When Medieval Monks Couldn’t Cure the Plague, They Launched a Luxe Skincare Line

Whether you were European royalty desperately seeking a cure for impotence or a working-class neighbor looking for the latest deodorant, Santa Maria Novella was the place to go.

Published: Mar 14, 2017
Length: 8 minutes (2,134 words)

The Sissies, Hustlers, and Hair Fairies Whose Defiant Lives Paved the Way For Stonewall

Before Stonewall, there was Compton’s Cafeteria: “In August 1966—fifty years ago this month—transgender and gender-nonconforming customers at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria stood up to years of abusive, discriminatory treatment by the San Francisco police.”

Published: Aug 23, 2016
Length: 18 minutes (4,726 words)

Why Are America’s Most Innovative Companies Still Stuck in 1950s Suburbia?

Why do tech companies keep building suburban corporate campuses that are isolated—by design—from the communities their products are supposed to impact? Oatman-Stanford looks at the history of corporate urban design and the midcentury rise (and continued reign) of the suburban office park.

Published: Apr 8, 2016
Length: 14 minutes (3,729 words)

Our Pungent History

From the ancient Egyptians to modernity, a history of body odor and our attempts to deal with it.

Published: Mar 8, 2016
Length: 17 minutes (4,415 words)

When Rock ‘n’ Roll Loomed Large Over the Sunset Strip

For nearly two decades hand painted rock ‘n’ roll billboards loomed large over the Sunset Strip. The billboards were ephemeral, but a budding young photographer documented them throughout their heyday.

Published: Mar 10, 2015
Length: 12 minutes (3,060 words)

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 (4,094 words)

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 (4,571 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 (4,519 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: Jun 24, 2013
Length: 19 minutes (4,768 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 (2,313 words)