State of the Human

State of the Human, the radio show of the Stanford Storytelling Project, shares stories that deepen our understanding of single, common human experiences—belonging, giving, lying, forgiveness—all drawn from the experiences and research of the Stanford community.


What do we gain from gathering? In this episode, we’re thinking about how coming together can change us. We’ll hear about a citizen-led clean-up movement in India, a Bay Area artist who forms an unlikely friendship with a church in Colorado, and a student who experiences the power of connection at a living museum on Stanford campus.

Story 1: My Ugly India
“What do I owe to this land? And why?” In this story, Tanvi Dutta Gupta explores how one citizen-led clean-up movement has confronted the ugliness of Indian cities, and what this means for her own belonging as an Indian.

Producer: Tanvi Dutta Gupta
Featuring: Kumar
Music: “Bauxite” – Little Rock – Blue Dot Sessions
“Highride” – Radiopink – Blue Dot Sessions
“Tessalit” – Azalai – Blue Dot Sessions
“Louver” – Holyoke – Blue Dot Sessions
“Secret Pocketbook” – Holyoke – Blue Dot Sessions
“Anders” – Macrame – Blue Dot Sessions
“Silent Flock” – Migration – Blue Dot Sessions
“The Consulate” – Holyoke – Blue Dot Sessions
“Li-Fonte” – Architect – Blue Dot Sessions

Story 2: Engrique Chagoya: Making Art & Community
Art can be controversial, and Enrique Chagoya, an artist and professor at Stanford, is no stranger to controversy. But, in his experiences, art also has the power to bring people together–often, in unexpected ways.

Producer: Regina T.H. Ta
Featuring: Enrique Chagoya
Music: “We Collect Shiny Things” – Blue Dot Sessions – Love & Weasel
“Are We Loose Yet” – Blue Dot Sessions – Bodytonic
“Six Gnossiennes: Gnossienne No. 1” – Erik Satie – 50 Essential Piano Pieces by Roland Pöntinen
“Thannoid” – Blue Dot Sessions – Bodytonic

Story 3: Experiencing Sankofa
What are you supposed to do after a noose is found on your campus? Stanford’s answer to that question was, in part, to invite The Experience Sankofa Project, a living museum on black history to campus. This story details what the Project can teach us about racism, activism, and (maybe most importantly), community.

Producer: Adesuwa Agbonile
Featuring: Venus Morris, Dereca Blackmon, Mizan Alkebulan-Abakah, Sizwe Andrews-Abakah, Frank Omowale Satterwhite, Jeanette Smith-Laws, Persis Drell
Music: “Multiple Crystal Bowl Rhythm – – Geerose
“All the Answers” – Lee Rosevere
“It’s a Mystery” – Lee Rosevere
“You’re Enough Version C” – Lee Rosevere


This episode investigates the act of preserving, a decision made in the present, regarding the past, looking towards the future. What can we learn from what we choose to preserve? What does preserving reveal about our values?


Story 1: Mother of Falcons
Master falconer Kate Marden has an urgent mission: preservation through education. What’s at stake? The ability to connect to something as wild as a bird of prey

Producers:Regina Kong
Music: Massive Attack by Podington Bear; Teals Descending Upon the Level Sand by Lo Ka Ping; Shines Through Trees by Podington Bear; Be careful, I’ve Stood On It Too by Bitbasic; Night Caves by Lee Rosevere; Le Songe d’Hacholhii by Sunhiilow; When You’re On the Moon by Tony Higgins

Story 2: Deekin’ on Boont Harpers
Boonville isn’t just a sleepy wine town in Northern California. It has its own culture, tall tales, and even its own version of a language – Boontling. Sadly, like Boonville itself, Boontling is fading away. We explore a diverse array of perspectives on what Boontling really means, on how its multiple layers intertwine with the history, economy, and deeply human aspects of this community.

Featuring: Wes Smoot, Rod DeWitt, Karen Ge
Producers: Carolyn Stein, Karen Ge, Cat Fergesen
Music: Warmup by Patrick Muecke, Serenity by Jason Shaw, Animal Magic by Purple Plant, Every Life by Purple Planet, Mountain Breeze by Purple Planet, Evan Schaeffer by Graze, Easy Day by Kevin MacLeod

Story 3: Art Never Dies
When we walk into a museum, we rarely think about the behind-the-scenes life of the art hanging on the wall. What goes into preserving art to stand the test of time? What happens when the physical material can’t be saved? Does the art piece die?

Producers: Grace Zhang, Lola McAllister, Liv Jenks
Music:Curiosity by Lee Rosevere, Sneaky Adventure by Kevin MacLeod, The Flight of lulu by Possimiste

Learning Medicine

We visit five places on campus where future doctors are learning how to practice medicine. We’re going to real classrooms: anatomy lab and wet lab, lecture halls, we visit a Stanford Free Clinic, bike across campus to the mausoleum, and head down the road to Webb Ranch. We’re asking: How are students learning to practice medicine, thoughtfully?

Story 1: The Healing Power of Getting Stoked
Sometimes, a word can help identify exactly what’s missing. Urban dictionary says: to be “stoked” is to be completely and intensely enthusiastic, exhilarated, or excited about something. Those who are stoked all of the time know this; being stoked is the epitome of all being. In our next story, State of the Human Producer JJ Kapur learns the healing power of getting stoked.

Producers: JJ Kapur and Esha Dhawan
Music: Thunderstorm (Pon VIII) by Kai Engel; Slimheart by Blue Dot Sessions; Ghost Surf Rock by Loyalty Freak Music; The graveyard by Loyalty Freak Music; Blue Highway by Podington Bear; Our Only Lark by Blue Dot Sessions; You Don’t Surf So Shut Up by Waylon Thornton and the Heavy Hands

Story 2: Warlock Genetics
For many doctors, it takes four years to complete their degree. But physician-scientists — doctors who have an MD and a PhD — have eight years of school. These physician-scientists treat patients and conduct cutting-edge medical research. Our producer tries to figure out if learning medicine and learning how to conduct medical research is the path for her. To make things more complicated, Victoria grew up in an Eastern Medicine household, so pursuing an MD in the Western tradition is already lifting a few eyebrows.

Producers: Victoria Yuan and Sarah Griffin
Music: Never Forget by Ketsa; Multiverse by Ketsa; Tian Mi Mi by Teresa Teng; Syaba by Aoiroooasamusi; Slow Vibing by Ketsa; Robot Waltz by Ketsa

Story 3: Spiritual Cowgirl
In our next story, State of the Human Producer Aparna Verma visits Dr. Beverly Kane at Webb Ranch to observe Equine-imity. Formally a practicing doctor at Apple, and a family practice physician, Dr. Kane now teaches these courses at the Stanford School of Medicine. She also teaches another class called Medicine & Horsemanship, which trains medical students and practitioners to develop an awareness of the subtleties of communication that are necessary for a provider-patient relationship.

Producers: Aparna Verma and Linda Liu
Music: Loco Lobo, Sergey Cheremisinov, Kai Engel

Story 4: Anatomical Mnemonics
Mnemonics use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier. Maybe you also learned PEMDAS for order of math operations. parentheses, exponent, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. In no field perhaps, are mnemonics more abundant than in medicine. For our next story, pre-med student, producer Victoria Yuan visits Anatomy Lab after hours to ask if learning mnemonics affects the way medical students think about people.

Producer: Victoria Yuan
Music: Kitty in the Window by Podington Bear; Awakenings by Ketsa; Dog Politics by Elvis Herod; Pictures of the Floating by Canada; Orange Sunshine by Rod Hamilton; Tinny Whistle by Elvis Herod


What ideas exist behind material objects? In this episode, we’re going to look at stuff—things we can see or hear or touch—to try to understand the intangible, like memory, history, and bias.

Our Immortal Stuff
While moving out of her dorm, faced with putting everything she had in boxes, producer Yue Li began to feel uncomfortable about her own buying habits. So she took a trip to Berkeley to meet some people who think really differently about…stuff.

Featuring: Max, Jimmy, Sarah (Urban Ore employees and shoppers)
Producer: Yue Li

Brains and Bronze: How Octavius Catto Came Back to Life
Octavius Catto, a 19th century activist, stands in bronze as the first statue of a black man on Philadelphia public property. And he’s coming back to life in other ways–on a giant mural, and in the art and social justice scenes of the city. What would this statue of an activist from history say to the activists surrounding it now…why is he back, and what’s he trying to tell us?

Featuring: Keir Johnston, Shakirah, Eddy, Kim McCleary
Producer: Melina Walling

Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Eat Processed Food 
We’re surrounded by processed food. But how did it get here? A story about what we can learn from the food we eat every day.

Featuring: Hannah LeBlanc
Producers: Isabella Tilley, Yue Li, Melina Walling, Christine Delianne

Becoming British
As a kid, Esther wanted to change something fundamental about herself. Her solution? Put on a fake British accent. A story about what we can learn from a six-year-old pretend Londoner.

Featuring: Esther Omole
Producer: Adesuwa Agbonile


In this episode, we’re going to think about death. All things must come to an end, but that does not mean death is all ending. We ask — what can death teach us about life?

Ghost Tour
The actual name of Stanford University is Leland Stanford, Jr. University after a boy who died of typhoid at 15. After Leland Jr. died, his parents, Jane and Leland Sr., built this university to honor him. Lecturer Jake Warga gives campus tours – ghost tours – to remind us that even if Leland Jr. is dead, Stanford’s history isn’t.

Featuring: Jake Warga
Producers: Nikhil Raghuraman, Mike Mahowald, and Warren Christopher

Death Cafe
Michelle Chang drives around the country hosting “death cafes,” gatherings where strangers come together and talk openly about death. At death cafes, people confront the reality of dying and in doing so, make meaning of their lives.

Producer: Will Shan

Claudia Biçen
Claudia Biçen, a San Francisco artist, interviewed nine hospice patients about their experiences of dying. She then created larger than life-size portraits of each patient, and on each person’s clothing, wrote out the test of their interview. At exhibitions, Biçen played audio clips of the interviews, so you can actually hear the voice of the person you’re seeing. She called her project “Thoughts in Passing.”

Featuring: Claudia Biçen
Producer: Aparna Verma

Dia De Los Muertos
We go to San Francisco for the annual Day fo the Dead parade, a tradition that can be traced back to the Aztecs. It’s a time when families come together to celebrate ancestors and loved ones who have passed away, prompting us to ask what we can learn about life through death.

Producers: Regina Kong, Lena Lee, and Isabella Tilley


In this episode, we search for myths in the modern world. We ask . — where are monsters hiding, and who created them? What do the myths we circulate say about ourselves?

Story 1: Miscreants, Wretches, Witches, And Hags
Professor Elaine Treharne talks about Beowulf and the women who are called monsters.

Producer: Sophie McNulty

Story 2: Myth Of the Golden Hands
In the desert, sitting in a broken down car, a graduate student faces off against a powerful myth.

Featuring: Ahinoam Pollack, a PhD student in the Energy Resources Engineering Department
Producers: Christy Hartman, Morgan Canaan

Story 3: A Comical Escape
Is your favorite superhero just a mislabeled monster? Are you? Professor Scott Bukatman discusses the creation of monstrous superheroes and the peculiar power of comics.

Featuring: Scott Bukatman
Producers: Ben Schwartz, Jett Hayward

Story 4: Iceland’s Concealed Conservationists
Iceland’s Concealed Conservationists is about the elf population in Iceland and how Icelanders’ tradition of hidden creatures living in the landscape encourages a deep respect for nature and a sense of responsibility to preserve the wilderness which is an essential part of Iceland’s culture and identity. But over the past few years the numbers of tourists travelling to Iceland has increased drastically as people from other countries seek these rare and dramatic locations and so Iceland’s untouched wilderness is at risk of losing its essential character. This story is about the landscape of Iceland and the magic of life that it holds, and the Icelanders’ efforts to ensure that it is not lost.

Supported by the Stanford Storytelling Braden Grant.

Producer: Michaela Elias


What happens when we find ourselves in solitude, whether on purpose or accidentally? In this episode, people navigate aloneness and explore what it means to be secluded from everyone and everything else.

Release date: 26 April 2019

Story 1: Ryan Petterson

Geology researcher Ryan Petterson goes out into Death Valley for research. Even though there’s no one around for miles, he finds connection with others.

ProducerSofia Sanchez-Luege

Story 2: Charlotte Brown

Charlotte Brown takes a deep dive into a form of solitude that more and more people are trying out — meditation. This solitude takes her places she never imagined.

ProducerStephanie Niu

Story 3: Soundtracker

Gordon Hempton goes to the most remote places of the world and records the soundscape before it disappears.

Producer: Leslie Chang with help from Jett Hayward

Story 4: Sienna

While working in Alaska, Sienna White grapples with solitude, and the loneliness that it can produce.

Producer: Sienna White

Story 5: The Bridge

Adesuwa talks to the staff at the Bridge, an on-campus peer-counseling center about what it’s like to take calls from people alone in the night. Featuring: Hannah Nguyen, Albert Gehami, Rebecca Bromley

Producer: Adesuwa Agbonile

Soundings Podcast

As of 2023, approximately 144 million people in the U.S. and 464.7 million people worldwide listen to a podcast every month. But back in 2007 when the Stanford Storytelling Project began, podcasting wasn’t yet part of our vocabulary. Instead, we made audio stories and aired them online or on public radio. From 2007-2010, during the years when we were learning to love this medium from the creators at public radio shows like This American Life, Radiolab, and Radio Diaries, the Stanford Storytelling Project released student-produced audio stories under our Soundings feed. Beginning in 2011, SSP created State of the Human, our flagship (and now award-winning) podcast that features our very best student work. Our Soundings podcast feed has become the place where completed student work lives, and it includes our Braden grantee projects, the episodes produced in our Sound Stories and Stories to Save Our Planet courses. Often—particularly when students want to continue working on these projects beyond the scope of their courses or grants—these stories find their way into State of the Human as well. The stories below represent the Soundings stories released in those early pre-State of the Human years. You can find our full list of Soundings stories here.


Do you have a special someone in your life who does all the same things you do, but better? Are you nursing a grudge and need some vindication? On this week’s show we have epic college feuds, petty rivalries, sweet love affairs gone bitter, and the battling little voices in your own head. It’s stories of conflict, within and without. Animosity, axes to grind, enemies and nemeses, hosted by dynamic doppelgänger duo.

Host: Charlie Mintz and Dan Hirsch
Producers: Charlie Mintz and Dan Hirsch
Featured: Hal Mikelson, Carmen Gray, Emily Cox, Will Rogers, Angela Castellanos, Matt Larson, Jasmine Aarons, Laura Stokes, Martin Evans, Roland Greene, Tiffany James
Music: Lauchlan Casey

Release Date: 4 December 2008

Story 1: The Axe

At the core of all animosity, there is a story, usually a story of betrayal and deceit. When we remember the story, hatred crystallizes into something real. A legendary college rivalry tale has shaped Stanford’s relationship with it’s great nemesis across the Bay. One man re-tells the tale every year to keep the spirit (of animosity) alive.

Producers: Dan Hirsch

Featuring: Hal Mikelson

image via flickr

Story 2: Anyone can have a Nemesis

Storytelling producers take to the streets, asking strangers to tell their personal nemesis tales. Prop 8, parents, styrofoam, ambitious conservatives… we encountered an abundance of nemeses, including ones that push people into playing more heroic roles in their own lives.

image via flickr

Story 3: The Beguiled Romance

All humans are susceptible to a type of chemical warfare that assaults us at unsuspected and undesirable times. One student tells of an instinctual attraction that goes against her sense of principle and better judgement.

Producer: Dan Hirsch

Featuring: Jasmine Aarons

image via flickr

Story 4: Satan

One may think that the concept of Satan is as tried and true as the institution of Christianity. In this story, two professors provide a more historical take on our understanding of the Angel of Darkness.

Producer: Charlie Mintz

Featuring: Martin Evans and Laura Stokes

image via wikipedia

Story 5: Turning on yourself… and winning

In the end, you are your own worst enemy? The last story shows that we can inspire our inner hero to defeat our inner nemesis.

Featuring: Tiffany James

image via flickr