About Tracy V. Wilson

Tracy V. Wilson has loved stories and science for as long as she can remember. She joined HowStuffWorks as a staff writer in 2005, and she spent her first few years at the site destroying gadgets and mining patents, papers and interviews for the sake of figuring out what makes things tick. In 2007, she took on the role of hiring and training HowStuffWorks’ new writers and editors, and she became site director in 2010. She cohosted the PopStuff pop culture podcast with Holly Frey; the pair now cohosts Stuff You Missed in History Class. Tracy spends her downtime much like she spends her time at work: reading, writing, tinkering and brooking only the most delightful nonsense. You can find Tracy on Twitter at @MissedInHistory and on Facebook at the Stuff You Missed in History Class page. She's also still occasionally around Twitter at @PopStuffHSW and the official PopStuff Facebook page.

Most Recent: Tracy V. Wilson Postings

History classes in the U.S. – at least in Holly’s and my experience – focus their discussion of the civil rights movement on things African-Americans were not allowed to do before it happened. Most of the context relates to segregated restrooms, schools and bus seats, and on restrictions on voting. But there’s a whole other side to that story: the things that only African-Americans were allowed to do. After the abolition of slavery, whole industries hired exclusively African-American workers in order to maintain a sort of plantationesque veneer. This pattern continued to subjugate black people and keep them in a second-class position long after slavery was over.

Today we’re talking about one of those jobs, and the organization that helped make their lives better: the sleeping car porters and the union they formed in the 1920s. This union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, became an important force in the larger context of the civil rights movement.

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Getting your hands on an intercom so you could say, “Judge Crater, call your office” used to be quite the thing to do. The vanishing of Joseph Force Crater is considered one of the largest missing person cases in U.S. history. It was the one of the biggest news stories of the 1930s and it’s fueled decades of speculation about what exactly happened to the New York State Supreme Court justice.

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Finally, a bit of Canadian history! Maurice Duplessis served as premier of Quebec, and, depending on who you ask, he was either a lovable rogue or a political monster. He was premier for longer than any other person in the 20th century, and his time in the office is referred to as “The Great Darkness.”

We’ve divided his story into two parts. In the first, we talk about his early life, his entry into politics, and his rise to the role of premier. He lost his seat after one term, and that’s where we break the episode. In part two, we discuss how Duplessis spent his time away from office, along with three major controversies that plagued his administration once he was elected again in 1944.

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Abelard was a poet, philosopher and theologian who was born in 1079. Heloise was one of his students, who went on to become the respected abbess of a prominent community of nuns. That was after the event they’re both most remembered for: their tragic love affair, which led both of them to take holy orders … after Abelard was castrated by Heloise’s vengeful uncle. Their bodies have also been repeatedly exhumed and re-buried and now lie in the tomb shown here.

It seemed like a good story for Valentine’s Day.

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The imminent approach of Valentine’s Day made this week seem like a good time to tackle another popular listener request: Giacomo Casanova. Today his name is synonymous with promiscuity, but he was also a traveler, a con artist, a librarian and a writer, and he escaped from a prison believed at the time to be entirely impenetrable.

In case there are impressionable ears in the room: Just like his autobiography, a third of this episode is about sex.

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This week, we started off with an overview of pre-civil-rights-movement life in the United States. From there, we talked about Rosa Parks’ early life, up until the day in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white passenger. For this, she was arrested, tried and convicted.

Today, we move on to the next part of the story.

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Anyone who has ever studied the civil rights movement in the United States can surely tell one story about Rosa Parks: She refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus one day. But the elementary-school version of that story is (of course) enormously oversimplified, and it glosses over Rosa Parks’ lifelong work as an activist for equal rights. She’s known as the mother of the civil rights movement for much more than just that one act of civil disobedience.

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We’re headed to 18th-century Korea today for the story of Crown Prince Sado. Sometimes called the Coffin King, Sado was married when he was 8 or 9, and he had a rather sad royal upbringing. When he was a teenager, his father started to behave in peculiar ways, and Crown Prince Sado’s own mental health precipitously declined. In the end, he left a trial of bodies in his wake, and his own death was particularly horrifying. At the same time, his wife’s portrayal of him in her memoirs is a compassionate one.

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That old cliché “history is written by the victors” is turned on its head in the case of the Pueblo Revolt. In 1680, several groups of Native American peoples collectively known as the Pueblos rose up in unison, throwing off the Spanish colonial government and living independently for the next 12 years. Leading this revolt was Po’pay, also spelled Popé, a religious leader who had previously been imprisoned by the Spanish for sorcery and conspiring to rebel. The Pueblo peoples were mainly an oral culture and did not keep written records. So, the written history we have on this event came from the losing side – the Spanish Catholics who were driven out.

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Although Avicenna is mentioned in Dante’s “Inferno” and Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” it’s entirely possible that his name doesn’t ring a bell. But if your ancestors lived in Europe or western Asia during the Middle Ages, it’s also entirely possible that they survived thanks to the knowledge in the medical textbooks he wrote. He was, frankly, brilliant – and he knew it, so he wasn’t always loved. And in addition to his medical writing, he was one of the most important philosophers in history; his philosophical writing continues to be studied extensively among Muslim scholars today.

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