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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 matthewwills.com.

Doris Miller just after being presented with the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, on board USS Enterprise at Pearl Harbor, May 27, 1942.

Remembering Doris Miller

Following his actions at Pearl Harbor, Messman Doris Miller was the first Black sailor to be honored with the Navy Cross—but only after political pressure.
From a 1964 stamp from Tanzania

Tanzania in the Cold War Crucible

After the US-Belgian assassination of the Congo’s first Prime Minister, leaders in Tanganyika and Zanzibar worried they would be given the same treatment.
Statue of Ostap Bender, Elista, Russia

The Red Sting: Conmen in the USSR

The Soviets loved a good confidence game, as was made evident by the popularity of the fictional character of Ostap Bender after Russian Revolution.
From The Tertiary insects of North America, 1890

Historical Bugs: Archaeoentomology

The remains of ancient insects reveal new information about Paleo-Eskimo life and the history of the Norse in Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands.
Adam Smith

Adam Smith, Revolutionary?

By 1800, Smith—once considered a friend of the poor and an enemy of the privileges of the rich—was already being refashioned into a icon of conservatism.
seaweed on a spoon

Eating Seaweed in the Americas

From the kelp highway to blue plate kelp specials, seaweeds are gaining greater acceptance on the dining tables in the Americas.
From a poster by Henry Van de Velde for a food supplement, 1898

Art Nouveau: Art of Darkness

First named such in Belgium, Art Nouveau was intimately tied up with that country’s brutal rule of the Congo.
From the cover of the NYRB edition of Arabesques

Arabic Hebrew, Hebrew Arabic: The Work of Anton Shammas

Within the alienated and antagonist cultures inside Israel’s borders, Arabic and Hebrew—related, but mutually unintelligible languages—cross-fertilize each other.
Idealized Portrait of a Woman (allegedly Simonetta Vespucci) by Sandro Botticelli

The Renaissance Lets Its Hair Down

The notion that everybody was going to be hairless in Heaven may not have sat well with Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli.
Edward John Eyre

When Intellectuals Split: The Eyre Case

Public intellectuals in Great Britain disagreed on what to do with Governor Eyre after his heavy-handed response to the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica.
Sandy Hook Lighthouse

To the Lighthouses: A Path to Nationhood

Instilling confidence among merchants and ship captains was an area in which most agreed the new federal authority could and should act.
U.S. Weather Bureau Balloon, c. 1909-1920

Long Before Sputnik: An Explosion of Federal Science

The National Academy of Sciences was created by the United States Congress during the American Civil War. The timing wasn’t coincidental.

Wanting to Believe In Rainmakers

A form of entertainment and outgrowth of desperation, self-styled rainmakers allowed the powerless people of the Great Plains to seemingly take action.
Turquoise Blue River Flowing Along Hindu Kush Mountain Range In Ghizer Valley, Gb, Pakistan.

High Water and Its Discontents

About half of the world’s population depends on water from the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. Can India's hydro-hegemony help avoid war over this limited resource?
A painting of John Donne

John Donne’s Listicle For the Well-Prepped Courtier

“The Courtier’s Library” is a list of books every courtier should know about, a cheat sheet for name-dropping in society. The trouble? Its books are imaginary.
A Northern freeman enslaved by Northern hands

Kidnappers of Color Versus the Cause of Antislavery

Thousands of free-born Black people in the North were kidnapped into slavery through networks that operated as a form of “Reverse Underground Railroad.”
Women strike for peace, picket march in front of state building in Los Angeles, 1961

HUAC versus Women Strike for Peace

American leftists were hamstrung by the Cold War’s domestic clampdown on communism, but in the 1960s, Women Strike for Peace re-wrote the book of dissent.
Reverend Edward E. Hailwood, rector of St. Mark Episcopal Church

Fair Housing: A Church Against Itself?

A ballot measure aimed at overturning California’s 1963 Fair Housing Act revealed some serious divisions within the Episcopal Church.
Welder-trainee Josie Lucille Owens plies her trade on the SS George Washington Carver at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, CA, 1943

Toxic Legacies of WWII: Pollution and Segregation

Wartime production led directly to environmental and social injustices, polluting land and bodies in ways that continue to shape public policy and race relations.
Mary Ellen Wilson

Origins of Child Protection

Legend has it that the campaign to save abused children in New York was driven by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The truth is more complicated.
From the cover of the September, 1990 issue of The Angolite, a newspaper published by the inmates of Louisiana State Penitentiary

The Fatal Current: Electrocution as Progress? 

The electric chair was promoted as civilized and at the same time imbued with the technological sublime, the mystery of electrical power harnessed by humans.
Mesa Verde National Park

Why Did They Leave the Pueblos?

The Ancestral Puebloans were driven from their homes in the American Southwest by a combination of factors rather than a single cause.
An 1879 Poster for Murphy & MacDonough's all-child production of H.M.S. Pinafore featuring a group of children rowing a boat

Topsy-Turvy: Children in Adult Roles

The number of children acting like adults on stage reflects how conflicted nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans were about the definition of childhood.
Pictorial Map of the American Continent Following the Pan American Highway, c. 1930

The Highway and the Gap

The Pan-American Highway began a century ago with a vision of unfettered motor-vehicle access between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego. What happened to the dream?
J. Edgar Hoover, 1932

The FBI and the Madams

J. Edgar Hoover saw the political effectiveness of cracking down on elite brothel madams—but not their clients—in New York City.