Category Essays

Portfolio | History Here 3.0

iPhone-6-Isometric-view-Mockup

The History Channel has launched a major update to the app I help oversee content for, History HERE. In addition to a nicely executed visual update, version 3.0 of the app also features a new Tours feature, with topical itineraries. For the 3.0 launch I wrote seven of the 14 tours available. The tour is a fun way to dig into the history of a place through the lens of a specific topic. Download the app for free on iOS and Android to view the tours I wrote:

  • Lincoln’s Assassination
  • New York City Culinary
  • History of the Detroit Auto Industry
  • Los Angeles Culinary
  • Nashville Music History
  • Mississippi Civil Rights
  • San Francisco’s Alcatraz Prizon

For more on the 1000-plus sites I wrote up for the previous editions of the app, see this post.

Articles | History Here

For the past two years the majority of my writing work has been penning articles and overseeing project-wide editorial coverage for History Here, a mobile app—free on iOS and Android—that tells the vast and varied story of American history through paragraph descriptions linked to points on a map. It’s been quite a journey—one that was nominated for two Webby awards in 2013. (We lost out to Lego Super Heroes Movie Maker and Chefs Feed.)


This map, from the private KML database I kept during the project, tracks History Here’s coverage pipeline. Only the blue pins are visible for users of the app. Yellow, Green and Purple represent historic sites that I identified as worthy of eventual inclusion.

In early 2014 the powers that be at A+E Networks decided to put further development of History Here on hold for a while. The app and the database that powers it will live on, but it will be a little while before any of the to-be-written sites I’d flagged in my giant spreadsheet—nearly 6,000 of them—will be written up and pushed out to the app.

That said, currently there are more than 6,000 points of interest that app users can explore—of which I personally wrote up more than 1,000* and identified an additional 2,400 for assignment to other freelancers.

* That amounts to around 115,000 published words, not counting titles and lat/lon coordinates. That’s a little longer than Walden and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or about half an East of Eden.

Essays | The Great Epizootic

This is my favorite of the short pieces I wrote for Ozy.com last year

It was early October 1872. Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House, Susan B. Anthony was getting ready to cast her first, illegal vote, Jay Gould and Cornelius Vanderbilt were making a killing in railroads and giving the Gilded Age its gilt, and somewhere outside of Toronto, a horse sneezed.

Read more of my article here: The Great Epizootic | Flashback | OZY

Articles | Ancient History for History.com

The History Channel

In 2012 I wrote a number of articles on ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Near Eastern topics for The History Channel’s online encyclopedia at History.com.

The Greeks

Atlantis, The Trojan War, Thucydides, Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle

The Romans

Augustus, Caligula, Cicero, Mark Antony, Nero

Egypt and the Near East

Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen, Hammurabi

Essays | The Cell Phone Gospel

Books and Culture‘s legendary editor John Wilson reached out to me to review this academic study of mobile phones in India. It was a great chance to combine my varied interests, from my travel-guide editing days for Let’s Go: India and Nepal to my long-ago academic work on the history of technology.

The most touching moment in Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey’s book on the mind-boggling spread of mobile phone technology in India comes in a quote from an email by one of the authors’ Delhi-based Australian informants, describing an impoverished laborer he’d encountered at the edge of an urban construction zone:

He had one of those large Samsung smart phones; it was so uncanny and out of place. There amongst the dust, pillars and rubble of a building site was this person, dressed very poorly, holding and obviously enjoying his smart phone. He was using one of its applications, but I’m not sure which.

Whenever a modern technology leaps the barriers and takes root in places that had never been kind to its precursors, things can seem uncanny indeed, at least to those on the outside.

Read more at Books and Culture: The Cell Phone Gospel

Essays | John Muir’s Steampunk Years

My investigation of a surprising side of a pioneering environmetnalist.

You know him, if at all, as the bearded sage of the California upcountry, the co-founder and first president of the Sierra Club, guiding spirit of the National Park Service. He’s the man who said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” and who claimed he never saw a discontented tree. But in 1850s Wisconsin, John Muir was just a weird kid with a Scottish accent and a genius for inventing improved sawmills and clockwork labor-saving devices — mechanisms for controlling nature, not extolling it.

Read more: John Muir, the Inventor | Flashback | OZY

Articles | European History for History.com

The History Channel

I had quite a bit of fun writing these pieces on European topics for History.com — who wouldn’t like to summarize the Enlightenment in 800 words?

Henry V, Henry VIII, Mary I, John Locke, Frederick II, Otto von Bismarck, Galileo, The Reformation, and of course The Enlightenment.

Essays | Shadow Banking

My first foray into financial journalism.

The financial news has been abuzz about JPMorgan Chase’s record $13 billion penalty agreement over the bank’s lending practices leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. And rightly so — it’s refreshing to see at least a little responsibility being taken for the train wreck of subprime mortgages, exotic securitizations and suddenly frozen cash flows. The official response to the financial crisis has often focused less on justice than on the simple goal of never letting this happen again, with bailouts trumping just deserts for the good of the system at large. By 2010, legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act and the international Third Basel Accord added new regulations for bank behavior, limiting the amount of risk they could take on and implementing stress tests to keep better checks on the institutions’ health.

But the new regulations go only so far — and, in some ways, might be making things even riskier.

Read more: Breaking the Banks | Fast forward | OZY

Essays | The Rise of the Milibands

In which I write about, naturally, Labour Party Politics. A big shout-out to my fiancee Jeannie Rose, who reviewed tons of YouTube videos to help me nail just the right body language descriptions of the brothers Miliband.

When brothers vie for the same prize, the metaphors just about write themselves: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Romulus and Remus, Prospero and Antonio, Peyton and Eli. Such was, is and ever shall be the case for Ed and David Miliband, who were — until 2010 — the twin leading lights of the Labour Party, heirs apparent to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They served together on Brown’s last cabinet, but David, the older brother, outshone the younger until 2010, when Ed challenged and beat his brother in Labour’s leadership election.

End of story? Don’t bet on it.

Read more: Shakespeare in Government | Rising Stars | OZY

Articles | American topics for History.com

The History Channel

My American coverage for History.com’s online encyclopedia has provided an interesting range of big topics and interesting minor figures.

Topics include the Revolutionary battles of Princeton and Trenton, the likely-mythical Betsy Ross, Tocqueville, inventors Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla, black groundbreakers Barbara Jordan and Jesse Jackson, gangster Lucky Luciano, WWII pilot James Doolittle, and the cities of Las Vegas, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

Oh, and I wrote one more article that, while it certainly isn’t American, would be alone and isolated in its own regional post: ladies and gentlemen, Robert Mugabe.