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Black and white headshot of author Matthew Wills

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

Republican troops of the International Brigades at the beginning of the Nationalist attack on the capital during the Spanish Civil War, Spain,1936

Growing Guerrilla Warfare

American resistance to the Nazis had its roots the skills of Spanish Civil War veterans, who were recruited by the OSS when they returned from Spain.
Postal worker sorting letters and newspapers 1901

The Post Office and Privacy

We can thank the postal service for establishing the foundations of the American tradition of communications confidentiality
1936 map of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Tramping Across the USSR (On One Leg)

Historian Sheila Fitzpatrick explores the limits of the Stalinist system through the biography of a marginal figure, one Anastasia Emelianovna Egorova.
Fredric Wertham

Fredric Wertham, Cartoon Villain

Wertham convinced 1950s America that comic books led to depravity. He also used his extremist views to raise money for an anti-racist clinic in Harlem.
Jimi Sadle (L) , botanist at Everglades National Park; and George D. Gann, chief conservation strategist for the Institute for Regional Conservation give a tour looking for plants endangered by the effects of climate change

Witnessing and Professing Climate Professionals

What are scientists to do? Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton and historian of science Naomi Oreskes consider the social responsibility of climate scientists.
Group portrait of members of the Blackwell and Spofford families outside on a lawn. Photograph probably shows (back row, left to right): Dr. Emily Blackwell, Mr. Ainsworth Spofford, Alice Stone Blackwell, and Lucy Stone; (front row, left to right): Henry Browne Blackwell, Florence Spofford and Mrs. Sarah (Partridge) Spofford. (Source: similar image at Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, Blackwell Family Papers)

Archival Adventures in the Abernethy Collection

An archival collection shared by Middlebury College invites the curious to make connections across the history of American literature.
An overhead view of a group of five preschoolers sitting at a table playing with colorful blocks and geometric shapes.

Making Implicit Racism

In the first few years of life, children learn much from the observation of the adults around them—including their biases.
A General View of the Falls of Niagara by Alvan Fisher, 1820

The Fashionable Tour: or, The First American Tourist Guidebook

Offering advice for visiting Sarasota Springs and other sights, Gideon Davison combined the travel narrative and road book to create a new type of travel guide.
visitors stand atop a large mound of salt bi-product from lithium production at a mine in the Atacama Desert on August 24, 2022 in Salar de Atacama, Chile.

The ABCs of Lithium 

Lithium is increasingly seen as a strategic resource, especially for batteries in dreams of a green future. But where does it come from, and at what cost?
The Penguin logo on the cover of a paperback in 1944

But Why a Penguin?

Penguin Books built on an already strong tradition of branding through cute mascot “media stars” when they introduced their cartoon bird in 1935.
Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin and His Correspondents: A Lifetime of Letters

An epistolary network was critical for Darwin’s work, allowing him to obtain new information while sparking fresh ideas in his correspondents’ minds.
Editorial cartoon by William C. Morris, c. 1906

A People’s Bank at the Post Office

The Postal Savings System offered depositors a US government-backed guarantee of security, but it was undone by for-profit private banks.
A photo postcard of a French woman by Lucien Waléry

Postcards Revolutionized Pornography 

In the late nineteenth century, the postcard became the ideal medium for expanding the audience for pornography, much to the concern of social elites.
Children with their Indian nanny at St Ann's Well in the spa town of Buxton, Derbyshire, August 1922.

Ayahs Abroad: Colonial Nannies Cross The Empire

South Asian maids and nannies journeyed to Britain by the thousands in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with returning colonials.
Mount Okmok, Alaska

Beware the Volcanoes of Alaska (and Elsewhere)

The 43 BCE eruption of Alaska’s Okmok volcano created the (cold) climate context for the fall of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire.
Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson

The Border Presidents and Civil Rights

Three US presidents from the South’s borders—Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson—worked against Southern politicians to support civil and voting rights.
Russia on a globe

Eurasianism: A Primer 

Anti-Western and pro-expansionist, Eurasianists believed every country had a right to its own part of the Russian civilization.
Members of the Kikuyu tribe held in a prison camp in Kenya

Reporting Atrocity—Or Not—In Postwar Britain

Or, what metropolitan Britons could know about the colonies.
An image from Costume book of Matthaus Schwarz from Augsburg, 1520 - 1560

The Art of Renaissance Clothes

While Spanish Catholicism and reformatory Protestantism favored black clothing, much of the Renaissance happened in an explosion of color.

Nice Guy Spinoza Finishes…First?

The Dutch Jewish philosopher Spinoza died in 1677, which is when the battle to define his life—and work—began.
Tiburcio Parrott

Birth of the Corporate Person

The defining of corporations as legal “persons” entitled to Fourteenth Amendment rights got a leg up from the fight over a California anti-Chinese immigrant law.
Flag of the Chinese Empire under the Qing dynasty (1889-1912)

Dragon Swallows the Sun: Predicting Eclipses in China

China had a long history of astronomy before the arrival of Europeans, but the politics of absolute rule led to the eventual embrace of Western methods.
Alvin, the Navy research submarine

A Cold War Baby: Happy Birthday, Alvin!

The submersible Alvin is sixty years old this year. Numerous overhauls and upgrades have kept the craft going down (and coming back up!).
J. Robert Oppenheimer

The Annotated Oppenheimer

Celebrated and damned as the “father of the atomic bomb,” theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer lived a complicated scientific and political life.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, 1964

Using False Claims to Justify War

Hardly the recent innovation it’s frequently mistakened to be, deception as a path to war has been used by American presidents since the 1800s.