen at Duke University advised her Ph.D. work on the evolution of squid optics. (Bio from Yale University)


The Internet

Our show today is all about the technology that makes this app–and this podcast–possible: the Internet! Justine Sherry, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, takes us through what the Internet is and why we use it for so many things.

Guest bio: Justine Sherry

Justine Sherry

Justine Sherry is an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Her interests are in computer networking; her work includes middleboxes, networked systems, measurement, cloud computing, and congestion control. Dr. Sherry received her PhD (2016) and MS (2012) from UC Berkeley, and her BS and BA (2010) from the University of Washington. She is a recipient of the SIGCOMM doctoral dissertation award, the David J. Sakrison prize, paper awards at USENIX NSDI and ACM SIGCOMM, and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Most importantly, she is always on the lookout for a great cappuccino.



In this episode of Big If True, we’re talking about big storms—hurricanes! We’re talking to Matthew Cappucci, a meteorologist with the Capital Weather Gang from the Washington Post. He’ll tell us what a hurricane is, what kind of damage they can cause, and why they’re so dangerous.

Matthew Cappucci

Our guest for this episode

Matthew Cappucci is a meteorologist at The Washington Post. He delivers forecasts on WAMU and frequent television updates during hurricane season. He graduated from Harvard in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric sciences. He is an avid traveler, teacher and storm chaser. 


The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a big trail you can hike on!

In our first episode, we’re checking out our first big thing: the Appalachian Trail! Our expert guest, Mills Kelly, will take us through how big the trail is and why it’s so important.

Guest bio

Mills Kelly is the Director of George Mason’s award-winning Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM). Since 2001, Kelly  has been either co-director or principal investigator on three major website projects funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities ($790,000 total funding). Two of these projects, created with his colleague Professor Kelly Schrum, won the James Harvey Robinson Prize in 2007 from the American Historical Association. His current digital public history project centers on the history of the Appalachian Trail, and this project has already generated preliminary funding from the NEH and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.


The Piano

In this episode, we investigate the truth about the biggest instrument in the orchestra: the piano. Our guest, Mark Irchai, not only tells us about the piano, but he plays some fantastic music for us as well!

Guest Bio

As a first-generation-American pianist and conductor, Mark Irchai is uniquely positioned to foster connections through music. As both artist and entrepreneur, he seeks to not only build these connections through his own performances across the globe, but also to empower others to do so as well.

Mark’s musicality and approach to his artistry and programming have earned him numerous accolades, including 1st prizes from the XIV International Orfeo Music Competition, the Golden Classical Music Awards, and the IMKA International Internet Music Competition. He has been heard in numerous concert halls around the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Musikschule Sterzing, and the Embassy of Turkey to the United States. And, Mark regularly performs with prominent artists from institutions such as the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Philharmonic, Peabody Institute, and the US Army Orchestra.

As an entrepreneur, Mark first founded his own concert series, Mark Irchai presents, where he performs solo, as well as collaborates both as pianist and conductor with over a hundred musicians, in skill levels ranging from student and amateur to professional. Bringing musicians to packed houses across the DC Metro area, he observed the possibilities of community building around connections in music. This idea eventually developed, with the help of many friends and colleagues, into the Odyssey Arts Initiative, or Odyssey – an initiative founded for the advancement of art through the open inclusion of diverse identities, perspectives, and backgrounds.

Mark is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Piano Performance at the Mannes School of Music, studying with Simone Dinnerstein. He previously studied piano at George Mason University with Anna Balakerskaia, and studied conducting both at George Mason and at the International Institute for Advanced Conducting after Ilya Musin.

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