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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.

Algonquin Round Table

The Lonely Hearts of the Algonquin Round Table

The "Vicious Circle" of the Algonquin Round Table included sharp-tongued wits like Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott. But it wasn't always vicious.
Scottish Highlanders

What Does It Mean To Be Celtic?

How various nationalist groups have come to use "Celtic" as a coded way of saying "white."
A young Irish woman working at a spinning wheel. Engraving by Francis Holl

How War Revolutionized Ireland’s Linen Industry

During the Napoleonic Wars, Irish women, who had traditionally only spun flax into thread, took over the traditionally male job of weaving linen as well.
Into the Jaws of Death by Robert F. Sargent

The Weather Forecast That Saved D-Day

Operation Overlord launched the invasion of German-occupied Europe during WWII. But the right weather, tides, and moonlight were essential for it to work.
Phrenology head from The Household Physician, 1905

Walt Whitman, America’s Phrenologist

The pseudoscience of phrenology included a notion of body as text that Whitman loved. But the craze of "bumpology" also had a darker side.
A physician wearing a seventeenth century plague preventive costume

How the Plague Reshaped the World

The bacterium that causes the plague emerged relatively recently, as bacterium go. And yet the pandemics it's created have altered the world.
Joseph Priestley, 1822, in front of a colorful background

Joseph Priestley, Radical Inventor

How scientist and soda water inventor Joseph Priestley came to be an enemy of the state.
Florida Longleaf Pines

How Longleaf Pines Helped Build the U.S.

The dense, resin-saturated, rot-resistant timber of the longleaf pine helped build up U.S. cities. But most of the native stands have already been logged.

The Mob Violence of the Red Summer

In 1919, a brutal outburst of mob violence was directed against African Americans across the United States. White, uniformed servicemen led the charge.
Chatterton by Henry Wallis, 1856

The Posthumous Mystique of Thomas Chatterton

He died young of suicide and became the quintessence of the tormented poet. But his death may have been an accident, and his greatest work, forgeries.
Map of the United States showing the state nicknames as hogs, 1884

What Ever Happened to the Beetheads?

A lighthearted look at Americans' nicknames of yore, from master humorist H. L. Mencken.
Woodstock, 1969

Woodstock: Sex, Drugs, and Zoning

It's the 50th anniversary of the famous Woodstock festival, which was fraught with controversy before it even happened.
Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver as Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs in "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

How the Beat Generation Became “Beatniks”

The rebellious culture of the Beat Generation was coopted into fodder for a marketable lifestyle.
Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Codpiece and the Pox

A brief history of the codpiece, that mysterious garment favored by 16th-century gents who just may have been covering up their cases of syphilis.
A cowboy in the western United States, between 1898 and 1905

Go West, You Nervous Men

The "Rest Cure" for women is notorious. But the "West Cure" for men, though little known today, is a fundamental part of American mythology.
A sign for the Highlander Folk School

The Destruction of a Civil Rights Center

The Highlander Research and Education Center is "the most notable American experiment in adult education for social change." One of its buildings recently burned down.
An illustration of Casimir Pulaski

The New Legacy of Casimir Pulaski

New findings reveal that the Polish war officer who aided the American Revolution may have been intersex.
Notre-Dame, 1881

Recreating Notre Dame

The famous Paris cathedral was built over many centuries, reflecting the growth and evolution of Paris itself.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Memorial_jewellery_made_from_human_hair_in_a_case.jpg

Why Victorians Loved Hair Relics

Victorians were mesmerized by the hair of the dead -- which reveals something about about how they saw life.
Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo by Richard Samuel

The Bluestockings

Meet the original Bluestockings, a group of women intellectuals. Their name would eventually become a misogynist epithet -- but it didn't start that way.
Voltairine de Cleyre, Christmas 1891

Voltairine de Cleyre: American Radical

She was a notable anarchist thinker and speaker, but history has largely forgotten Voltairine de Cleyre.
Camp of Mexican Refugees, c. 1910-1918

The Untold History of Lynching in the American West

In the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, people of Mexican ancestry were the target of intense racist violence.
The Birth of the Monroe Doctrine by Clyde O. DeLand

The Monroe Doctrine’s Checkered Past

This 1823 policy initially focused on preventing European colonization in the Americas. But different U.S. presidents have used it to mean different things.
Profile portrait of Catherine II by Fedor Rokotov (1763)

The Memoirs of Catherine The Great

Catherine II ruled Russia for many years. She also wrote her own memoirs, in a time when such writing was considered inappropriate for a monarch.
Alice Guy

Hollywood Froze Out the Founding Mother of Cinema

French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché was the first female film director, and renowned as an innovator in the field. Then she moved to Hollywood.