Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

Straight Razors and Social Justice

A history professor examines the deep roots and empowering evolution of black barbershops:

In a country where institutionalized racism has been the norm for centuries, black barbershops remain an anomaly. Though initially blocked from serving black patrons, these businesses evolved into spaces where African Americans could freely socialize and discuss contemporary issues. While catering to certain hair types may have helped these businesses succeed, the real secret to their longevity is their continued social import. For many African Americans, getting a haircut is more than a commodity—it’s an experience that builds community and shapes political action. As both a proud symbol of African American entrepreneurship and a relic of an era when black labor exclusively benefitted whites, black barbershops provide a window into our nation’s complicated racial dynamics.

PUBLISHED: May 31, 2014
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4094 words)

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our story picks of the week, featuring New York magazine, Texas Observer, Paris Review, Financial Times and Collectors Weekly.
AUTHOR:Editors
PUBLISHED: May 9, 2014

The History of 'Boy' and 'Girl' Toys: A Veteran Toy Designer Wrestles With the Industry's Gender Divide

An interview with Stefanie Eskander, who has worked as a toy designer for more than 30 years, for companies including Mattel and Hasbro—and now works as the Design Manager for girls’ toys at Toys ‘R’ Us:

Pink is a funny thing. In the early days of the 20th century, pink was not necessarily a girl color. I’ve even heard that pink was considered a popular color for boys because it was a lighter version of red, which has always been seen as powerful and masculine. But as the 20th century went by, pink became a much more popular color for girls. I’ve heard they’ve done scientific studies that show that women and girls and even female babies are more attracted to redder colors than boys, but I take all of that with a grain of salt. I think girls’ attraction to pink is societal for the most part.

PUBLISHED: May 8, 2014
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4571 words)

How One Magazine Shaped Investigative Journalism in America

Our latest story comes recommended by Ben Marks, senior editor for Collectors Weekly.
AUTHOR:Ben Marks
SOURCE:Longreads
PUBLISHED: Jan. 5, 2014
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7181 words)

The Pretzel, Whacky Shack & Laff in the Dark: A History of Amusement Park 'Dark Rides'

How American amusement parks first discovered the thrills of “dark rides,” from the Tunnel of Love to the haunted house. Ride designers had to get creative to scare riders in the early days:

“It seems so simple, but Bill Cassidy—the second owner of Pretzel, the son of Leon—told us before he passed away that that was one of the gimmicks that he was most proud of. It was just a spool of thread. It would hang from a rafter in the ceiling, and it would rub up against people’s faces and creep them out. It’s supposed to be cobwebs, I guess, but it wasn’t an actual web. It was just a string, but you couldn’t see it. You weren’t expecting it. That got a real rise out people back then. It seems to me that just about every dark ride I rode in the 1960s had that. If it didn’t come factory-installed, I’m sure the park owners themselves would tack it up.”

AUTHOR:Lisa Hix
PUBLISHED: Oct. 20, 2013
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5878 words)

Murder and Mayhem in Miniature: The Lurid Side of Staffordshire Figurines

The dark history of ceramic figurines. The Staffordshire pottery created more than 200 years ago included graphic and risqué images and scenes from the time:

"After 1840, a growing number of middle- and lower-class homes wanted these figures, so they had to be made more cheaply. And with the Industrial Revolution, this was now possible. Increasingly, figures were made out of very few molded parts. The era of the 'flat-back' was born, those simple Staffordshire figures with one piece in front and another less-detailed piece behind, slapped together. Paint the front, don’t bother with the back. Somebody’s going to stick it on the shelf against the wall, and you’re not going to see it anyway.

"The years from 1780 to 1840 also coincided with a sort of visual revolution. In 1780, there were no reproduced images. If you read the autobiography of Thomas Bewick, who was one of the great illustrators of this time, there’s a great quote about how he only saw three images during his whole childhood. Newspapers weren’t even illustrated."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4519 words)

A Filthy History: When New Yorkers Lived Knee-Deep in Trash

An interview with Robin Nagle, the New York City Department of Sanitation's Anthropologist in Residence who has spent most of her life studying trash:

"In its early days, the department didn’t really function at all. There are some photographs taken for Harper’s Weekly, before and after photos of street corners in New York in 1893 and then in 1895. And the before pictures are pretty astonishing, people were literally shin-high or knee-high in this muck that was a combination of street gunk, horse urine and manure, dead animals, food waste, and furniture crap.

"Put yourself back in the late 19th century and think about the material world that would have surrounded you in your home. When you threw something out, it wouldn’t go anywhere. It would be thrown in the street."
PUBLISHED: June 24, 2013
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4768 words)

Please Feed The Meters: The Next Parking Revolution

Why did America give up on charging for parking? A proposed solution to congestion and sprawl:

"There’s plenty to hate about driving—traffic jams, car accidents, speeding tickets—not to mention the endless headache of finding a spot to park. So what if you discovered an invention that could wean us from our vehicles, combating suburban sprawl and making city streets less dangerous, congested, and polluted? Well, that device has been around for nearly 80 years: It’s called the parking meter.

"Contrary to popular belief, the parking meter was originally designed to keep traffic moving and make more spaces available for shoppers, a measure often lauded by local businesses as much as the public who paid their hourly rates. Beginning with the first parking meter, installed in 1935 on the corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, and spreading clear across the United States, the device was hailed as the great solution to our parking woes. Yet decades of poor meter implementation, inane off-street parking requirements, and technological stasis slowly turned our city streets into a driver’s nightmare."

(via The Browser)
PUBLISHED: Jan. 26, 2013
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2313 words)