Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Friday, October 5, 2012

Histories of the Dustheap

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with its many highly-ranked Engineering and Science departments, we humanities scholars are often encouraged in the name of interdisciplinarity to find ways to bring our cultural-analysis skills to bear on questions pertaining to areas of scientific or technical expertise.  Our Chancellor, for instance, has just completed a sustained process designed to identify crucial societal questions that we as a university can help to address, and we as a campus are about to launch a series of initiatives designed to to address the six focal-point areas of inquiry that have emerged.  The first of these will be "Energy and the Environment."

From this institutional point of view, the publication of this new essay collection--Histories of the Dustheap: Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice--could not be more timely.  Co-edited by our own Stephanie Foote and published by MIT Press, this volume represents exactly the kind of multi-disciplinary fusion that our campus seeks to foster. 

Here is the book description, pasted in from the MIT Press website:

"Garbage, considered both materially and culturally, elicits mixed responses. Our responsibility toward the objects we love and then discard is entangled with our responsibility toward the systems that make those objects. Histories of the Dustheap uses garbage, waste, and refuse to investigate the relationships between various systems--the local and the global, the economic and the ecological, the historical and the contemporary--and shows how this most democratic reality produces identities, social relations, and policies.

The contributors first consider garbage in subjective terms, examining “toxic autobiography” by residents of Love Canal, the intersection of public health and women’s rights, and enviroblogging. They explore the importance of place, with studies of post-Katrina soil contamination in New Orleans, e-waste disposal in Bloomington, Indiana, and garbage on Mount Everest. And finally, they look at cultural contradictions as objects hover between waste and desirability, examining Milwaukee’s efforts to sell its sludge as fertilizer, the plastics industry’s attempt to wrap plastic bottles and bags in the mantle of freedom of choice, and the idea of obsolescence in the animated film The Brave Little Toaster.

Histories of the Dustheap offers a range of perspectives on a variety of incarnations of garbage, inviting the reader to consider garbage in a way that goes beyond the common “buy green” discourse that empowers individuals while limiting environmental activism to consumerist practices."

Congratulations, Stephanie!


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