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Matthew Wills

Matthew Wills has advanced degrees in library science and film studies and is lapsed in both fields. He has published in Poetry, Huffington Post, and Nature Conservancy Magazine, among other places, and blogs regularly about urban natural history at matthewwills.com.

A group of Puerto Ricans at Newark airport, who just arrived by plane from Puerto Rico waiting to be transported to New York, 1947

How Migrant Labor Policies Shaped a Latino Identity

When Puerto Rican and Mexican workers came to the U.S. in large numbers, they faced similar discrimination and bigotry.
Ellen and William Craft

Passing for White to Escape Slavery

Passing for white was an intentional strategy that enslaved people used to free themselves from bondage.
A person taking a photograph of a mushroom on their phone.

iNaturalist and Crowdsourcing Natural History

The citizen-science app iNaturalist lets you record observations of plants and animals. The data can be used to study biodiversity.
Photographs of criminals, with mask in the centre, from Cesare Lombroso's l'Uomo Delinquente, 1889

Criminal Minds? Try Criminal Bodies

Cesare Lombroso wanted to use science to understand who criminals were. But his ideas about biological "atavism" easily transferred to eugenics and nativism.
A hand holding a corn cob with a spray nozzle on its top

Corn Is Everywhere!

Two educators use the history of corn, from the domestication of maize 10,000 years ago to today's ubiquitous "commodity corn," to teach about biodiversity.
Bhagat Singh Thind in his U.S. Army Uniform, 1918

How “Prerequisite Cases” Tried to Define Whiteness

A law of 1790 said that only "free white persons" were eligible to be naturalized. But courts struggled for years afterward to tell who was white at all.
A poster supporting the Anti-Rent Movement, 1839

Rural Rent Wars of the 1840s

Anti-rent rebellions in New York State helped to shatter the two-party political system in the nineteenth century.
The cover of Exodus by Leon Uris

How Americans Were Taught to Understand Israel

Leon Uris's bestselling book Exodus portrayed the founding of the state of Israel in terms many Americans could relate to.
Chicano Moratorium Committee antiwar demonstrators, East Los Angeles, 1970

Police Versus the Chicano Moratorium March of 1970

Despite police violence against Chicano demonstrators in Los Angeles, the movement was not deterred.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, 1941

Suppressing Native American Voters

South Dakota has been called "the Mississippi of the North" for its long history of making voting hard for Native Americans.
City Federation of Colored Women's Clubs of Jacksonville, State Meeting, Palatka, Florida

Women’s Clubs and the “Lost Cause”

Women's clubs were popular after the Civil War among white and Black women. But white clubwomen used their influence to ingrain racist curriculum in schools.
A 19th century advertisement for fish glue

Isinglass; or, The Many Miracles of Fish Glue

Isinglass comes from the swim bladders of certain kinds of fish and can be found in everything from beer recipes to illuminated manuscripts. Ew? No way.
A pile of pots, pans, and kitchen utensils sits in front of a poster urging people to donate aluminum kitchen ware to help the US Air Force

The Environmental Costs of War

Using aluminum as a case study, a geographer shows how wartime "commodity chains" can devastate the Earth.
The Beatles performing in 1961

The Beatles Got Started in Hamburg. There’s a Reason for That.

The Beatles first played Hamburg's pleasure zone in 1960, in a former strip club near the infamous Reeperbahn.
A photo of Emmett Till is included on the plaque that marks his gravesite at Burr Oak Cemetery in Aslip, Illinois.

How Local Newspapers Helped Emmett Till’s Murderers Go Free

Emmett Till was a boy of fourteen when he was lynched in Mississippi. The press would influence public opinion, and the outcome of the trial.
The Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb blast at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954

How the H-Bomb Led to a Reckoning in Japan

For years, the trauma of the atomic bomb was hardly talked about in Japan. The H-bomb test at Bikini Atoll changed that.
Illustration: An illustration from The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11305222256

Meet Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective

Fictional detectives usually reflect conservative values. But the first "lady detective" story written by a woman broke boundaries.
Lovers of the Sun by Henry Scott Tuke

The Market Will Bare It: Transnational Nude Tourism

As Europeans recovered from the devastation of World War II, nude beaches appeared in France.
Teenagers in a Siberian village near Lake Baikal

The New Siberians

As heat waves induced by climate change roil the Arctic Circle, Siberians are articulating a distinct identity.
Supper at Delmonico's, New York 1898

The First American Restaurants’ Culinary Concoctions

A study of historical fine-dining menus yields surprises. Like six preparations of frog, and delicious lamb testicles.
Two boys share candy on a New York street, circa 1925

How Residential Segregation Looked in the South

A longstanding idea about southern segregation is that it was more "intimate" than its northern counterpart. What's the truth?
President Lyndon Baines Johnson with some members of the Kerner Commission in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Washington, D.C., 1967

The Kerner Commission Report on White Racism, 50 Years On

In 1968, the Kerner Commission “explicitly identified white racism as the principal cause of the civil disorder evidenced across hundreds of U.S. cities."
Frances Wright, 1881

Nashoba: Not So Interracial, Not So Utopian

In the 1820s, Frances Wright established a community whose major project was the emancipation of enslaved people. Why did it crash and burn?
Grand procession of Wide-Awakes in New York, October 3, 1860

Abolitionist “Wide Awakes” Were Woke Before “Woke”

“Now the old men are folding their arms and going to sleep,” said William H. Seward while campaigning for Lincoln, “and the young men are Wide Awake.”
Bayard Rustin, 1965

Who Was Bayard Rustin?

And why is he left out of the history of the civil rights movement?