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The Society for the History of Technology is holding its annual meeting in Philadelphia this year, and I will discuss my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective (available now) as part of the “Envirotechnical Responses to Pollution Concerns” panel with Hugh Gorman, Ellen Spears, and Scott Knowles on October 28. The panel begins at 2pm.

Johns Hopkins University Press will have copies of the book for sale at the conference. The Press describes my history of sustainable design strategies this way:

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.


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I will discuss Aluminum Upcycled at the Design History Society Annual Conference entitled “Making and Unmaking the Environment” in Oslo, Norway on September 8. Details:

Time: 9-10:30am
Panel: Upgrading Waste

Papers:
“Upcycling in Historical Perspective” Carl Zimring, Pratt Institute.

“The Re-Used Shipping Container: Environmental Design and the Cargotecture Phenomenon” Rachel Harkness, The University of Aberdeen.

“Designing Maintenance: Martin Pawley’s Garbage Housing in the 1970’s”
Curt Gambetta, Princeton University.

For information on Making and Unmaking the Environment, please visit the conference website.


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This Thursday, Steven Corey and I will discuss the past, present, and future of waste management, recycling, downcycling, and upcycling in a symposium for the Illinois Recycling Association.

Join the IRA for an entertaining evening of conversation about the history of waste reclamation, and how that history may inform a more sustainable future. Subjects will include many of the cool things we’ve made out of recycled material, from sports cars to guitars, as featured in Carl A. Zimring’s new book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective.

Dr. Zimring, professor at Pratt Institute, will be joined by Steven Corey, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Humanities, History and Social Sciences at Columbia College/Chicago. Dr. Corey served as curator for the noted exhibition “Garbage! The History and Politics of Trash in NYC” while completing his doctorate.

Join the Conversation:
Thursday, July 20 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Auditorium Building, 435 South Michigan Avenue, AUD #420

$35 general admission
$20 Student fee
Questions: info@illinoisrecycles.org

I’ll discuss some of the ways aluminum has been upcycled, including in guitars, cars, and furniture like the designs Charles and Ray Eames made for Herman Miller (see the above image). For more information and to register, click here.


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The Organization of American Historians asked me to write a brief post on the Process blog about the history of recycling. Here’s the lede:

In the popular imagination, recycling arose out of the modern environmental movement. Some associate recycling with efforts to to divert discards from landfills or with World War II scrap drives when the government mobilized resources for the war effort. But recycling’s history is both older and more complicated than either of those depictions.

Paul Revere recycled, though he did not use that word…

Read the rest, including discussion of curbside programs, wartime scrap drives, and the turn towards upcycling as a sustainable design strategy.


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On Saturday, I will be at the Chicago Humanities Festival for my talk “What We’re Throwing Away” from noon-1pm. I’ll have copies of Aluminum Upcycled available for purchase, and will do a signing after the talk.

Sat, Apr 29 | 12 – 1 PM
Venue SIX10
Feinberg Theater
610 S Michigan Ave | Chicago, IL | 60605
  • Members: $12
  • Public: $15
  • Students and Teachers: $10

Carl Zimring wrote the book on garbage. Well, several actually. He has written about environmental racism and scrap recycling and edited the two-volume Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. His most recent work is Aluminum Upcycled, which explores how discarded materials are fashioned into goods of greater value, focusing on aluminum and its crucial role in post-WWII design. With an eye to how attitudes about waste shape culture, institutions, and inequalities, Zimring will offer a uniquely well-informed perspective on the past, present, and future of garbage.

Preorder your copy of Aluminum Upcycled through the CHF box office and save 20%.

A book signing will follow this program.


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I will be at the Chicago Humanities Festival for my talk “What We’re Throwing Away” April 29 from noon-1pm. I’ll have copies of Aluminum Upcycled available for purchase, and will do a signing after the talk.

Sat, Apr 29 | 12 – 1 PM
Venue SIX10
Feinberg Theater
610 S Michigan Ave | Chicago, IL | 60605
  • Members: $12
  • Public: $15
  • Students and Teachers: $10

Carl Zimring wrote the book on garbage. Well, several actually. He has written about environmental racism and scrap recycling and edited the two-volume Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. His most recent work is Aluminum Upcycled, which explores how discarded materials are fashioned into goods of greater value, focusing on aluminum and its crucial role in post-WWII design. With an eye to how attitudes about waste shape culture, institutions, and inequalities, Zimring will offer a uniquely well-informed perspective on the past, present, and future of garbage.

Preorder your copy of Aluminum Upcycled through the CHF box office and save 20%.

A book signing will follow this program.


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The Chicago River may not be green by the start of the conference, but we will discuss green design strategies March 30.

The American Society for Environmental History meeting is in Chicago (the Drake Hotel, to be precise) this week, and I will discuss my new book Aluminum Upcycled in two sessions on Thursday. (The book will be available at the book exhibit and can also be purchased from Johns Hopkins University Press’s website.)

At 8:30am, Thursday March 30, I will be part of a panel on “Histories of Design and the Environment” with Kjetil Fallan, Rachel S. Gross, and Eun-Joo Ahn. We will all present individual papers, and then Steven Corey will comment and moderate.

Immediately thereafter at 10:30am, I will be part of a Critical Discard Studies and Environmental History roundtable organized by Martin Melosi. I will discuss aspects of the book in both sessions, with a focus on Herman Miller’s furniture design in the first and a broader discussion of where the book fits in the literature in the second.


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With ASEH bringing me back to Chicago this year, my good friend Mike Nowak has generously invited me back for a return appearance on Chicago’s longest-running environmental radio show on April 1. The Mike Nowak Show airs every Saturday from 10am-noon CT on WCGO-AM 1590 and listeners outside the Chicago metropolitan area can listen live at the link or click through later to hear the show as a podcast.

I’ll be on starting at 10:15, and we will likely talk about my new book Aluminum Upcycled, which I’ll bring to the Chicago Humanities Festival on April 29. Based on past experience, it is quite possible Mike and I will discuss the state of recycling and waste management in Chicago.


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I will discuss my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective (available now) at Pratt’s Sustainability Crash Course in Brooklyn this Saturday afternoon (March 25). 

The Sustainability Crash Course runs from 9am to 5pm with a variety of talks and events at Pratt’s Brooklyn campus (200 Willoughby Avenue near the Clinton-Washington C station and the Classon G station). My book launch will be in Pratt’s Engineering Building at 1:30pm and last about 50 minutes. The event is free, but registration is required.

I will have copies of the book for sale at the event. Johns Hopkins University Press describes this history of sustainable design strategies this way:

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.


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