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In this excerpt from “Chapter 2: Brief History of Life on Earth” from Global Change Biology, the first text for global change biology courses, author Erica Bree Rosenblum provides a more nuanced understanding of the critical landmarks in the history of life on Earth.

What Key Transitions Led to the Emergence of Life on Earth?

The planet we call home is one of more than 100 billion planets in our galaxy. With more than 200 billion galaxies in the universe, the number of planets that could harbor life is astounding (e.g., Petigura et al. 2013). How Earth formed and how life as we know it came to flourish on this particular…


“Aerial photography of city building” (Zurich, Switzerland) by Rico Reutimann. Public domain via Unsplash.

In Utopia’s Discontents, Faith Hillis examines how Russian émigré communities evolved into revolutionary social experiments in the heart of bourgeois cities. Émigrés’ efforts to transform the world played crucial roles in the articulation of socialism, liberalism, anarchism, and Zionism across borders. But they also produced unexpected — and explosive — discontents that defined the course of twentieth-century history. In this excerpt, Hillis introduces the experiences of Zurich’s Russian students and the communities they established.

Any knowledgeable observer of the Russian emigration in the early 1870s would have agreed with Engels that its golden age had come to an end. But…


A waved albatross soars along the cliffs of Española Island. Image via William H. Durham.

In this adapted extract from Exuberant Life, William H. Durham explores the unique biology and behaviour of waved albatrosses, native to the Galápagos islands.

Visitors to Española, the southernmost island of Galápagos, are often thrilled by the sight of the endemic waved albatrosses. They are big birds, weighing up to 4 kg (9 lbs) and sporting wingspans up to 2.5 m (9 ft). They come ashore each year, some 15,000 strong, forming colonies from April to December along the island’s southern coast.

During that interval, their “beak fencing” courtship display is a wonder to behold. Mated pairs waddle back and…


San Francesco della Vigna by Didier Descouens — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A true story of vendetta and intrigue, triumph and tragedy, exile and repatriation, The Venetian Bride by Patricia Fortini Brown recounts the interwoven microhistories of Count Girolamo Della Torre, a feudal lord with a castle and other properties in the Friuli, and Giulia Bembo, grand-niece of Cardinal Pietro Bembo and daughter of Gian Matteo Bembo, a powerful Venetian senator with a distinguished career in service to the Venetian Republic. This excerpt from the book highlights the fulcrum of the larger narrative; the marriage of Girolamo Della Torre and Giulia Bembo in the mid-sixteenth century, and the decision making behind it.


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In this excerpt from At What Cost: Modern Capitalism and the Future of Health, author Nicholas Freudenberg explores how health is related to education and the private sectors relatively new interest in investing in it.

Nothing better promotes lifetime health than education. At every stage of life, more education leads to better health. The reverse is also true: throughout the lifespan, healthier people achieve more academic success and learn more easily. If pharmaceutical companies could bottle and sell education, they could get rich while truthfully making the most extravagant claims. …


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In the early 1970’s hospital births reached an all-time high of 99.4%, and the obstetrician, rather than the midwife, assumed nearly complete control over what had become an entirely medicalized procedure. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was an explosion of new alternative organizations, midwifery practice, and home births, despite it being illegal to practice without a medical license. In this excerpt from ‘Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth’, Wendy Kline documents the story of the Bowland Bust and the role of the ‘hippie midwife’ from the perspective of a legal case.

In the spring of 1974, three women were…


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The decade of the 1970’s saw remarkable expansion of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the UK. Ideological shifts on the role of women gave way to new demands by the movement, and provided an opportunity to combine self-realization with protest. This excerpt from Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the UK Women’s Liberation Movement, 1968-present explores why and how feminism’s ‘second wave’ mobilized to demand not just equality but social and gender transformation.

A quick reminder of what women were up against even in the 1970s: they still required a man’s permission to borrow money from the bank; jobs…


Lights in Nashville, Tennessee by Hari Nandakumar. Public domain via Unsplash.

“Protest” music is largely perceived as an unsubtle art form, a topical brand of songwriting that preaches to the converted. But popular music of all types has long given listeners food for thought. James Sullivan’s Which Side Are You On? examines one-hundred years of American history through popular, socially conscious music. This extract considers the connection between the women’s liberation movement and country music.

“After Black Power, Women’s Liberation.” That was the headline on a New York magazine article published in 1969. The piece marked the emergence of the journalist Gloria Steinem as a leading voice of the women’s movement…


Jin Guliang (金古良), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In almost every society, gender exists as a way of organizing its people; assigning certain responsibilities, obligations, and privileges to some, and denying them to others. Taken from Gender: A World History, this excerpt discusses gender roles during the Chinese Han Dynasty, and how contributions of women to family life often subverted Confucian ideologies of male superiority. The life and achievements of Ban Zhao, a female historian, philosopher, and tutor to the empress Teng Sui, further challenges these traditional gender ideologies.

Confucianism has been held responsible for elaborating a gender system that presented women as weak and irrational, qualities that…


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Amid the social turmoil of the 1970s, the UN declared 1975 International Women’s Year. The capstone event — a two-week conference in Mexico City — was dubbed “the greatest consciousness-raising event in history.” The International Women’s Year gatherings, however, became arenas for conflict and misunderstanding. Many US feminists had anticipated tutoring their Third World sisters in the ways of “authentic” feminism, while women from the global south wanted to determine their own priorities. Betty Friedan, whose anticipated presence had aroused concern among Mexican diplomats for months, emerged as an icon of conflicting feminist ideologies.

By Friday morning of the International…

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