Anthropology of an Idea


Illegal Alien: A Short History

Undocumented? Unauthorized? Illegal? After 250 years, we're still debating what to call America’s visa-less immigrants.


Third Gender: A Short History

From ancient Greece to modern Pakistan, the political and cultural emergence of a complex, controversial term.

Isaac Stone Fish

Lost in America

How America's favorite Chinese dissident burned bridges at NYU and ended up at a pro-life, anti-gay think tank.

Illustration: R. Kikuo Johnson

The Darknet: A Short History

A look at the Internet's lurid underbelly -- your one-stop shop for weapons, drugs, and illegal pornography. 

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Geoengineering: A Short History

How hacking the climate came to be seen as our least worst option for averting a global climate catastrophe.

Cancan Chu/Getty Images

Gamification: A Short History

Why everybody, from corporate titans to terrorists, wants to make life more like a game.

Tom Munnecke/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Flickr/Reid Beels; STR/AFP/Getty Images; EPA/Oliver Weiken; YouTube; Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Hacktivism: A Short History

How self-absorbed computer nerds became a powerful force for freedom. 

Farjana KHAN GODHULY/AFP/Getty Images

Frontier Markets: A Short History

How second-generation emerging markets became today's hottest investment story.


Fiscal Cliff: A Short History

How did the phrase become shorthand for Washington's embrace of budget brinkmanship?


Big Data: A Short History

How we arrived at a term to describe the potential and peril of today's data deluge.

Getty Images

Targeted Killings: A Short History

How America came to embrace assassination.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

‘American Exceptionalism’: A Short History

How did a phrase initially used dismissively by Joseph Stalin become shorthand for who loves America more?

Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Smart Sanctions: A Short History

How a blunt diplomatic tool morphed into the precision-guided measures we know today.

All photos via Getty Images unless otherwise noted. Pierre Guillaud; Shlomo Arad; GPO; Patrick Baz; Mohammed Abed; J. David Ake; Files; Thomas Coex; Menahem Kahana; Mahmud Hams; Chip Somodevilla; Eitan Abramovich; AFP

The ‘Peace Process’: A Short History

Chronicling Israel and Palestine's path to becoming a catchphrase.


Energy Independence: A Short History

A century and a half of an idea whose time has never come.


War Games: A Short History

How ancient Greek amusements became an indispensable 21st-century military tool.


Track II Diplomacy: A Short History

How the left-field idea of diplomacy without diplomats became an essential tool of statecraft.


BRICs: A Short History

How did a Wall Street buzzword coined by Goldman Sachs become a powerful new bloc in world affairs?