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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.

American feminist, abolitionist, journalist and writer Lydia Maria Child

Lydia Maria Child and the American Way of Censorship

Facing ostracism by literary elites and attacks from pro-slavery mobs, an abolitionist blunted her politics.
A man in a uniform holding a camel

The U.S. Army’s Remarkable Camel Corps of the 1850s

Imported from Mediterranean ports, the marvelous pack animals served to great acclaim in the military.
An African-American miner poses with a shovel in Auburn Ravine during the Gold Rush, California, 1852.

Slavery in a Free State: The Case of California

California came into the Union as a free state in 1850, but proslavery politicians held considerable sway there.
Photograph: Muhammad Ali, 1966

Source: Getty

How Muhammad Ali Prevailed as a Conscientious Objector

The heavyweight champion lost his title when he refused induction into the military during the Vietnam War.
Annie Lee Moss

How Annie Lee Moss Survived McCarthyism

Moss, a Black government employee with activist experience, was hauled in front of Congress on suspicion of being a Communist.
A cowgirl participates in the barrel race competition at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo on April 1, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Black Cowboys and the History of the Rodeo

Long overlooked in histories of the West, African-American rodeo stars also faced discrimination and erasure in that sport, too.
Claude McKay, 1920

Black Caribbeans in the Harlem Renaissance

The "Capital of Black America" was also a world capital, thanks to the influence of West Indian–born artists and writers like Claude McKay.
Fredi Washington and Louise Beavers in a scene from Imitation of Life

Why Didn’t Movies about Passing Cast Black Actors?

"Social problem" films were all the rage after World War II. So how could movies about racism be so conservative?
A map of Illinois from 1894

The Meaning of Racist Place Names

In one river town in central Illinois, a wetlands called N— Lake was scapegoated for destructive flooding.
New York, 1855

How One Household Avoided Emancipation Laws

The Volunbruns enslaved twenty people and moved relentlessly between empires and states as more jurisdictions outlawed slavery.
A man displays a Ku Klux Klan cross tattooed onto his arm

How White Supremacy Is Like a Drug

Four researchers found that identifying with a hate group can produce pleasurable sensations in the brain.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Klu_Klux_Klan,_3-18-22_LOC_npcc.05904.jpg

A German Klan in the Weimar Republic

The little-known story of how the vicious American hate group spawned a counterpart in 1920s Germany.
Ho Chi Minh, 1921

The First Vietnamese in America

Before 1945, many Vietnamese migrants to the United States were laborers. One was Ho Chi Minh.
Ghost plant

Why Some Plants Are Parasites

Tap into the underground network of plants and fungi with mysterious myco-heterotrophes.
New York city from Hoboken, New Jersey, c. 1800

The Early American Radical Fiction of John Lithgow

In the early 1800s, the Scottish immigrant wrote an anonymous tract imagining equality. He was worried about the brand-new American republic.
Monochrome vintage engraving drawing human brain with wind up key

How Technology Got Its Modern Meaning

If we give technology credit for changing history, does that mean we give ourselves less?

Don’t Cry for Me, North Korea

Western media outlets were obsessed with whether North Koreans were truly sad about Kim Jong-il's death. Why?
A painting of Strawberry Hill from the Southeast by Paul Sandby

Is This a Gay House?

The British aristocrat Horace Walpole's villa Strawberry Hill was said to be evidence of his "degeneracy."
Photograph: Konstantin Mereschkowski

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Konstantin_Mereschkowski.jpg

Can You Be a Good Scientist and a Horrible Person at the Same Time?

Consider Constantin Merezhkowsky, theorist of symbiogenesis.

Wren Folklore and St. Stephen’s Day

The tiny winter songbirds are clever kings to the Irish. They're also fodder (literally) for post-Christmas ritual.
US Airmail stamp: Inverted Jenny Air Mail Issue of 1918

Stamp Collecting as Metaphor for the Free Market

The hobby was originally pursued by middle-class women and children. But its resemblance to capitalist values made it attractive to men.
On the left stands King George III surrounded by symbols of British peace and liberty, while across the Channel the figure of Napoleon is stalked by poverty and ‘universal destruction’.

Jacobin Hating, American Style

The most radical faction of the French Revolution was hated by everyone in the United States from reactionaries to abolitionists.
Illustration: Branding Iron by Henry Rasmusen, c. 1937

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henry_Rasmusen,_Branding_Iron,_c._1937,_NGA_21119.jpg

A Fistful of Data: Information and the Cattle Industry

Beef barons needed cowboys less and bookkeepers more as the nineteenth century wore on.
The coronation of Charlemagne

Making Sense of the Divine Right of Kings

The United States threw off the yoke of a king more than two centuries ago. Funny how we can't get enough of our erstwhile sovereigns today.
A troupe of mummers in animal costumes performing in a Medieval Baronial Hall at Christmas, c. 1500

Nittel Nacht: The Jewish Christmas Eve

'Twas the night before Christmas, and an undead Jesus walked the earth. No wonder early modern Jews played games and sang songs to scare him off.