Trash Talk Lecture: Rags, Bones, and Plastic Bags: Trash in Industrial America

Cambridge, August 24, 2011 - Every human culture leaves some broken pottery and more, which fill the trash dumps that archaeologists study. But the trash of today is a product of industrialization.

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology &d Ethnology presents the free lecture, "Rags, Bones, and Plastic Bags:  Trash in Industrial America," on Thursday September 22 at 5:30 P.M. at the Geological Lecture Hall (24 Oxford St., Cambridge). The lecture will be followed by a public reception at the Peabody Museum (11 Divinity Ave.).

Pre-industrial Americans reused and recycled, valuing the labor and materials that went into handmade production. Nineteenth-century industries adapted these practices, reusing rags, bottles, and bones collected by peddlers and general stores.

During the twentieth century, mass production and mass distribution generated more stuff, and more trash. Handwork and reuse declined, while economic growth was fueled by waste: the trash created by packaging, disposables, and the constant technological and stylistic changes that made objects obsolete while creating markets for replacements.

The speaker is Susan Strasser, the Richards Professor of American History, at the University of Delaware. Dr. Strasser is the author of the acclaimed book, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash.

Additional talks in this series include an archaeological view of trash and managing materials to achieve sustainable results. Join us this Fall for an exploration of the anthropology of waste!

About the Peabody Museum
The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.

Hours and location: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children, 3–18. Free with Harvard ID or Museum membership. The Museum is free to Massachusetts residents Sundays, 9 A.M. to noon, year round, and Wednesdays from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. (September to May). Admission includes admission to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. For more information call 617-496-1027 or go online to: The Peabody Museum is located at 11 Divinity Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Museum is a short walk from the Harvard Square MBTA station.

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Media Contact:

Faith Sutter
Communications Coordinator
Peabody Museum
Tel: 617-495-3397


Horse-drawn garbage wagon, near Belmont and Pike, Seattle, Washington, 1915. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, Item 871.

High resolution image available on request.

"Rags, Bones, and Plastic Bags:  Trash in Industrial America," the second in the Peabody Museum Trash Talk series of free lectures, is Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm at the Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge.

A public reception follows at the Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge.

Public information: 617-496-1027.