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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.

A green meadow

The Conservatism of Conservation

Ecological conservation was originally focused on keeping things the way they were, and in that spirit, was closely connected with political conservatism.
Scene in The Bahamas, 1884

The Saltwater Railroad

Throughout the 19th century, enslaved people attempted to escape from the U.S. to the Bahamas, across what became known as the "Saltwater Railroad."
Viverra bengalensis

The Strange Case of Daniel Defoe’s Civet Scheme

In the 17th century, these animals were prized for their musk. So when the not-yet-famous writer Daniel Defoe needed quick cash, he turned to civets.
A banana on a pink surface

The Beloved, Bedeviled Banana

The Cavendish banana is currently threatened by a fungal disease. A similar disease all but wiped out its predecessor, the Gros Michel banana.
A red popsicle beginning to melt

The Buggy Truth about Natural Red Dye

The slightly disgusting secret ingredient that has historically made food dye, lipstick, and even the cloaks of Roman Catholic cardinals so vibrant.
Mexican seasonal labor contracted for by planters, picking cotton on Knowlton Plantation, Perthshire, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi

Early Mexican Immigrants Blurred Color Lines in the Southern U.S.

In the 1920s, Mexican immigrants to the United States challenged the country's notions of who was white and who was not.
The St. Bernard Abbey in Hemiksem by Jan Wildens, 1616

The Complex Economics of Medieval Convents

Medieval convents were better funded than many scholars assume, thanks in part to royal patrons sympathetic to the holy women's mission.
New Cider by Thomas Waterman Wood

The Ancient Roots of Apple Cider

Alcoholic apple cider has been around for centuries. So why does "hard cider" feel like a new trend?
Aeroplankton

Aeroplankton: The Life in the Air We Breathe

Just as the ocean is full of plankton, the air we breathe teems with microorganisms.
Map of Tennessee highlighting Former State of Franklin

Franklin, the American State that Wasn’t

Franklin was the 14th state of America. If you haven't heard of it, that's because it only lasted for four years.
A stamp for the 50th Anniversary of Boy Scouts of America (1960)

Boy Scouts and the Phenomenon of “Boyification”

After a series of traumatic wars, the U.K. and the U.S. embraced a trend of "boyification." Scholars theorize it was an attempt to recover lost innocence.
Bar in Hotel Scribe by Floyd MacMillan Davis

How Janet Flanner’s “High-Class Gossip” Changed America

The journalist's witty Paris Letters for the New Yorker helped establish Americans' feelings of superiority over Europe.
A New England whaler

The Diverse Whaling Crews of Melville’s Era

The ship from Moby Dick was a fairly accurate portrayal of the multi-racial character of American whaling crews before the Civil War.
A submarine for the US government, 1806.

The Submerged History of the Submarine

Submarines played a major role in Word War I. But the first submersible was actually used, though unsuccessfully, in the Revolutionary War.
Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Personal #Brand

Napoleon didn't like sitting for portraits, and yet artists and mass market prints helped cement his legendary status.
Busing in Charlotte, NC

Does Busing Work to Integrate Schools?

Busing as a means used to end school segregation remains controversial. Does it work? The case of Norfolk, Virginia, is highly instructive.
Hortense Powdermaker

When Hortense Powdermaker Studied Hollywood

This anthropologist's research on contemporary American society probes the tensions between business and art in the film world.
Zumbi by Antônio Parreiras

Brazil’s Maroon State

For nearly a century, Quilombo of Palmares was an Afro-Brazilian state, populated and run by people who had freed themselves from slavery.
World War 1 soldiers wearing gas masks

The Amoral Scientist

Fritz Haber was a chemist who made discoveries that improved global agriculture… but also helped spawn the modern era of chemical warfare.
Gypsy Rose Lee seated at a typewriter

Who Really Wrote The G-String Murders?

Gypsy Rose Lee, the most famous burlesque star of the 1940s, wrote a series of letters published by Simon & Schuster that may prove her authorship.
British Ladies Football Club 1895

The Origins of Women’s Soccer

The British Ladies Football Club held their first match at Alexandra Park in Crouch End, London in 1895.
The Terra Nova, 1911

Why Cheerfulness Mattered in the Antarctica Expedition of 1912

Often associated with stoic masculinity, Robert Falcon Scott's British Antarctic Expedition was in fact defined by cheerfulness and friendly homemaking.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sor Juana, Founding Mother of Mexican Literature

How a 17th-century nun wrote poetry, dramas, and comedies that took on the inequities and double standards women faced in society.
Hurricane Rita

Controlling a Hurricane

In the mid-20th century, the United States government invested in two major projects designed to control hurricanes by seeding the storm clouds.
Tehran, Iran

Why People Live In Earthquake Zones

Millions of people now live atop fault lines because long ago small communities gathered at fresh water sources.