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Black and white headshot of author Livia Gershon

Livia Gershon

Livia Gershon is a freelance writer in Nashua, New Hampshire. Her writing has appeared in publications including Salon, Aeon Magazine and the Good Men Project. Contact her on Twitter @liviagershon.

A man looks through his medicine cabinet in the bathroom, circa 1955.

The Long Life of the Nacirema

An article that turned an exoticizing anthropological lens on US citizens in 1956 began as an academic in-joke but turned into an indictment of the discipline.
old morse key telegraph on wood table

The Colonial History of the Telegraph

Gutta-percha, a natural resin, enabled European countries to communicate with their colonial outposts around the world.
Two youths in Uptown Chicago, 1974

When Uptown Chicago was “Hillbilly Heaven”

In the 1960s, white Appalachian workers attempted to put down roots in Chicago by building an integrated model neighborhood called Hank Williams Village.
An unidentified neo-Nazi gives a speech from a podium under a 'White Power' banner in Lafayette Park surrounded by his followers who are, in turn, surrounded by police watching for trouble, Washington DC, July 3, 1973.

Is Racism a Disease?

Since the 1940s, mental health professionals have repeatedly debated the question of whether (some forms of) racism can be classified as a disease.
Two wealthy Chinese opium smokers

Opium’s History in China

Opium has been used as a medicinal and recreational substance in China for centuries, its shifting meanings tied to class and national identity.
Virgin of Guadalupe, 1779

Abstinence By Juramentos

Long before Dry January became a thing, Mexicans were using a similar program of temporary abstinence based on a pledge to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
illustration of a boat on a river that was part of the dunbar-hunter expedition in 1804-1805.

Thomas Jefferson’s Gourmand Explorers

Jefferson’s government organized several western expeditions. Some carried luxurious supplies of food, some enjoyed local hospitality, and some nearly starved to death.
The Thames Police

Creating the “Criminal Class”

In the late eighteenth century, Glasgow magistrate Patrick Colquhoun argued that immoral living had created a distinct class of people with weak characters.
Ganesa writing the Mahabharat, dictated by Vyasa. Page from an illustrated manuscript of the Mahabharata

The South Asian Human Rights Tradition

Human rights discourse drawing on ancient Sanskrit texts focuses more on the responsibilities of individuals and states than on the rights themselves.
Winter: Skating Scene (From Set of Four Seasons) from Balloch Castle, Scotland

Fighting for the Right to Party at Christmas

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Reformed Kirk of Scotland tried to shut down holiday celebrations. The Scottish people didn’t give up easily.
An image from a manuscript from the 9th century AH/AD 15th century (Safavid dynasty)

Music and Gender in Medieval Islamic Court

As Islam spread across the Arabian peninsula and the Mesopotamian region, it changed the relationship between gender and musicianship.
Anna te Drieën, 1528

Who Was Jesus’s Grandma?

Canonical scripture never mentions the parents of the Virgin Mary, but the body of St. Anne was vital to Christianity in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
US infantrymen rest during their drive to follow armored units south from Normandy into Brittany, Villedieu, France. Some men sit and lean their rifles against a stone wall, while others lay on the ground, resting their heads on their backpacks.

Books on the Battlefield

During World War II, GIs battled boredom with novels provided by the Armed Service Division, raising questions about the “feminizing” effect of reading.
From the cover of Life Magazine, August 1925

A Cigarette-Eye View of US History

The big story for cigarettes in the twentieth century was their journey from popularity to pariah.
A computer screen with an old Wikipedia logo

Whatever Happened to the Open Internet?

There may be a way out of corporate control of the internet, but it probably starts with money.
A young Native American boy learns the Eagle Dance in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, 1952

Understanding the Indian Child Welfare Act

The ICWA wasn’t implemented perfectly, but it reversed a centuries-old pattern of removing Native children from their families and their tribes.
Lodgers in a Crowded Bayard Street Tenement. Photo by Jacob Riis

When Lodgers Were “Evil”

A wave of immigration from eastern and southern Europe transformed urban landscapes, creating crowded tenements that stoked humanitarian concerns.
Seven-year-old Luz Clarisa Pacco shows huatia, potatoes cooked in a traditional Andean way in a whole on the ground on June 21, 2022 in Pisac, Peru.

Respecting the Potato

Cuzco’s Potato Park conserves biodiversity and strengthens food sovereignty, all while emphasizing respect for this important and charismatic crop.
Photograph: Anti-gay marriage protestors pray outside the Massachusetts State House March 11, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. 

Source: Michael Springer/Getty

What is Fundamentalism?

Fundamentalism, which shifts the balance between authority structures and the indescribable divine, emerged after medieval society gave way to the modern.
The Mirabal sisters

Remembering the Mirabal Sisters

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women honors three sisters who were murdered by the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.
Woman Drinking Coffee by Léon Étienne Tournes, part of the collection of the Gothenburg Museum of Art

The Swedish-American Coffee Tradition

For many Swedish immigrants to the United States, coffee was a key to hospitality and a way to signal prosperity.
The interior of a Chinese pharmacy in Los Angeles, 1907

The Allure of Chinese Medicine 

Capitalizing on stereotypes earned Chinese-American practitioners patients, but it also helped keep them confined to the margins of American society.
Page 22 of the Codex Borgia depicting naguals, shapeshifting creatures

The Teyollohcuani: Cosmopolitan Vampire Witch

When different cultures meet, their languages, foods, and songs mix and change—and so do their monsters.
Art class at the Portland, OR YMCA, 1899

Scandal at the YMCA

Troubles grew at the Portland institution when one of its older residents attempted to poison himself after being questioned by police about same-sex relations.
The Liberty Tree in Boston, where the Committee of Correspondence often gathered. It was chopped down by the Loyalists in 1775.

The Letter That Helped Start a Revolution

The Town of Boston’s invention of the standing committee 250 years ago provided a means for building consensus during America’s nascent independence movement.