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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.

Aeroplankton

Aeroplankton: The Life in the Air We Breathe

Just as the ocean is full of plankton, the air we breathe teems with microorganisms.
Map of Tennessee highlighting Former State of Franklin

Franklin, the American State that Wasn’t

Franklin was the 14th state of America. If you haven't heard of it, that's because it only lasted for four years.
A stamp for the 50th Anniversary of Boy Scouts of America (1960)

Boy Scouts and the Phenomenon of “Boyification”

After a series of traumatic wars, the U.K. and the U.S. embraced a trend of "boyification." Scholars theorize it was an attempt to recover lost innocence.
Bar in Hotel Scribe by Floyd MacMillan Davis

How Janet Flanner’s “High-Class Gossip” Changed America

The journalist's witty Paris Letters for the New Yorker helped establish Americans' feelings of superiority over Europe.
A New England whaler

The Diverse Whaling Crews of Melville’s Era

The ship from Moby Dick was a fairly accurate portrayal of the multi-racial character of American whaling crews before the Civil War.
A submarine for the US government, 1806.

The Submerged History of the Submarine

Submarines played a major role in Word War I. But the first submersible was actually used, though unsuccessfully, in the Revolutionary War.
Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Personal #Brand

Napoleon didn't like sitting for portraits, and yet artists and mass market prints helped cement his legendary status.
Busing in Charlotte, NC

Does Busing Work to Integrate Schools?

Busing as a means used to end school segregation remains controversial. Does it work? The case of Norfolk, Virginia, is highly instructive.
Hortense Powdermaker

When Hortense Powdermaker Studied Hollywood

This anthropologist's research on contemporary American society probes the tensions between business and art in the film world.
Zumbi by Antônio Parreiras

Brazil’s Maroon State

For nearly a century, Quilombo of Palmares was an Afro-Brazilian state, populated and run by people who had freed themselves from slavery.
World War 1 soldiers wearing gas masks

The Amoral Scientist

Fritz Haber was a chemist who made discoveries that improved global agriculture… but also helped spawn the modern era of chemical warfare.
Gypsy Rose Lee seated at a typewriter

Who Really Wrote The G-String Murders?

Gypsy Rose Lee, the most famous burlesque star of the 1940s, wrote a series of letters published by Simon & Schuster that may prove her authorship.
British Ladies Football Club 1895

The Origins of Women’s Soccer

The British Ladies Football Club held their first match at Alexandra Park in Crouch End, London in 1895.
The Terra Nova, 1911

Why Cheerfulness Mattered in the Antarctica Expedition of 1912

Often associated with stoic masculinity, Robert Falcon Scott's British Antarctic Expedition was in fact defined by cheerfulness and friendly homemaking.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sor Juana, Founding Mother of Mexican Literature

How a 17th-century nun wrote poetry, dramas, and comedies that took on the inequities and double standards women faced in society.
Hurricane Rita

Controlling a Hurricane

In the mid-20th century, the United States government invested in two major projects designed to control hurricanes by seeding the storm clouds.
Tehran, Iran

Why People Live In Earthquake Zones

Millions of people now live atop fault lines because long ago small communities gathered at fresh water sources.
Algonquin Round Table

The Lonely Hearts of the Algonquin Round Table

The "Vicious Circle" of the Algonquin Round Table included sharp-tongued wits like Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott. But it wasn't always vicious.
Scottish Highlanders

What Does It Mean To Be Celtic?

How various nationalist groups have come to use "Celtic" as a coded way of saying "white."
A young Irish woman working at a spinning wheel. Engraving by Francis Holl

How War Revolutionized Ireland’s Linen Industry

During the Napoleonic Wars, Irish women, who had traditionally only spun flax into thread, took over the traditionally male job of weaving linen as well.
Into the Jaws of Death by Robert F. Sargent

The Weather Forecast That Saved D-Day

Operation Overlord launched the invasion of German-occupied Europe during WWII. But the right weather, tides, and moonlight were essential for it to work.
Phrenology head from The Household Physician, 1905

Walt Whitman, America’s Phrenologist

The pseudoscience of phrenology included a notion of body as text that Whitman loved. But the craze of "bumpology" also had a darker side.
A physician wearing a seventeenth century plague preventive costume

How the Plague Reshaped the World

The bacterium that causes the plague emerged relatively recently, as bacterium go. And yet the pandemics it's created have altered the world.
Joseph Priestley, 1822, in front of a colorful background

Joseph Priestley, Radical Inventor

How scientist and soda water inventor Joseph Priestley came to be an enemy of the state.
Florida Longleaf Pines

How Longleaf Pines Helped Build the U.S.

The dense, resin-saturated, rot-resistant timber of the longleaf pine helped build up U.S. cities. But most of the native stands have already been logged.