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.

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.
Getty

How the Fascists Rewrote Spanish National History

National origin stories can be the stuff of fancy. Francoist Spain also showed how quickly those stories could be rewritten.
A chef with the turtle he is going to use for a special soup for Independence day celebrations.

Turtle Soup: From Class to Mass to Aghast

During the days of the British Empire, soup made from sea turtles was a delicacy. Now it's almost unheard of. What explains the change?
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie (1921 - 2000) addresses a Drop The Debt rally in Trafalgar Square, 13th June 1999.

Debt Forgiveness and Jubilee 2000

Erasing student loans is a hot topic of conversation now. In the 1990s, debt forgiveness was an international movement.
An image of lettuce from 1926

The Lettuce Workers Strike of 1930

Uniting for better wages and working conditions, a remarkably diverse coalition of laborers faced off against agribusiness.
From a 1703 atlas of the world

Bringing France Back into American History

The current arrangement of nation-states in North America has made the role of the French in colonial history seem less important.
Captain America punching a Nazi

Captain America and Wonder Woman, Anti-Fascist Heroes

Who needs black clothing to fight fascism when red, white, and blue will do quite nicely?
A mosaic along the Surrey Diggers Trail, Cobham UK

What Did the Diggers Really Believe?

The early modern Protestant sect has been seen as a predecessor to radical political views. But is that how they saw themselves?
Harriet Taylor Mill

Harriet Taylor Mill, At Last

When you're married to John Stuart Mill, whatever you do or say may be held against you. And so it was.
Diane di Prima

Diane di Prima

The Italian American poet and artist's “willingness to speak” about what was culturally unspeakable was a liberation.
View of the West Front of Monticello and Garden by Jane Braddick, 1825

Building A Better Democracy?

Metaphors of construction have been popular in American history from the start. How come?
A historical marker for the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster

Remembering the Disaster at Hawks Nest

Hundreds of miners, mostly African American men, died from an entirely preventable industrial catastrophe.
Visitors walk past the entrance gate to the Auschwitz death camp, the most notorious of the many Nazi concentration camps

Does Dark Tourism Exploit Tragedy for Profit?

Thanatourism, as one scholar calls it, has a long history. And some historic sites of mass death do offer thoughtful educational experiences.
Children enacting heteronormative gender roles

Bringing Up Baby Straight

Many parents just assume their kids will turn out heterosexual. That's part of heteronormativity.
Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris’s Secret Sex Diary

The author of the preamble to the Constitution spent years in Europe as a businessman, diplomat, and connoisseur of the pleasures of the flesh.