Category Archives: publications

Preorder Aluminum Upcycled from Johns Hopkins University Press

zimringpostedThis year, Johns Hopkins University Press is publishing my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective. It is available for pre-order now, with shipping this month. From the press:

Beginning in 1886 with the discovery of how to mass produce aluminum, the book examines the essential part the metal played in early aviation and the world wars, as well as the troubling expansion of aluminum as a material of mass disposal. Recognizing that scrap aluminum was as good as virgin material and much more affordable than newly engineered metal, designers in the postwar era used aluminum to manufacture highly prized artifacts. Zimring takes us on a tour of post-1940s design, examining the use of aluminum in cars, trucks, airplanes, furniture, and musical instruments from 1945 to 2015. 

By viewing upcycling through the lens of one material, Zimring deepens our understanding of the history of recycling in industrial society. He also provides a historical perspective on contemporary sustainable design practices. Along the way, he challenges common assumptions about upcycling’s merits and adds a new dimension to recycling as a form of environmental absolution for the waste-related sins of the modern world. Raising fascinating questions of consumption, environment, and desire,  Upcycling Aluminum is for anyone interested in industrial and environmental history, discard studies, engineering, product design, music history, or antiques.

Coming in 2017: Aluminum Upcycled.

zimringpostedThis year, Johns Hopkins University Press is publishing my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective. It is available for pre-order now, with shipping sometime in February. From the press:

Beginning in 1886 with the discovery of how to mass produce aluminum, the book examines the essential part the metal played in early aviation and the world wars, as well as the troubling expansion of aluminum as a material of mass disposal. Recognizing that scrap aluminum was as good as virgin material and much more affordable than newly engineered metal, designers in the postwar era used aluminum to manufacture highly prized artifacts. Zimring takes us on a tour of post-1940s design, examining the use of aluminum in cars, trucks, airplanes, furniture, and musical instruments from 1945 to 2015. 

By viewing upcycling through the lens of one material, Zimring deepens our understanding of the history of recycling in industrial society. He also provides a historical perspective on contemporary sustainable design practices. Along the way, he challenges common assumptions about upcycling’s merits and adds a new dimension to recycling as a form of environmental absolution for the waste-related sins of the modern world. Raising fascinating questions of consumption, environment, and desire,  Upcycling Aluminum is for anyone interested in industrial and environmental history, discard studies, engineering, product design, music history, or antiques.

This was a fun book to research, allowing me to combine discussions with my colleagues at Pratt with explorations of many “covetable” goods, including furniture by the Eames Office, Herman Miller, and Emeco, vehicles by Ford, Honda, Porsche, and Aston Martin, and guitars by Travis Bean, John Veleno, Wandre Pioli, and Kevin Burkett’s Electrical Guitar Company (among others).

I plan on giving a few talks about the book this spring. If you would like to schedule one, contact me at czimring “AT” pratt “DOT” edu.

A Future without Waste? Zero Waste in Theory and Practice. (New RCC Perspectives issue.)

The 2014 Rachel Carson Center workshop Whose Waste? Whose Problem? revealed many fascinating perspectives on the topic of waste, and now several of these contributions (including articles by Tian Song, Michael Braungart, Zsuzsa Gille, Jutta Gutberlet, Stafania Gallini, Herbert Köpnick, and me, as well as a roundtable) are available in the new RCC Perspectives issue “A Future without Waste? Zero Waste in Theory and Practice.”

A PDF of the issue is free at this link.

Now Available: Special Issue on the Industrial Archeology of Industrial Waste

IAcoverFresh from the printer, the new issue of IA – The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology (Vol. 39, No. 1 & 2) is available, and it is dedicated to the theme of industrial waste. Journal editor Fred Quivik and I were fortunate to get articles on mining waste, coal ash, arsenic, and automobile graveyards from Sean M. Gorman, Samantha MacBride, the team of Lloyd B. Tepper and Jefffrey H. Tepper, and David Lucsko, respectively. Fred also contributed an article on mine tailings in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene mining district, and my old friend and colleague Mike Bryson and I contributed an article about the past and present of Chicago’s Bubbly Creek, which Upton Sinclair aptly described as “Chicago’s Great Open Sewer” more than a century ago.

As Fred describes in his lead editorial, “this special issue of IA is dedicated to industrial waste and what it can tell us about who we are as an industrial people. Industrial archaeologists typically focus analyses on the artifacts produced by industrial processes, on the equipment and skills employed by people to produce those artifacts, and on the complexes of structures and landscapes that house and support the full range of industrial activities. Careful industrial archaeologists also consider that which industrial activity discards, but such considerations seldom take center stage. This special issue of IA gives the spotlight to waste.”

IA_TOCOur colleagues in this special issue include industrial archaeologists, historians of technology and the environment, and sociologists. We also have reviews of several related books (see the table of contents for details.) The cover image is Edwin Buckman’s A London Dustyard, as featured in Samantha MacBride’s article on coal ash.

For information on how to order a copy, see the journal’s website. Thanks to all of the contributors and especially to Fred for inviting me to guest edit this special issue.

The White Privilege of Henry Loeb

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, 1968.

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, 1968.

Today is the 95th anniversary of onetime Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb’s birth. As I discuss in my forthcoming book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (available from NYU Press January 8, 2016, and available for preorder now) Loeb’s life and actions reflect the shifting power relations around white identity in the 20th century, and the ways those power relations were used to exacerbate environmental racism.

Loeb is most famous (or infamous) for his role in the events leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1968 assassination. Dr. King was in Memphis to support a strike of sanitation workers when he was killed. That strike was triggered by Mayor Loeb’s actions.

Loeb became mayor as a champion of white supremacy. That fact does not set him apart from George Wallace, Lester Maddox, or the many politicians who used racist ideology to win and retain office in the 1960s. Loeb’s history, however, illuminates an aspect of white supremacy usually not remarked upon — its association with hygiene.

Loeb was descended from German Jewish immigrants who arrived in Memphis during the nineteenth century. His grandfather opened a successful chain of laundries that employed African-American women to do the hard work of keeping the customers’ clothes clean. The Loeb family grew prosperous off this labor; Henry was born in 1920 into a family of wealth and privilege. He attended Philips Academy prep school and Brown University. His friends included John F. Kennedy (who, like Henry, served on a patrol boat during World War II).

Henry tended to the family business after World War II. He resisted efforts from black workers to organize unions, kept wages and overhead low, and continued to keep the enterprise profitable. He married Mary Gregg, the 1950 queen of the Memphis Cotton Carnival (a celebration of the Cotton South and the Confederacy) and converted from Judiasm to the Episcopal Church.

Having assimilated into the upper crust of white Memphis society, Loeb began a political career. He got elected to the Memphis City Commission in 1955 and began his oversight of the Public Works Department, which included streets and sanitation.

As historian Michael K. Honey observed in his terrific book Going Down Jericho Road, the workers in Memphis’s Sanitation Department charged with collecting garbage were overwhelmingly African American and male. Under Loeb, they were subject to dangerous working conditions and often forced to work an additional hour each day without pay.

Loeb used his experience to run an explicitly racist campaign for mayor in 1959, serving a term before stepping down to run the family business after the manager had died of a heart attack. After four years away, he ran again for the office in 1967, once again winning an explicitly racist campaign.

Mayor Loeb refused to entertain workers’ desire to have their union recognized or their desire for improved working conditions. With tensions rising, two workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were killed on a garbage truck. They were riding on the back of the truck as was procedure in Memphis’s Department of Public Works. In a pouring rain, the two men tried to take cover as best they could by climbing onto a perch between a hydraulic ram used to compact the garbage and the inner wall of the truck. Somewhere along the drive, the ram activated, crushing the two men to death. One had tried to escape, but the mechanism caught his raincoat and pulled him back to his death.

C&WcoverThe men’s deaths led to an immediate walkout. Loeb did not back down, refusing to negotiate with the workers. The history of the strike, Dr. King’s involvement in it, its marches, its violence, Loeb’s refusal to negotiate, and the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination are discussed in Chapter 8 of Clean and White. Available January 8 from NYU Press, the book contextualizes Loeb’s actions in a time when fears about waste and racial purity intertwined, producing new labor markets and spatial arrangements to manage the materials Americans classified as waste. Loeb is one of the actors in a long history of Americans’ often troubled relationship with those wastes and with each other. This is how I remember him on the 95th anniversary of his birth.

Remembering Booker T. Washington 100 Years After His Death

Booker_T_WashingtonA century ago today, Booker T. Washington died of hypertension at the age of 59. Founder of the Tuskegee Institute, author of Up from Slavery, Washington is remembered today as one of two major African-American voices of the turn of the twentieth century advocating different ways of addressing the rising threat of Jim Crow and lynchings. W. E. B. du Bois and his colleagues in what became the NAACP pushed for full recognition of civil rights. Washington has often been remembered as a conciliator, compromising with Southern segregationists in a futile effort for accommodation.

History has not been kind to Washington’s strategies, but history also deserves to give Washington understanding of what he saw and experienced in his life. Born a slave in 1856, he saw the Civil War bring abolition before his tenth birthday. Young Booker T. Washington then saw the upheaval of Reconstruction and, as he became an adult, violent, repressive rollback of civil rights for African Americans, joined by mob violence and lynching.

Lautz Brothers' soap ad. The slogan "beat that if you can" underlines the claim it can wash black skin white.

Lautz Brothers’ soap ad. The slogan “beat that if you can” underlines the claim it can wash black skin white.

A pernicious aspect of the racial subjugation Washington saw was an emerging stereotype of African Americans as somehow dirtier than native-born whites. In the halls of universities, in the rhetoric of politicians, and in the emerging advertising for soap and cleansers between 1880 and 1920, “white” skin was celebrated as fair, and as clean. Darker pigments were equated with dirt, even treated as dirt in some of the crudest soap advertisements of the time.

In this context, much of Washington’s work may be seen as resistance to a growing insult. His “gospel of the toothbrush” admission of African Americans to uphold the highest standards of personal hygiene, establishment of technical institutes with instruction in personal and civic hygiene, and work to create National Negro Health Week reflect an attempt to resist this emerging pseudoscientific claim to white supremacy as an extension of elevated sanitary standards.

C&WcoverSuch an attitude is jarring in 2015, but was commonplace during Washington’s life. How this attitude developed, how it was resisted by many affected people, and what consequences it has had for American society is the subject of my new book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States. Available now from NYU Press, the book contextualizes Waring’s work in a time when fears about waste and racial purity intertwined, producing new labor markets and spatial arrangements to manage the materials Americans classified as waste. Washington is one of the actors in a long history of Americans’ often troubled relationship with those wastes and with each other.

Washington’s death from hypertension happened as he saw white supremacy grow despite his work. The environmental dimension of American racism at the turn of the century both adds context to his differences with du Bois and rationale for his gospel of the toothbrush. He should be remembered for both his accomplishments and these complexities, and that is one of the goals of the book.