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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 group of Royal Irish Constabulary officers

Britain’s World Police in Mandate Palestine

As colonized peoples challenged the imperial powers after World War I, British veterans were tapped to become a ruthless police force.
Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler, known as the the Ladies of Llangollen

Who Were the Ladies of Llangollen?

Top hat connoisseurs, friends of princesses and poets, tchotchke models, dog lovers, cottage keepers...lesbians?
A depiction of cholera by Robert Seymour

Disease Theory in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man

Shelley's third novel, about the sole survivor of a global plague, draws on the now-outdated miasma theory of disease.
Bison americanus

Where the Bison Roam—Again?

The American bison isn't extinct. But could it ever roam freely across North America, as it once did? Some scholars say it could happen.
Trinidad-born journalist and activist Claudia Jones at the offices of The West Indian Gazette in 1962. Jones joined the Communist Party in 1936

Why Black Women Joined the Communist Party

During the Great Depression, Communists took to the streets to fight racism, poverty, and injustice. Among them were Black women.
The Decameron by John William Waterhouse

Boccaccio’s Medicine

In the Decameron of Boccaccio, friends tell one another stories of love to while away the hours of quarantine.
A portrait of Emily Dickinson in front of an evolutionary illustration

How Emily Dickinson Wrestled with Darwinism

The current vogue for the Amherst poet needs to give credit to the way she readily examined her childhood ideas about fixed and immutable truth.
Pneumonia coronavirus

Are Viruses Alive? Define Life.

Scientists have different ideas about whether viruses are living beings. But they have solid advice on how to destroy them: wash up.
Voting stickers on a table

Would Formerly Incarcerated People Vote Democratic?

Conventional wisdom says that Republicans don't want to give ex-felons voting rights because they'll end up voting for Democrats. But is this true?
Women line up to vote in a municipal election, Boston, Massachusetts, December 11, 1888.

New Jersey Let (Some) Women Vote from 1776 to 1807

Historians Judith Apter Klinghoffer and Lois Elkis argue that this wasn't oversight. New Jersey legislators knew exactly what they were doing.
A Reading from Homer by Lawrence Alma Tadema, 1885

How Do We Know That Epic Poems Were Recited from Memory?

Scholars once doubted that pre-literate peoples could ever have composed and recited poems as long as the Odyssey. Milman Parry changed that.
George Washington's teeth

Were George Washington’s Teeth Taken from Enslaved People?

We know a surprising amount about the dental history of the nation’s first president.
A developing Gall on a Quercus pubescens caused by the insect Cynips quercusfolii.

Are Galls Miracle Cures or Just Weird Growths on Plants?

For millennia, humans have exploited galls for medicine, fuel, food, tanning, and dyeing. Some people have considered them miraculous.
Judi Bari speaks at an Earth First! forest rally in 1990 before she was bombed on the eve of Redwood Summer.

How Judi Bari Tried to Unite Loggers and Environmentalists

The radical environmentalist had a background in labor organizing and wanted to end the misogyny of the movement and the logging industry alike.
Vicente Guerrero

Black Mexico and the War of Independence

The president of Mexico who finally issued the decree ending slavery was of African descent himself.
Burning of an 80 ft. cross by the KKK, 1925

How 1920s Catholic Students Fought the Ku Klux Klan

There are few traces today of college students' resistance to anti-Catholic threats, but the ones that remain are powerful.
1881: Champion racehorse Iroquis, winner of the 1881 Derby under Fred Archer and property of P Lorillard.

The Myth of the Noble Racehorse

Despite all the whips and spurs involved, nineteenth-century Americans believed racehorses loved a little manly competition.
A protest of Gone With the Wind organized by the D.C. chapter of the National Negro Congress

White Hollywood’s Romance with the N-Word

It would have been easy for censors to just ban the racist epithet during the classical era of film. Here's why it didn't happen.
The 24th U.S. Infantry at drill, Camp Walker, Philippine Islands, c. 1902

The Jim Crow Army in the Philippine-American War

Some African American soldiers of the conflict thought fighting against fellow people of color was unjust.
World map showing the zoogeographical regions by Alfred Russel Wallace

The 1876 Map of the World’s Ecozones That Still Holds Up

The 19th-century naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace created a visualization that tied different species to specific regions of the world.
A woman carries a baby wearing a protective mask as they exit the arrival hall at Hong Kong High Speed Rail Station on January 29, 2020 in Hong Kong, China.

The Law and Coronavirus

Can environmental law help contain viruses that spill over from animal to human populations?
A town hall event in Iowa.

Just How Unrepresentative Are the Iowa Caucuses?

There's no denying the whiteness of the state. But scholars cite other qualities that make Iowa more like the rest of the country.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Bulldozers Versus Biodiversity, Then and Now

Trump's border wall threatens habitats in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. What happened when the area was bulldozed in the 1950s?

Crispus Attucks Needs No Introduction. Or Does He? 

The African American Patriot, who died in the Boston Massacre, was erased from visual history. Black abolitionists revived his memory.
Hernan Cortes, Spanish Conquistador meeting Moctezuma II Aztec Emperor

The Mexica Didn’t Believe the Conquistadors Were Gods

The indigenous Mexica (Aztec) people were overwhelmed by a superior technological force ruthlessly used against them.