Skip to main content
Michigan State University

Who Would Have Thought There's a History of That?!: Home


This exhibit features histories of topics and things, tangible and intangible, that came to our attention because they seemed unusual, mostly not having been written about before. History is often an unpopular subject in school and college. People think studying or reading about famous or infamous individuals, people groups, wars, eras, ideologies, and noteworthy events is boring. We hope by featuring some of these titles to show you another, hopefully more interesting side of history.

Agnes Haigh Widder, M.S.U. librarian and creator of this exhibit first noticed this sort of book in 1997 when Mark Kurlansky wrote Cod, a Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, especially because it has a call number in the PNs, used for literary history! Since then, she has noticed a great many histories of more or less unusual topics being published, on, for instance, glamour, the color blue, the color red, the screwdriver, scurvy, sails, mold, the toothpick, dirt, gold, the potato chip, dynamite, the compass. Others have also noticed this phenomenon; the June, 2008 issue of Choice, a review source for college and university librarians, featured “Popular History in the Classroom” by Charles Becker, Jr., a bibliographic essay about these kinds of books, with a good bibliography. Our exhibit includes works mentioned there, plus others we knew about and had in our collection, all published fairly recently. Obviously, unusual topics have been written about for centuries; there are no “really old” books in our show. Another time….

Here is a bibliography of the works in our exhibit, with our call numbers, and some that wouldn’t fit in the showcases:

Aczel, Amir D. Riddle of the Compass, the Invention that Changed the World. NY: Harcourt, Inc. c2001. VK 577 .A29 2001

Bernau, Anke. Virgins: a Cultural History. London: Granta Books, c2007. HQ 23 .B345 2007

Bernstein, Peter L. Power of Gold, the History of an Obsession. NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., c2000. GR 810 .B47 2000

Block, Leo. To Harness the Wind, a Short History of the Development of Sails. Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, c2003. VM 532 B56 2003

Booth, Martin. Cannabis, a History. NY: St. Martin’s Press, c2003. HV 5822 .C3 B66 2004

Booth, Martin. Opium, a History. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996. HV 5816 .B668 1996

Bown, Stephen R. A Most Damnable Invention: Dynamite, Nitrates, and the Making of the Modern World. NY: Thomas Dunne books, St. Martin’s Press, c2005 Q175.35 .B69 2005

Bown, Stephen R. Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail. NY: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, c2003. RC 627 .S36 B694 2004

Burhans, Dirk. Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip. Madison, Wis.: Terrace Books, a trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. HD 9235 .P82 U434 2008

Carlson, Laurie Winn. Cattle: an Informal Social History. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001. SF 195 .C37 2001

Clave, Salvador Anton. Global Theme Park Industry. Wallingford, U.K.: CABI, 2007. GV 1851 .A35 C53 2007

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, c2007. TP 640 .C67 2007

Cooke, Roger. Classical Algebra: its Nature, Origins, and Uses. Hoboken,N.J.: Wiley-Interscience, c2008. Math QA 155 .C665 2008

Davis, Michael. Street Gang: the Complete History of Sesame Street. NY: Viking, 2008. Browsing PN 1992.77 .S43 D38 2008

Dupaigne, Bernard. The History of Bread. NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1999. TX 769 f.D83 1999

Essinger, James. Jacquard’s Web: How a Hand-Loom Led to the Birth of the Information Age. [Computers] Oxford: Oxford University Press, c2004. QA 76.17 .E36 2004

Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Near a Thousand Tables: a History of Food. NY: Free Press, c2002. TX 353 .F437 2002

Food: the History of Taste. Edited by Paul Freedman. Berkeley: University of California Press, c2007. TX 353 .F668 2007

Freese, Barbara. Coal, a Human History. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Publishing, c2003. TN 805 .A5 F857 2003

Friedman, David M. A Mind of its Own : a Cultural History of the Penis. NY: Free Press, 2001. SPC GT 498 .P45 F75 2001

Fussell, Betty. Story of Corn. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. SB 191 .M2 F872 1992.

Gately, Iain. Drink: a Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham Books, c2008. Browsing TP 573 .A1 G38 2008.

Gately, Iain. Tobacco: the Story of How Tobacco Seduced the World. NY: Grove Press, 2001. SB 273 .G29 2001.

Gordon, John Steele. A Thread Across the Ocean: the Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable. NY: Walker and Co., 2002. TK 5611 .G67 2002

Gordon, Michael D. A Well-Ordered Thing: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table. NY: Basic Books, c2004. QD 22 .M43 G67 2004

Greenfield, Amy Butler. A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. NY: HarperCollins, c2005. TP 925 .C63 G74 2005

Gundle, Stephen. Glamour, a History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, c2008. GT 499 .G86 2008

Gurney, Alan. Compass : a Story of Exploration and Innovation. NY: Norton, 2004. VK577 .G84 2004

Hamblyn, Richard. Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies. London: Picador, 2001. BioMed Phys Sci QC 921 .H35 2001b

Hearn, Chester G. Circuits in the Sea: the Men, the Ships, and the Atlantic Cable. Westport, C.T.: Praeger, 2004. TK 5611 .H43 2004

Heiss, Mary Lou and Robert J. Story of Tea : a Cultural History and Drinking Guide. Berkeley, Cal.: Ten Speed Press, c2007. TX415 .H44 2007

Histories of Suicide: International Perspectives on Self-Destruction in the Modern World. Edited by John Weaver. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. HV 6545 .H48 2009

Hodgson, Barbara. Opium, a Portrait of the Heavenly Demon. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, c1999. HV 5816 .H55 1999

Jeffreys, Diarmuid. Aspirin: the Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug. NY: Bloomsbury, 2004. RM 666 .A82 J44 2004

Kaplan, Robert. The Nothing that Is: a Natural History of Zero. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Math QA 141 .K36 2000

Kelly, Jack. Gunpowder, Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: the History of the Explosive that Changed the World. MY Basic Books, c2004. TP 272 .K45 2004

Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: a Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. NY: Walker and Co., c1997. PN 6071 .C66 K87 1997

Kurlansky, Mark. Salt, a World History. NY: Walker and Co., c2002. TN 900 .K865 2002

Lang, James. Notes of a Potato Watcher. College Station, TX: Texas A and M University Press, c2001. SB 211 .P8 L36 2001

Laszlo, Pierre. Citrus: a History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. SB 369 .L37 2007

Laszlo, Pierre. Salt: Grain of Life. Trans. By Mary Beth Mader. NY: Columbia University Press, c2001. TN 900 .L3713 2001

Lax, Eric. The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat: the Story of the Penicillin Miracle. NY: H. Holt, 2004. RM 666 .P35 L39 2004

Le Couteur, Penny and Burreson, Jay. Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History. [Chemistry: the Contraceptive Pill, etc.] Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, c2003. QD 37 .L34 2003

Leigh, G.J. World’s Greatest Fix, a History of Nitrogen and Agriculture. NY: Oxford University Press, 2004. S 651 .L55 2004

McDannell, Colleen and Lang, Bernhard. Heaven: a History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. BT 846.2 .M37 2001

Macinnis, Peter. Bittersweet: the Story of Sugar. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen and Unwin, c2002. TX 560 .S9 M3 2002

Man, John. Gutenberg, How One Man Remade the World with Words .[Printing] NY: John Wiley and Sons, c2002. Z 125 .Z7 M36 2002

Montgomery, David R. Dirt, the Erosion of Civilizations. Berkeley: University of California Press, c2007. S 590.7 .M66 2007

Moxham, Roy. Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire. NY: Carroll and Graf, 2003. HD 9198 .G72 M69 2003

Mullins, Paul R. Glazed America: a History of the Donut. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, c2008. TX 770 .D67 M85 2008

Multhauf, Robert P. Neptune’s Gift, a History of Common Salt. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. TN 900 .M84 1996.

Norton, Marcy. Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: a History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008. HV 5770 .L29 N67 2008

Ozersky, Josh. The Hamburger: a History. New Haven: Yale University Press, c2008. TX 749.5 .B43 O94 2008

Pastoureau, Michel. Black, the History of a Color. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. BF 789 .C7 P3813 2009

Pastoureau, Michel. Blue, the History of a Color. Princeton: Princeton University Press, c2001. Fine Arts BF 789 .C7 P369 2001

Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: the History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World. NY: Basic Books, c1999. Business TX 415 .P46 1999

Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things. [Patents; Inventions] NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. T 212 .P465 1992

Petroski, Henry. The Pencil: a History of Design and Circumstance. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. TX 1268 .P47 1990

Petroski, Henry. The Toothpick: Technology and Culture. NY Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. GT 2952 .P48 2007

Philipps, Roderick. Short History of Wine. NY: HarperCollins, c2000. TP 549 .P48 2000

Pintar, Judith. Hypnosis: a Brief History. Chichester, U.K. and Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. BF 1141 .P64 2008

Potkay, Adam. Passion for Happiness: Samuel Johnson and David Hume. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000. BJ 1481 .P56 2000

Reader, John. Potato: a History of the Propitious Esculent. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. SB 211 .P8 R43 2009

Robin, Corey. Fear: the History of a Political Idea. NY: Oxford University Press, c2004 JA 74.5 .R48 2004

Robinson, Andrew. The Story of Measurement. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007. T 50 .R58 2007

Rybczynski, Witold. One Good Turn: a Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw. NY: Scribner, 2000. TJ 1201 .S34 R93 2000

Shephard, Sue. Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World. NY: Simon and Schuster, c2000. TX 601 .S47 2001

Smith, Andrew F. Peanuts: the Illustrious History of the Goober Pea. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, c2002. TX 803 .P35 S65 2002

Smith, Andrew F. Popped Culture: a Social History of Popcorn in America. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, c1999. TX 814.5 .P66 S62 1999

Smith, Andrew F. Pure Ketchup: a History of America’s National Condiment. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, c1996. TX 819 .K48 S64 1996

Smith, Andrew F. Souper Tomatoes: the Story of America’s Favorite Food. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, c2000. TX 803 .T6 S648 2000

Smith, Andrew F. The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, c1994. TX 803 .T6 S65 1994

Sobel, Dava and Andrewes, William J.H. Illustrated Longitude. NY: Walker and Co., 1998. QB 225 .S64 1998

Standage, Tom. History of the World in 6 Glasses. [Tea and Coffee] NY: Walker and Co., c2005. GT 2880 .S83 2005

Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet: the Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s Online Pioneers. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, c1998. HE 7631 .S677 1998b

Sutcliffe, Andrea. Steam, the Untold Story of America’s First Great Invention. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. VM 140 .F5 S88 2004

Thornton, Don. Eggbeater Chronicles, the Stirring Story of America's Greatest Invention. Sunnyvale, Cal.: Thornton House, c1999. TX 657 .E35 1999

Turner, Jack. Spice, the History of a Temptation. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. TX 406 .T87 2004

Walker, Gabrielle. Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere. Orlando: Harcourt, c2007. Browsing QC 855 .W35 2007

Watson, Fred. Stargazer: the Life and Times of the Telescope. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2005. QB 85.8 .W38 2005x

Wild, Antony. Coffee: a Dark History. London: Fourth Estate, c2004. HD 9199 .A2 W55 2004

Wilson, Bee. Swindled: the Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee. Princeton: Princeton University Press, c2008. TX 531 .W688 2008

Winchester, Simon. Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the birth of Modern Geology. [Stratigraphic mapping] NY: HarperCollins, c2001. QE 22 .S6 W55 2001

Yafa, Stephen H. Big Cotton: How a Humble Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America on the Map. NY: Viking, c2005. HD 9875 .Y34 2005

Zirker, Jack B. An Acre of Glass: a History and Forecast of the Telescope. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. BioMed Phys. Sci. QB 88 .Z57 2005

Zuckerman, Larry. The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World. Boston: Faber and Faber, c1998. SB 211 .P8 Z83 1998

Agnes Haigh Widder, Humanities Bibliographer

Michigan State University Libraries

366 W. Circle Dr. E 208

East Lansing, Mich.  48824


517-432-3532 fax or

  • Call MSU: (517) 355-1855
  • Visit:
  • MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer.
Michigan State University