Laid Waste: Historicizing Toxic Waste

AHA Session 25
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom F (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Martin V. Melosi, University of Houston
Radioactive Waste and the Discourse of Sustainability
James W. Feldman, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh

Session Abstract

The concept of “wasteland” has radically transformed in the last few centuries from an idea of inhospitable territories such as deserts, swamps, arctic poles, and mountains to the designation of “waste” and “wasteland” to be territories so sullied by human activity as to be unlivable. As historians recorded the histories of "brown fields" and "sacrifice lands," they also began to conceive of bodies as repositories for waste. Some historians followed scientists who charted the incorporation of toxic chemicals and radioactive isotopes into human and animal organisms, toxins they realized can shift genetic codes and impact offspring. Others saw the earth itself as a celestial body pocked with toxic waste and encased with a thick layer of gases, a trend some historians and geologists see as a triggering a new epoch in planetary history. Panelists of this round table will discuss both the personalization and universalizaton of waste, and how the focus on waste has led to new concepts of history as both deep and transitory.
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