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 anti-vaccination pamphlet from 1911, a rally of the Anti-Vaccination League of Canada, 1919, and an Anti-Vaccination Society of America advertisement from 1902

Vaccine Hesitancy in the 1920s

As Progressive Era reforms increased the power of government, organized opposition to vaccination campaigns took on a new life.
Shucking Oysters, Biloxi, Miss.

How Oysters Became a Food Fad Way out West

Oysters in Wyoming and Arizona? In the nineteenth century? Yes, and mighty tasty too!
Leading Kentucky hemp farmer Joe "Daddy Burt" Burton with a harvested hemp plant.

The Return of Hemp

Even though it's made from cannabis plants, you can't get high on hemp. But it was classified as an illicit drug for nearly 50 years.
The sun in an orange sky

How Do Scientists Define a Heat Wave?

It seems that every summer brings record temperatures. But there's more to a heat wave than daytime highs.
Maurice Papon, 1958

The “Stone Face” of Racism

On October 17, 1961, Parisian police attacked a group of Algerians. The event would be lost to French history until a Nazi collaborator was exposed.
Psilocybe Cubensis

The Nice Married Couple Who Inspired People to ’Shroom

In the 1950s, Gordon and Valentina Wasson encountered magic mushrooms. Then they wouldn't stop talking about them.
An advertisement for Burdock Blood Bitters

The Bitter Truth About Bitters

A bottle of bitters from about 1918 had significant amounts of alcohol and lead—and not a trace of the supposed active ingredient.
From THEM!, 1954

Fear of an Insect Planet

"Big bug movies" of the 1950s have been interpreted as projections of nuclear anxieties. But what if they were about...actual fear of bugs?
Ascaris worms, a group of parasitic nematode worms, also known as small intestinal roundworms.

How Archaeologists Use Parasites to Track Urbanization

Historical patterns of parasitic infection show up differently depending on the class status of a neighborhood.
Martin and Osa Johnson

How Two Kansans Invented the Safari Documentary

Martin and Osa Johnson were celebrities in their day, but their vision of Africa was way out of touch with reality.
Group portrait of European refugees saved by the Emergency Rescue Committee on board the Paul-Lemerle, a converted cargo ship sailing from Marseilles to Martinique

The World War II Escape Route from France to Martinique

After the fall of France to the Nazis in 1940, some refugees tried to make it out through the Caribbean.
A road sign at a wildlife refuge that warns the drivers of turtles crossing the road.

Road Density Threatens Turtle Populations

Roadkill may be inevitable, but turtles are especially vulnerable—particularly females, putting species survival at risk.
Image from a poster for safe sex awareness

Gay Bars and Gay Rights

One of the flash points in the LGBTQ+ movement was liquor licenses, which were the subject of important legal cases.
The cover of the July, 1964 issue of ONE Magazine

Patriotism and the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement

Charged with being "un-American" during the Cold War, activists appealed to American ideals in their quest for full citizenship.
The Killing of Sister George

Hollywood Goes to Its First Lesbian Bar and Can’t Stop Staring

The Killing of Sister George was the first Hollywood movie to depict a lesbian bar. Director Robert Aldrich was obsessed with its authenticity.
Boxes of tamale pie, tostadas and taco casserole with figurine

Who Invented the “Mexican” Food of the United States?

The debate over what counts as authentic Mexican food may be moot when there are 7,000 Taco Bells around the world.
A British soldier training in 1941

The Bayonet: What’s the Point?

According to one scholar, the military sees training in this obsolete weapon as helpful on the modern battlefield.
Nomadic ethnic Tibetan women stand amongst their Yak herd at a camp on July 27, 2015 on the Tibetan Plateau in Yushu County, Qinghai, China.

Yaks in Tibet

As China tried to expand into Tibet in the late 1930s, it looked to the yak as a way to "modernize" Tibetan culture.
Sophia Thoreau

Sophia Thoreau to the Rescue!

Who made sure Henry David Thoreau's works came out after his death? His sister.
The House of Tomorrow, artist rendering exterior view

Solar Housing Is Actually Kind of Retro!

The domestic fuel scarcity of World War II led to innovation in home heating—especially passive solar technology.
Leonard Woolf

How Leonard Woolf Critiqued Bloomsbury from Within

A literary scholar argues that Leonard Woolf has been unfairly neglected—perhaps because his anti-imperialism implicated his friends.
Benin royal shrine head, between 15th century and 16th century

The Benin Bronzes and the Cultural History of Museums

What an 1897 exhibition at the British Museum can tell us about how African artworks were perceived in an era of imperialism.
Attack and take of the Crête-à-Pierrot (4 - march 24, 1802). Original illustration by Auguste Raffet

Sergei Eisenstein and the Haitian Revolution

Why was the legendary Soviet filmmaker rebuffed in his vision of putting history's most consequential slave revolt on screen?
Photograph: A Russian soldier waves a flag while standing on a balcony overlooking a square, where military trucks gather, during the Battle of Stalingrad, World War II, and the cover of Life and Fate

Source: Getty/Wikimedia Commons

How a Forbidden Russian Epic Finally Got Published

Soviet dissident Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate was "arrested" by the KGB in 1961. Here's how it finally saw the light of day.
A finger pressing a doorbell, circa 1950.

When the Push Button Was New, People Were Freaked

The mundane interface between human and machine caused social anxiety in the late nineteenth century.