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Between 1890 and 1891, a wealthy New Yorker named Eugene Schieffelin released dozens of starlings into Central Park as part of his campaign to introduce animals that were ‘aesthetically and practically valuable’ to the US. It was a romantic and well-intentioned undertaking – an endeavour to bring all of the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to the country. Only the European starlings survived, but the results were spectacular beyond Schieffelin’s wildest imagination – and utterly disastrous. Within 100 years, the starling population was more than 100 million, with the migratory birds wreaking havoc on farms and native species across the country, and forever reshaping the continent’s sky. A meditation on the starling’s strange North American story, the directors Jessica Bardsley and Penny Lane’s lyrical short documentary The Commoners traces an idiosyncratic history of ecology, linguistics and urbanism, one in which the birds pursue their own form of manifest destiny.
Raw solar-storm footage is the punk-rock antidote to sleek James Webb imagery
Dazzling timelapse shows how microbes spoil our food – and sometimes enrich it
Inside the unique London community built by residents to defy housing discrimination
Film and visual culture
With human help, AIs are generating a new aesthetics. The results are trippy
From manners to mud – two women recall coming of age in Victorian London
Gender and identity
The joys and complications of raising a baby without gender in a binary world
Like pop music, humpback whale songs spread, mutate, and fall out of fashion
The ancient world
Why did the Romans create a massive, entirely impractical map of their empire?
Human rights and justice
The staggering cruelty of Ireland’s Church-run ‘mother and baby homes’