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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.

Pontiac, an Ottawa Indian, confronts Colonel Henry Bouquet who authorised his officers to spread smallpox amongst native Americans by deliberately infecting blankets after peace talks in 1764

How Commonly Was Smallpox Used as a Biological Weapon?

Once introduced into the Americas, smallpox spread everywhere. Is it possible to know how often that was done intentionally to kill people?
Rosie the Riveter

Does It Matter Who the Real Rosie the Riveter Was?

Many women have claimed to be the model behind the iconic poster.
At a self-defence demonstration a woman uses a judo heel and leg turnover against a kicking attacker.

How American Women First Learned Self-Defense

Jiu-jitsu, judo, boxing, and wrestling raised eyebrows. But physical strength and political empowerment went hand in hand.
Big Jim Colosimo by Pauline Boty and Portrait fragmenté by Evelyne Axell

The Women of Pop

In addition to bringing attention to overlooked artists, one scholar argues that art criticism has contributed to their obscurity.
This 1964 poster featured what at that time, was CDC’s national symbol of public health, the “Wellbee”, who here was reminding the public to get a booster vaccination.

How Three Women Led the Fight against Pertussis

As whooping cough killed thousands of kids annually, a trio of public health workers were deeply involved in the production and distribution of a vaccine.
Mary Ritter Beard

Mary Beard and the Beginning of Women’s History

She was one half of a powerhouse academic couple and an influential historian in her own right. But she's still often overlooked.
Cover illustration for "Female Convict" by Vincent E. Burns. Illustration by Robert Maguire, 1952

Lesbians in Prison: The Making of a Threat

A scandal at a Massachusetts women's prison marked a change in the construction of the "dangerous" female homosexual.
Martha Hughes Cannon

Suffrage and Polygamy in Utah

Women began voting legally in Utah Territory in 1870, only to have that right taken away from them later.
Photograph: Gloria Reynolds, a shop assistant in London's King's Road. 

Source: Graham Wood/Getty

Why Black Women Activists Started Wearing Denim

Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee adopted denim clothing for activist work. This had special significance for Black women.
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?