Skip to content

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.

An illustration of Casimir Pulaski

The New Legacy of Casimir Pulaski

New findings reveal that the Polish war officer who aided the American Revolution may have been intersex.
Notre-Dame, 1881

Recreating Notre Dame

The famous Paris cathedral was built over many centuries, reflecting the growth and evolution of Paris itself.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Memorial_jewellery_made_from_human_hair_in_a_case.jpg

Why Victorians Loved Hair Relics

Victorians were mesmerized by the hair of the dead -- which reveals something about about how they saw life.
Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo by Richard Samuel

The Bluestockings

Meet the original Bluestockings, a group of women intellectuals. Their name would eventually become a misogynist epithet -- but it didn't start that way.
Voltairine de Cleyre, Christmas 1891

Voltairine de Cleyre: American Radical

She was a notable anarchist thinker and speaker, but history has largely forgotten Voltairine de Cleyre.
Camp of Mexican Refugees, c. 1910-1918

The Untold History of Lynching in the American West

In the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, people of Mexican ancestry were the target of intense racist violence.
The Birth of the Monroe Doctrine by Clyde O. DeLand

The Monroe Doctrine’s Checkered Past

This 1823 policy initially focused on preventing European colonization in the Americas. But different U.S. presidents have used it to mean different things.
Profile portrait of Catherine II by Fedor Rokotov (1763)

The Memoirs of Catherine The Great

Catherine II ruled Russia for many years. She also wrote her own memoirs, in a time when such writing was considered inappropriate for a monarch.
Alice Guy

Hollywood Froze Out the Founding Mother of Cinema

French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché was the first female film director, and renowned as an innovator in the field. Then she moved to Hollywood.
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, by Peter Lely

“Mad Meg,” the Poet-Duchess of 17th Century England

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, shocked the establishment by publishing poems and plays under her own name.
An illustration of John Harvey Kellogg and an early corn flakes advertisement

The Strange Story Behind Your Breakfast Cereal

Kellogg's Corn Flakes were originally created by a doctor who believed bland food would reduce people's urge to masturbate.
Creole in a Red Turban by Jacques Aman

The Free People of Color of Pre-Civil War New Orleans

Before American concepts of race took hold in the newly-acquired Louisiana, early 19th-century New Orleans had large population of free people of color.
Yorktown Victory Monument, Colonial National Historic Site, Yorktown, Virginia

Whitewashing American History

One of the National Park Service's first historic preservation projects, the Colonial National Monument, wrote people of color completely out of the story.
A love potion against a colorful background

What’s in a Love Potion?

Besides the infamous Number Nine, that is.
Jacob Lawrence and one of his paintings

How American Artists Have Portrayed Haiti

In the early 20th century, African American artists created work that expressed solidarity with Haiti--whether they had been there or not.
Employment of Negroes in Agriculture by Earle Richardson

Racial Violence as Impetus for the Great Migration

Historians traditionally point to economic and social conditions as the primary causes for the Great Migration, but racist hate crimes played a role as well.
Leaders of the S-1 project, consider the feasibility of the 184-inch cyclotron at Berkeley, March 29, 1940. Left to right: E.O. Lawrence, Arthur Compton, Vannever Bush, James B. Constant, Karl Compton, Alfred Loomis.

The Man Behind the USA’s Decision to Build the Bomb

FDR's "czar of research," an electrical engineer named Vannevar Bush, was working on an atomic bomb months before Pearl Harbor.
Poster shows Uncle Sam playing a fife, leading a group of children carrying gardening tools and a seed bag.

The First School Gardens

In the early 1900s, immigration and child labor laws resulted in growing numbers of schoolchildren. Gardens were seen as a way to keep them under control.
Portrait of Meriwether Lewis by Charles Willlson Peale

The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis

After triumphantly leading the Lewis and Clark expedition, Meriwether Lewis was either murdered or committed suicide. Did syphilis play a role?
Two women spinning silk in the 15th century

The Silkwomen of Medieval London

A group of skilled women ran the silk-making industry in 15th century London. So why didn't they protect their workers' rights by forming a guild?
Richard E. Byrd’s First Antarctic Expedition, 1928-1930

Polar Expedition or Publicity Stunt?

Richard E. Byrd's 1928-1930 Antarctica Expedition was sponsored by mass media. Was it all about science and exploration -- or about Byrd's personal #brand?
The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles 1919, by William Orpen

The Fable of the Fourteen Points

Woodrow Wilson's legendary support for "self-determination" is indeed just a legend.
A jury box in a courtroom in Texas.

Why Do We Still Use Juries?

The history of juries is actually quite revolutionary.
A stack of books by Virginia Woolf

Was Modernism Meant to Keep the Working Classes Out?

In the 19th century, more working class readers started partaking in contemporary fiction. Modernist literature, however, was specifically not for them.
Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of Resistance

The dark, absurdist humor of Samuel Beckett's work was directly informed by his time in the French Resistance during World War II.