Dog Poo, an Environmental Tragedy

When industrial fertilizer replaced dung heaps, its spoils helped fund the spread of plastics.

by T. Hugh Crawford

Dog waste is now timeless.

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How a Glass Terrarium Changed the World

The Wardian case made intercontinental plant transport possible—and helped spread empires.

by Jen Maylack

The Wardian case emboldened European powers to continue global expansion.

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How Racial Data Gets ‘Cleaned’ in the U.S. Census

The national survey offers more identity choices than ever—until those choices get scrubbed away.

by Roby Autry

If racial data must be cleaned, then some data is dirty. And that dirtiness is undeniably political.

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The Saintliness of Undecayed Corpses

In the medieval church, “incorrupt” remains signaled virtue, chastity, and holiness.

by Katherine Harvey

If a corpse was found to have decayed, a cult’s potential would be seriously undermined.

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Your Bones Live On Without You

The human skeleton inspires wonder and terror because it lasts much longer than its owner.

by Chip Colwell

People around the world are distraught that their ancestors lie as specimens on museum shelves.

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The Underclass Origins of the Little Black Dress

The upper classes once imposed the fashion staple on their servants—then they stole it back from them

by Shelley Puhak

There was a “revolution in dress, not by the fashionable folk, but by New York’s army of shopgirls.”

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How to Escape a Death Spiral

The aviator’s hazard offers a lesson about responding to supposed crises.

by Toni Wall Jaudon

To tame the death spiral, devices had to become part of how aviators kept control of the plane.

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The Contentious Physics of Wiffle Ball

An engineer sheds light on the ball’s much-debated curve.

by Jenn Stroud Rossmann

Wiffle balls wouldn’t be possible without the ubiquity of plastic.

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Oil Barrels Aren’t Real Anymore

Once a cask that held crude, the oil barrel is now mostly an economic concept.

by Brian Jacobson

The oil barrel tells a story of struggle between what industries need and what they want.

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The Thunderstorm Whisperers

For centuries, lightning rods have tamed the heavens, more or less unchanged.

by Robin Tricoles

You can’t be afraid of heights in our business.

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The Lost Origins of Playing-Card Symbols

Cards have been used for gambling, divination, and even commerce. But where did their “pips” come from?

by Adrienne Bernhard

These graphic tablets aren’t just toys, or tools. They are cultural imprints that reveal popular custom.

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Why It’s Better to Carry Weight on Your Head

People have done it for centuries. Maybe everyone still should.

by Pippa Biddle

Looking for the inventor of head-carry devices and techniques is like asking who invented shoes.

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The Moral History of Air-Conditioning

Cooling the air was once seen as sinful. Maybe the idea wasn’t entirely wrong.

by Shane Cashman

Commercial buildings used more than 500 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity for air-conditioning in 2015 alone.

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The Hair Dryer, Freedom’s Appliance

For a century, the device has promised more than dry hair.

by Maria Teresa Hart

Though many of Dyson’s changes are more aesthetic than functional, this is a market where looks matter.

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Pictures of Death

When photography was new, it was often used to preserve corpses via their images.

by Nancy West

This slide into sentimentality, even if grotesque, coincides with a profound shift in Western attitudes toward death.

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Why Geologists Think Glacial Mountains Look Like Sheep

Thank the French.

by Marnie Mcinnes

The similarity between glacially scoured rocks and sheep is even more intriguing if one interprets the expression roches moutonnées more broadly, as did the 19th-century French geologist Albert de Lapparent.

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How Wheelchair Accessibility Ramped Up

Ramps evolved from a Greek tool for dragging ships to the front lines of disability activism.

by Emily Nonko

“A lawsuit can take seven years to get one ramp in front of a building, one protest could result in a ramp there next week.”

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The Troubled History of Horse Meat in America

The White House wants to reinstate the sale of horses for slaughter, but eating horse meat has always been politically treacherous.

by Susanna Forrest

In these narratives, horse meat is the food of poverty, war, social breakdown, and revolution.

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Bathing in Controversy

For a century, school showers have anticipated the current debate about bathrooms.

by J. Y. Chua

Mandatory showers became problematic as the concept of “children’s rights” gained currency, eroding the legal and social authority of schools.

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The Device That Democratized the Foot Race

Thanks to starting blocks, races were no longer won by who could dig the best foothold.

by Janelle Peters

As a technology of fairness, the starting blocks helped turn foot racing into an ideal for egalitarian citizenship.

Read this essay at The Atlantic