Over the past hundred years, as automobiles have been woven into the fabric of our daily lives, our legal system has undermined public safety, and we’ve been collectively trained to think of these deaths as unavoidable “accidents” or acts of God. Today, despite the efforts of major public-health agencies and grassroots safety campaigns, few are aware that car crashes are the number one cause of death for Americans under 35. But it wasn’t always this way.

Our understanding of history is mostly determined by public narratives—those stories told and retold in textbooks, museums, and monuments—which often focus on humanity’s crowning achievements and heroic leaders. But in Berlin, thanks to the grassroots efforts of its progressive residents, the built environment serves as a constant reminder of the country’s missteps, offering a frank view of history that other cities should learn from.     


In the mid-19th century, a few decades after the invention of photography, inventors began experimenting with minuscule “microphotographs” developed on glass slides, producing images that were all but invisible without a standard microscope. But the diminutive Stanhope lens changed that—concealed behind a magnifying glass no larger than the head of a pin, microphotographs could now be viewed with the naked eye.     

Soda’s reputation has fallen a bit flat lately: The all-American beverage most recently made headlines due to an FDA investigation of a potential carcinogen, commonly called “caramel coloring,” used in many soft-drink recipes. Faced with all this bad press, it’s hard to believe that the “evil” soft drink actually began as a health product, touted for its many beneficial effects.

Though the technology and methods of dissemination have changed, photographs continue to distill a moment of lived experience into a powerful message. Police dogs attacking non-violent demonstrators; a black family forced to use the back door at a public restaurant; firehoses turned onto screaming teenagers; jeering white folks pouring honey, ketchup, and milk over the heads of silent protesters. But none of these emblematic photographs would exist without the brave photographers committed to social justice whose efforts at documenting the movement helped it to succeed.

Despite the fondness among certain politicians and pundits for “traditional marriage,” a nostalgic-sounding concept that conjures a soft-focus Polaroid of grandma and grandpa, few consider the actual roots of our marital traditions, when matrimony was little more than a business deal among unequals. Even today, legal marriage isn’t measured by the affection between two people, but by the ability of a couple to share Social Security and tax benefits. In reality, it’s the idea of marrying for love that’s untraditional.

In the U.S., the most wasteful country per capita, each citizen throws away an average of 7.1 pounds per day, according to garbage guru Edward Humes. So what place could be better to study the impact of this onslaught than New York City, which generates nearly 22 million pounds of household waste every day?

Read My Rings: The Oldest Living Tree Tells All     Collectors Weekly, 2012

In 1964, a geologist in the Nevada wilderness discovered the oldest living thing on earth, after he killed it. The young man was Donald Rusk Currey, a graduate student studying ice-age glaciology in Eastern Nevada; the tree he cut down was of the Pinus longaeva species, also known as the Great Basin bristlecone pine. Sheltered in an unremarkable grove near Wheeler Peak, the bristlecone he cut down was found to be nearly 5,000 years old, taking root only a few hundred years after human history was first recorded. 

By the end of the 1940s, the condom had outlasted an act of Congress, which reinforced social stigmas and drove users to the black market, to become the safe-sex staple, the king of the contraceptive industry. And yet its packaging remained opaque, its purpose shrouded in secrecy, a product whose intended use was only indirectly suggested. So how did the condom go from contraband to federally-issued necessity without anyone ever talking about sex?

If you were committed to a psychiatric institution, unsure if you’d ever return to the life you knew before, what would you take with you? That sobering question hovers like an apparition over each of the Willard Asylum suitcases. From the 1910s through the 1960s, many patients at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane left suitcases behind when they passed away, with nobody to claim them. Upon the center’s closure in 1995, employees found hundreds of these time capsules stored in a locked attic.

Cool for Sale, From Beatnik Bongos to Hipster Specs     Collectors Weekly, 2012

The hipster, as we know it, is just an aesthetic disseminated by marketers, a visual style advertised as full-fledged ideology. But the model for this insidious campaign actually came from the first American subculture repackaged by the media: the Beat generation.    

As further proof that canoeing had become a hotbed for teenage delinquents, in 1913 the Minneapolis Parks Board refused to issue permits for canoes with unpalatable names. Local newspapers published some of the offensive phrases that slipped past the board the previous summer, including “Thehelusa,” “Kumonin Kid,” “Kismekwik,” “Damfino,” “Ilgetu,” “Aw-kom-in,” “G-I-Lov-U,” “Skwizmtyt,” “Ildaryoo,” “Win-kat-us,” “O-U-Q-T,” “What the?,” “Joy-tub,” “Cupid’s Nest,” and “I Would Like to Try It.”