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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.

Cropduster spraying field

War and Pest Control

Since World War I, the connections between pest control and war have been scientific, technological, institutional, and metaphorical.
Punch Jack the Ripper

How Jack the Ripper Became a Legend

In 1880s London, an anti-prostitution campaign, anti-immigration feelings, and a deep class divide set the scene for the Jack the Ripper media frenzy.
1968 DNC protests

The Dirtiest Piece of Writing in Print

The 1968 DNC was overshadowed by anti-war demonstrations. The Walker Report describing the events became controversial for the obscenities it contained.
Severely burnt forest after Grampians wildfire

How Eucalyptus Trees Stoke Wildfires

Eucalypts are now cosmopolitan, spread around the world through imperialism and globalization. Unfortunately, they're also highly flammable.
Abuelas Adriana

The Stolen Children of Argentina

Between 1976-1982 some 30,000 Argentines were "disappeared," their children seized by the junta. The Abuelas—the Grandmothers—of the Plaza refuse to forget.
Bisbee deportation

The Bisbee Deportations

According to one scholar, the 1917 deportation in Bisbee, AZ wasn't "about labor relations or race or gender: it was about all of them."
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The Return of Socialism

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has catapulted the term "Democratic socialist" back into the spotlight. What does it actually mean to be a socialist?
Birthright citizenship

Birthright Citizenship Basics

Birthright citizenship, which holds that individuals are citizens of the nation in which they are born, was codified with the 14th Amendment in 1868.
Double Indemnity

History’s Most Notorious True Crime Story

How New York City's tabloids sensationalized the murder case that inspired the classic film noir Double Indemnity.
Corsica/Ajaccio bay

The Real First Written Constitution

American often gets credit for having the first written constitution. But the constitution of the short-lived republic of Corsica preceded it by 30+ years.
Maria Mitchell

America’s First Woman Astronomer

Maria Mitchell became famous when she discovered a comet in 1847. She didn't stop there, fighting for education and equality for women in the sciences.
refrigerator

The Complicated Politics of… Refrigerators

When American kitchens started getting high-tech in the 1950s, the refrigerator seemed to alienate and frustrate many men.
James Tiptree, Jr Alice Sheldon

The Woman Behind James Tiptree, Jr.

James Tiptree, Jr., was a beloved sci-fi writer known for masculine prose and universal themes. Then her real identity was revealed: Alice Bradley Sheldon.

When FDR Tried to Pack the Courts

Pushing New Deal legislation, FDR proposed that extra justices should be added to the Supreme Court, one for every sitting justice over the age of seventy.
Iris Origo La Foce

Iris Origo’s Italian War Diary

The marchese's 1939-1940 diary, detailing the months before Italy's armed alliance with Nazi Germany, is now available as A Chill in the Air.
Avalanche Lake trail at Adirondack High Peaks, New York.

The Odd History of the Adirondacks

The largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi was deemed "Forever Wild" in 1885. But it wasn't exactly created to preserve nature.
Vernon Lee 1881 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

The Forgotten Master of the Ghost Story

Vernon Lee was a widely-read writer of 19th-century ghost stories, called the "cleverest woman in Europe." Her life story was pretty fascinating, too.
Lew Welch

The Poet Who Wanted to Be Eaten by Vultures

One day in 1971, the hard-drinking Beat poet Lew Welch walked into the woods of Nevada County and disappeared, possibly angling to be eaten by vultures.
Glyptodon

Megafauna Memories?

Some folklorists have hypothesized that the mythical beasts and monsters of legend were actually inspired by shadowy collective memories of megafauna.
River Basin archaeologists

The River Basin Surveys Preserved American Prehistory

Between 1945 and 1969, archaeologists hurriedly surveyed over 20,000 prehistorical sites before the Mississippi River Basin was flooded by dams.
anti-abolitionist cartoon

How Antebellum Christians Justified Slavery

After Emancipation, some Southern Protestants refused to revise their proslavery views. In their minds, slavery had been divinely sanctioned.
Marbles Reflecting a Rainbow Background

Losing Our Marbles

For decades kids across the world played with marbles, creating their own games and slang. So why did such a popular game go suddenly extinct?
Maxim Gorky

Revolutionary Writer Maxim Gorky’s NYC Sex Scandal

In 1906, Russian Bolshevik writer Maxim Gorky was given a warm welcome in the United States. Then the American media manufactured a scandal about his girlfriend.
Bread Turkey roasted baked

Baking Vs. Roasting

We cook bread, meat, and vegetables much the same way: in our ovens. So why do we say we "bake" bread, but we "roast" meat and veggies?
Nuremberg locusts

The Long-Lost Locust

The 1874 locust swarm was estimated to be twice the square mileage of the state of Colorado. Why don't locusts swarm anymore?