Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Book launch | Sarah Newman | Unmaking Waste: New Histories of Old Things

Monday, November 13, 2023

5:30 - 7:00 p.m. Reception to follow.

Joukowsky Forum, 111 Thayer Street

Garbage is often assumed to be an inevitable part and problem of human existence. But when did people actually come to think of things as trash, as becoming worthless over time or through use, as having an end?

Unmaking Waste tackles these questions through a long-term, cross-cultural approach. Using archaeological finds, historic documents, and ethnographic observations to examine Europe, the United States, and Central America from prehistory to the present, Prof. Sarah Newman traces how different ideas about waste took shape in different times and places. Newman examines what is considered waste and how people interact with it, as well as what happens when different perceptions of trash come into contact and conflict. Understandings of waste have shaped forms of reuse and renewal in ancient Mesoamerica, early modern ideas of civility and forced religious conversion in New Spain, and even the modern discipline of archaeology. Newman argues that centuries of assumptions imposed on other places, times, and peoples need to be rethought. The result is not only a broad reconsideration of waste but also new forms of archaeology that do not take garbage for granted. Unmaking Waste reveals that waste is not—and never has been—an obvious or universal concept.

Available at 4 PM? Join CLACS's "Back From the Field" event.

About the Author

Sarah Newman (University of Chicago) is an archaeologist who studies deep histories of contemporary environmental issues, including waste making and management, the relationships between humans and other animals, and the ongoing impacts of past human and animal activities on present landscapes.

About the Panelists

Shanti Morell-Hart (Anthropology) and Iris Montero (Hispanic Studies)