Is the Polluted Past Prologue to a Sustainable Future? Society for the History of Technology Presentation November 7

A man stands upon waste on Bubbly Creek, 1911.  Chicago Daily News.

A man stands upon waste on Bubbly Creek, 1911. Chicago Daily News.

November brings the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) meeting to Dearborn, Michigan. The Envirotech Special Interest Group (SIG) always has a presence at SHOT, and as part of it, I will present a talk about the use of environmental history to develop sustainability studies education at 2pm on November 7. Although this talk is right after lunch, it will probably include the image of a man standing atop slaughterhouse waste on Chicago’s Bubbly Creek. Audience members are advised to eat Coney Island hot dogs for lunch at their peril. Here’s the panel information.

Technology Natures Communication (Friday, 2-3:30pm)

Carl Zimring (Pratt Institute): Is the Polluted Past Prologue to a Sustainable Future? Uses of the Environmental History of Waterways as Pedagogy for Sustainability Education

Ann N. Greene (University of Pennsylvania): Engineering the Erie: The Technopolitics of Water in 19th Century America

Michael Winslow (University of Iowa): The Culture of Turfgrass: Golf Tourism, Progressive Agriculture, and Technologies of Landscape in North Carolina, 1895–1935

“Paths to Sustainability: Contested Spaces in American Urban Environments” at the Urban History Association, October 9-12

SUST405GowanusFromMTAAs the coordinator of Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, I try to use my discipline of environmental history to spur discussion of how we may learn from the past to develop better practices in the future.

At this October’s Urban History Conference in Philadelphia, Steve Corey of Columbia College, Jim Longhurst of the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, and I will discuss some historical paths to sustainability, specifically on solid waste management, urban cycling, and urban waterway stewardship. I look forward to the discussion, even if Professor Longhurst does not put his money where his mouth is and take a round-trip bicycle journey between LaCrosse and Philadelphia. (I certainly will not swim down there from the Gowanus Canal, so I suppose that’s fair.)

Whose Waste? Whose Problem? Munich Conference, October 23-25

PlasticBagsChicagoNothing like talking about waste with like-minded people, so I’m looking forward to this workshop at the Rachel Carson Center this October:

Conveners: Eveline Dürr (LMU), Soraya Heuss (LMU), Roman Koster (LMU), and Christof Mauch (LMU/RCC)

Waste has until now mainly been a technical problem, matched by technical solutions in waste disposal, waste management, and recycling. But waste is a complex phenomenon that can only be fully understood by exploring cultural perceptions and social practices alongside the technical strategies for dealing with waste. A broader view helps us to focus more clearly on the political topicality of waste, for instance in the context of the fast-growing megacities. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that there has not yet been any systematic research into the social, legal, and political discussions about waste in the light of modern developments.

This three-day workshop, as part of the LMU Center for Advanced Studies research focus ‘Waste in Environment and Society,’ features presentations by leading scholars on ‘waste-scapes,’ how waste travels, and the possibility of a future without waste.

Presenters include:

  • Catherine Alexander (Anthropologist, University of Durham)
  • Amanda Boetzkes (Art Historian, Ohio State University)
  • Kate Brown (Historian, University of Maryland, Baltimore)
  • Christian Felske (City of Edmonton, Waste Management Services)
  • Stefania Gallini (Historian, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá)
  • Zsuzsa Gille (Sociologist, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Jutta Gutberlet (Geographer, University of Victoria)
  • Sarah Hill (Anthropologist, Western Michigan University)
  • Herbert Köpnik (Formerly from Bavarian Ministry for Environment and Health)
  • Martin Melosi (Historian, University of Houston)
  • Jorge Fernández Niello (Environmental Engineer, Universidad Nacional de San Martín)
  • Gerhard Rettenberger (Engineer, Hochschule Trier)
  • Vera Susanne Rottner (Engineer, Waste Management)
  • Djahane Salehabadi (Sociologist)
  • John Scanlan (Sociologist, Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Tian Song (Philosophy/Sociology, Beijing Normal University)
  • Carl Zimring (Environmental Historian, Pratt Institute)

An Appreciation of Bottomless Pit

bottomlesspitKEXP2014This week brought word that the Chicago-based quartet Bottomless Pit is on indefinite hiatus, so now is a good time for an appreciation of the band. Bottomless Pit began after the tragic death of Michael Dahlquist in 2005 ended the brilliant Silkworm. I could spend several paragraphs extolling what that band accomplished in its almost two decades, but you are better served by simply watching the documentary Couldn’t You Wait? if you are unfamiliar with the band and the men who made up the band. Without Michael, there could be no Silkworm.

Bottomless Pit continued the partnership of Silkworm songwriters Andy Cohen and Tim Midyett, who brought in Brian Orchard of .22 and Chris Manfrin of Seam for the new band. Tim had primarily played a Travis Bean bass in Silkworm; for the new band he shifted to an Electrical Guitar Company baritone guitar, leaving bass duties to Brian. This lineup produced a distinctive and wonderful sound, in which the low end of the bass and baritone provided some of the textures of early New Order while Andy (who had earned the nickname “the Hebrew Hendrix” years before) provided the high end. Bottomless Pit immediately found its own identity.

Over three albums and one EP, this lineup made uniformly excellent music. In particular, Tim’s writing reached a new level of excellence with the debut album Hammer of the Gods, eulogizing Michael with the gorgeous “Human Out of Me” and Tim’s writing continued to grow right through the epic “Felt a Little Left” (the closing song from 2013’s Shade Perennial). Andy alternately used the lineup for intricate textures (“Null Set,” “Dogtags”) or muscular, thunderous cacophony (“38 Souls,” “Fish Eyes”), continuing the impressionistic lyrical concerns he had developed in Silkworm. (A particular favorite of mine was 2013’s “Sacred Trench,” a rumination on the emotional fallout of a flood from one of the affected people.) I was fortunate enough to live in the Chicago area for much of Bottomless Pit’s career, and so I managed to see about ten shows over the years. Two constants informed those shows. First, the sets were always over too quickly (meaning some great songs were omitted). Second, it always seemed like they played one or two fantastic songs that had not yet shown up on a record. I learned to go into shows both anticipating great performances of songs I knew and also anticipate the unexpected.

The links below give good representations of Bottomless Pit. The first is a full set in a Memphis parking lot from 2012, and the second is a performance of four songs in the KEXP-FM Seattle studios from earlier this year. The complete discography is available from the band’s website, and not only do all of the records include brilliantly written and played songs, but the production is immaculate.

People interested in hearing Tim and Andy play live can attend either the Pittsburgh or Columbus Karl Hendricks benefits this August for solo sets.  I imagine both men will produce more great music in the future, and I hold out hope for a Wilma Pool triple album.

Thanks, guys.

Karl Hendricks Benefits to Defray Medical Expenses

Readers of this blog may be familiar with Karl Hendricks from a post I wrote about his music relating to the emotional pull to hoard (among other things) as well as having his most recent album The Adult Section firmly atop my list of favorite records from 2012.  In addition to owning Sound Cat Records in Pittsburgh, Karl is one of the more thoughtful writers and vocalists I know. This makes his diagnosis of oral cancer earlier this year particularly cruel.

Jon Solomon has set up a fundraising page to help meet Karl’s medical expenses.  You can donate here, and please see Jon’s message below to see some amazing fundraising events later this summer with music and readings from many of Karl’s friends (including my fellow onetime WRCT old, weird Americana DJ Jason Baldinger and some of the best musicians in the world).

For over 20 years Pittsburgh’s Karl Hendricks has been not only a good friend, but one of my favorite musicians. I’m not alone in either of these regards.

Karl has personally served as an inspiration to me as a dad, a writer and a small business owner as Karl’s the individual who keeps the excellent Sound Cat Records running smoothly.

He’s a quiet guy, not one to draw attention to himself and certainly not a person who is comfortable asking for help in this fashion.

His friends however aren’t as reserved. That’s why I am writing these words today.

In short: Karl Hendricks has oral cancer. He is working to get better, but it is going to be a long road to recovery.

If you would like to make a financial contribution to Team Hendricks, you can do so using this site. This fundraiser is being done with his consent.

With Karl unable to work this summer as he mends, times are tight in his household and if you’ve ever appreciated what Karl has done to better your own life, please consider passing some money his way.

There will be at least three benefit shows for Karl and his family you are encouraged to attend and spread the word about.

A series of rare items will also be auctioned off to benefit Karl around this time.

Friday, August 22
Brillobox (21+)
Pittsburgh, PA
8:00 pm ET
$10/door – if you wish to donate more you will be able to.
Line Forms
Tim Midyett (Bottomless Pit/Silkworm)
Andy Cohen (Bottomless Pit/Silkworm)
The Gotobeds

Saturday, August 23
2950 N High Street (21+) Update: Show moved to Little Rock Bar (944 N. 4th Street)
Columbus, OH
8:00 pm ET door : 9:00 pm ET show
Marcy Mays (Scrawl)
Sue Harshe (Scrawl/Ft Shame)
Andy Cohen (Bottomless Pit/Silkworm)
Tim Midyett (Bottomless Pit/Silkworm)
Kyle Sowash
Lizard McGee (Earwig)
+ more to be announced.

Saturday September 27
Modern Formations
Pittsburgh, PA
8:00 pm ET
$7/sliding scale
Readings by:
Jason Baldinger
Kris Collins
Jerome Crooks
Lori Jakiela
Jeff Martin
Dave Newman
Bobby Pajich
Scott Silsbe
Hosted by Red Bob

Karl’s short story chapbook “Stan Getz Isn’t Coming Back” will be repressed in an edition of 100 copies for this reading.

Thank you very much.

Jon Solomon
July 2014

Again, the link to make a contribution is here. Karl should have the last word on this post, so here he is performing solo at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum from 2011. 


Seats Available in Pratt’s Sustainable Core (Fall 2014)

As Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor gets set to celebrate its first anniversary of being in the catalog, the upper-division SUST offerings are enrolled to capacity.  Students interested in developing the environmental dimensions of their education do have options, however. In Fall 2014, for the first time, Pratt’s Sustainable Core course is offering two sections, and both sections currently have some seats available. I am leading the Monday 2-4:50pm section and Jen Telesca is leading the Wednesday 5-7:50pm section. Each section will include participation by various Pratt instructors, giving students a sense of how sustainability is approached in design, architecture, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and humanities. This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, and it is a required course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor.

SUST 201 The Sustainable Core

This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Fall 2014: SUST 201-01 Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm; SUST 201-02 Wednesdays 5-7:50pm.  3 credit hours.

This course may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, and has no prerequisites. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about either of these courses, please feel free to contact me at

A Question for Chicago Residents

Chicago is the City That Works.  But do its recycling services work?  Take the survey to let the CRC know.

Chicago is the City That Works. But do its recycling services work? Take the survey to let the CRC know.

Granted, people in Chicago make up a fraction of this blog’s readers, but as a member of the Chicago Recycling Coalition’s board of directors, I need to ask this question.

Have you taken the CRC’s recycling survey?  The CRC is trying to assess how well Chicago’s recycling services actually work and have developed a survey to assess services by neighborhood and building type.  Aside from monitoring quality of service, the questionnaire is also a good place for you to express your preferences on how local waste management might be improved. If these services matter to you, please take five minutes to answer a handful of questions.