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Shoddy Technology: Textile Waste and the Epistemology of Reuse

Shoddy Technology: Textile Waste and the Epistemology of Reuse

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

NYU - Gallatin Room 801

Presented By

Presented by the History & Philosophy of Science Section of the New York Academy of Sciences


Simultaneously coined as a word and invented as a product in 1813, shoddy came into existence to refer to a new textile material produced from old rags and tailors' clippings. And until well into the twentieth century, its status as noun remained primary. As the story goes, a West Yorkshire mill-owner, inspired by a chance encounter with a horse saddle stuffed with shredded tunics, invented shoddy. Industrial-style recycling was born in the development of his "devil machine," especially designed for the sorting, grinding, scouring, and baling of old, used, wool. Recycled waste re-emerged as plentiful "new" raw materials as workers shredded wool rags in the sharp teeth of the rag-grinding machines. Shoddy reconfigured communities, machines, economies, and landscapes, fashioned into everything from slave clothing to confederate uniforms, to sofa stuffing to crop fertilizer. The book and documentary project I will discuss in this presentation, argues that shoddy — its history, its materiality, its unraveling — matters in ways both economic and epistemological, practical and philosophical.


Hanna Rose Shell

Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Hanna Rose Shell is a historian of science and technology, a documentary filmmaker, and the Leo Marx Career Development Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at MIT. Recent publications include the book Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography and the Media of Reconnaissance (2012) and the article “Cinéhistory and Experiments on Film” in the Journal of Visual Culture (2013). Shell studies the production, use, and transformation of often-marginalized scientific entitles located at the interstices of the found and the fabricated. Her current book project, titled Shoddy, is a historical investigation into textile reuse, whose objects of analysis include old clothes, decomposing vegetable matter, and other artifacts of strategic repurposing.

Sponsoring Organizations:

Metropolitan New York Section of the History of Science Society

New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study

Columbia University
University Seminar in History and Philosophy of Science

City University of New York
Ph.D. Program in History, History of Science Lecture Series

New York Academy of Sciences
Section for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology

Travel & Lodging

NYU-Torch Club

18 Waverly Place