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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.

Animal magnetism

Mesmerizing Labor

The man who introduced mesmerism to the US was a slave-owner from Guadeloupe, where planters were experimenting with “magnetizing” their enslaved people.
White bucks shoes

White Shoes, WASPs and Law Firms

Law firms founded on Protestant identity necessitated the creation of firms that would hire those shut out by WASP gatekeeping.
Kelp Harvester at Work

Burning Kelp for War

World War I saw the availability of potash plummet, while its price doubled. The US found this critical component for multiple industries in Pacific kelp.
Child workers at Avondale Mills, 1910

The Age of the Birth Certificate

When states began restricting labor by children, verifying a person's age became an important means of enforcement.
An advertisement for steel

Making Steel All Shiny and New

When it seemed that steel had lost its gleam with American consumers, the industry turned to marketing to make it shine again.
Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane vs. The Police

When the author tried to defend a woman from charges of solicitation, and then testified against the arresting officer, the NYPD struck back.
Striking miners in Buchtel, Ohio receiving "Blackleg" workmen when returning from their work escorted by a detachment of Pinkerton's detectives

American Vigilantism

In the early 20th century, labor unrest and strike breaking were done not by the government, by private agencies and self-appointed vigilantes.
A christmas wreath

Wreath-Making in National Parks? In Mexico, Yes

Mexico created its national parks system in the 1930s. Today, hundreds of thousands of people live, and work, within its boundaries.
Marcus G. Daniel

Charity Scams of Yore

Between the 1850s and 1940s, a charity scam worked a collection circuit of Evangelical Christians in least five hundred towns across eighty countries.
Some of the chief defendants listening to the court summary at the Nuremberg War Trials. In the front row (from left to right) are Goering, Hess, von Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner and Rosenberg. In the back row are Doenitz, Raeder, von Schirach and Sauckel.

In History, The Past is the Present is the Future

If the past is so all terribly bad, then aren’t we lucky in the present?
Activists march for missing and murdered Indigenous women at the Women's March California 2019 on January 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

Colonial Traffic in Native American Women

Slavery in North America was not an institution of singular evil.
Nicholas Murray Butler, 1921

Silence in the Face of Intellectual Conflagration

Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler's actions (and inaction) towards Nazi Germany spoke loudly, while he said nothing.
King Arthur removing the sword from the stone

The Return of the Hidden Hero

The hero/king/god isn’t dead, he’s just sleeping, often under a mountain, waiting for the day his people really need him. 
Frank P. Zeidler

Race-baiting the Last Big City Socialist

When business interests tried to use red-baiting to take down a socialist mayor of Milwaukee in the Fifties, it didn't work, so they used race-baiting instead.
Painting of a woman's hand holding a pomegranate

The Paradoxical Pomegranate

Aphrodisiac and contraceptive, enflaming and cooling, the pomegranate was a balancing act, mediating between opposing states.
Grand Saloon of the Great Britain

Separate Spheres On Narrow Boats: Victorians At Sea

On the North Atlantic, the ships were small and the trips were long, making it difficult to maintain the land-based social distinctions.
A man with a ham radio

Ham Radio and Gender Politics

During its heyday in the 1950s, ham radio was predominantly a hobby for middle-class men, based in suburban homes.
a passenger on the London Underground, reading D H Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'

Would You Let Your Servant Read This Book?

How the ban on D. H. Lawrence's book Lady Chatterley's Lover was reversed.
dogs in WWI

Dogs in the Trenches of World War I

While the history of pigeons and horses in the military is widely known, canines have gotten less attention.
A male janitor stands and bends over a urinal in a bathroom, scrubbing the porcelain with a detergent.

A Short History of the Public Restroom

How come it's so hard to go in sweet privacy when you're out and about?

Bird Watcher

Herbert Keightley Job's work represents a major turn in the study of birds. Instead of shooting them, he photographed them, at least some of the time...
A portrait of Italian philosopher, writer and politician Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli, Prince of…Democracy?

The other side of the Renaissance man, known today for promoting autocratic power.
The Dissolute Household by Jan Steen, ca. 1663-64

Drunk as a Lord? OK, if You’re a Lord

Where does class-based hypocrisy over substance use come from? Look to the seventeenth century.
Detail from a French print from 1793that uses the Liberty Cap as a motif of the First Republic.

The Rise and Fall of the Liberty Cap

What happened to the revolutionary headgear that symbolized freedom from enslavement? Meet the sectional politics of the early republic.