NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 15:  Chiara Ferragni is wearing a cardigan sweater from Saint Laurent, a bag from Chanel and  a Apple iWatch Hermes edition seen in the streets of Manhattan during New York Fashion Week: Women's Fall/Winter 2016 on February 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Timur Emek/Getty Images)

The Military Origins of the Cardigan

The popular sweater has a revolutionary history that includes Riot Grrrls and Coco Chanel.

by Allison Geller

Cardigan sweaters are the workhorses of the apparel family: so ubiquitous it’s easy to forget that they didn’t always exist. But they come with a vivid—and fierce—historical provenance.

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Playmobil airline lavatory

Gender in Flight

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Gender politics have by no means disappeared up in the sky. Still, airplanes prove that some gender battles have already been settled.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
First grade student Livie Classenn recites the Pledge of Allegiance to start the day at the  Walton Rural Life Center Elementary School, in Walton, Kansas, January 18, 2013. Students at the school do farm chores at the beginning of each school day. The Walton Rural Life Center - a kindergarten through fourth grade  charter school in rural Kansas - uses agriculture to teach students about math, science, economics.  REUTERS/Jeff Tuttle (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION AGRICULTURE SOCIETY) - RTR3DVPT

Where Do Flags Come From?

Since ancient times, civilizations have carried staffs, crests, and banners to declare their identities.

by Ben Nadler

National flags are streamlined symbols, easily recognizable and replicable. A sense of identity and a set of values can be invoked with a simple set of colored stripes and stars.

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A sex worker demonstrates the use of a female condom during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign organised by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the eastern Indian city of Siliguri February 15, 2010. More than two hundred sex workers attended the awareness campaign on Monday, a NGO official said. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY) - RTR2AAPW

The Enduring Unpopularity of the Female Condom

The internal condom saves lives, but it has been criticized from the start.

by Christine Ro

It’s clear that female condoms save lives, but over a quarter-century since their introduction, the apparatus remains unappealing and unpopular.

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Empty cans wait to be filled with Bronx IPA Session Ale beer at the Bronx Brewery in the Bronx borough of New York, United States, March 5, 2015. The popularity of craft beers has grown rapidly in recent years in the United States as drinkers seek new tastes, with sales estimated to have climbed more than a fifth in 2014. U.S. sales of craft beer in 2014 were worth nearly $20 billion, according to U.S. industry body the Brewers Association, up more than 22 percent from the previous year and accounting for nearly a fifth of all beer sold in the country. Picture taken March 5, 2015. REUTERS/Sara Hylton - RTX1JGVB

The Rise of the Beer Can

Aluminum revolutionized America’s beverage industry, but at what environmental cost?

by Brendan Byrne

Beer is ancient, and humans have been storing it for millennia.

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smokealarm

The Smoke Alarm Chirps at Night

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Ever wonder why smoke alarms always seem to chirp in the middle of the night? It seems like the ultimate evidence that the universe is plotting against you. But, alas, it’s mostly just the universe chugging along as usual.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
Reels of sewing thread are displayed during the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace in London, October 8, 2014. The show which includes over 600 exhibitors and 300 workshops is the largest textile and craft event in Britain.     REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN  - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS TEXTILE)   - RTR49F4C

How Home Sewing Personalized Fashion

For generations, families have relied on thimbles, needles, and thread to transform the clothes they have into the clothes they want to wear.

by Frances Katz

Repairing clothing is more intimate than creating them. Compared to a sewing kit, even the most space-age sewing machine can seem cold and dull.

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ketchup

Ketchup’s Forgotten Wisdom

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The classic condiment dispensers of yore, with their cylindrical, plastic bodies and needle-tipped openings: these are the most functional vessels for doling out dollops.

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In this Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 photo, Dr. Russell Dohner wears a stethoscope around his neck as he tends to patients in his office in Rushville, Ill. When Dohner started practicing medicine in Rushville in 1955, he charged $2, the going rate around town for an office visit, but has since raised the fee to $5. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Why Doctors Still Need Stethoscopes

The instrument may have outlived its use, but it hasn’t lost its power.

by Andrew Bomback

The stethoscope isn’t a tool, anymore, but a metonym for bedside manner.

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steelplate

The Steel Road Plate, Accidental Traffic Calmer

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

America’s decaying infrastructure can be seen in high-profile disasters like the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan. But other, more mundane infrastructural nuisances plague our cities far more regularly. Among them: the increasingly ubiquitous steel road plate.

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A local farmer checks refrigerators at a home appliance market in Zhangqiu county, Shandong province January 28, 2008.  Each rural family in Shandong and two other provinces are now entitled to a 13 percent government rebate on the purchase of up to two television sets, two refrigerators and two mobile handsets. The subsidies are part of a battery of policies by Beijing aimed at spurring domestic consumption and improving the lot of the country's roughly 740 million rural residents, who make up 56 percent of the population but have not benefited nearly as much from the economy's roaring growth as people in cities.  Picture taken January 28, 2008.  To match feature CHINA-ECONOMY/APPLIANCES     REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA) CHINA OUT - RTR1XCM4

Why Refrigerators Were So Slow to Catch On in China

The technology was once considered superfluous, until contemporary capitalism made it a necessity.

by Michael Strickland

The usefulness and necessity of the refrigerator depends on a number of factors that are not obviously related to the thing itself, from food packaging to the layout of communities to the length of school lunch breaks.

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A woman walks along a wooden bridge across the river of Usolka in the village of Taseevo, northeast of Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, October 3, 2014. Picture taken October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin (RUSSIA - Tags: SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT) - RTR48WDF

Learning From the Swinging Bridge

What rickety, rural suspension bridges can teach us about modern infrastructure

by T. Hugh Crawford

Rural swinging bridges were (and still are) vernacular architecture based on local knowledge and materials, but technically, they are suspension bridges just like the Golden Gate.

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texteditor

The Pleasure of the Text Editor

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

When it comes to word processing, all too often white-collar workers produce documents when all they really need is text.

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mug

The Mug, Scaffold of Office Work

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

In cupboards, a mug is just a mug. But in the office, a mug becomes the fundamental prop of the professional.

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librarycard

Is the Library Card Dying?

After centuries of innovation, it faces an uncertain future.

by Sara Polsky

In the pre-computer era, library cards were just one part of a complex system that kept track of book loans and returns. But the need to issue a physical card at all may be disappearing. With smartphone apps, cardholders can input their numbers and produce a bar code that can be scanned, with no need for the actual card.

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Virgina Cottage in the Cotswolds

A History of Wallpaper’s Deception

For centuries, the wall covering has helped people construct new realities inside their homes.

by Jude Stewart

The flipside of wallpaper’s affordable appeal was that it received a stigma it’s never fully gotten rid of. Wallpaper “has never quite thrown off the taint [of] being a cheap imitation.”

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** FOR USE WITH AP WEEKLY FEATURES **  Spaghetti and Meatballs as prepared by food writer David Rosengarten reflect what he says is an American pairing of Italian foods, photographed in his New York City kitchen, Friday, May 28, 2004. Rosengarten says meat was not originally served with pasta. He laments the fact that meatballs rarely appear on American menus today, seeing them as one of the ethnic foods that are disappearing from the American dining scene.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Not Your Grandmother’s Meatball

The hearty Olive Garden staple is a far cry from the dish that Italian immigrants first brought to the United States.

by Marissa Landrigan

The meatball is a staple of Italian restaurants across America, from the lowly Olive Garden to the white tablecloths of upscale Manhattan eateries. But the meatballs you’ll get at Olive Garden are nothing like those found in Italy. Writing in Smithsonian, Shaylyn Esposito explains that Italian meatballs, known as polpettes, are considerably smaller than their American brethren.

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smalltoys

The Season of Small Toys

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

The names of Lego toys in the 1980s show that the age of excess was ramping up, replete with all the hyperbolic promises of eternal growth in newly-unregulated industry.

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A view of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in preparation for the first flight test of NASA's new Orion spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida October 1, 2014. The launch vehicle was moved from the Horizontal Integration Facility to the launch pad at complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and it is being raised to its vertical position.    REUTERS/Mike Brown    (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR48J8T

What Engineers Can Learn From the Design of the Penis

The mechanics of the erection may have applications for robotics.

by M. Sophia Newman

The concept of using the design of the penis for other purposes is part of an established field called biomimicry, the science of applying nature’s design lessons to human problems.

Read this essay at The Atlantic
sun

Our Reactor in the Sky

A Mini Object Lesson

by Anya Groner

Though humans organize our schedules around the clock, Daylight Savings reminds us that our lives, like our planet, revolve around the sun.

Read this essay at The Atlantic