Sarah Elizabeth Newman
Grant TypeHunt Postdoctoral Fellowship
Institutional AffiliationJames Madison U.
Grant numberGr. 9317
Approve DateOctober 4, 2016
Project TitleNewman, Dr. Sarah E., James Madison U., Harrisonburg, VA - To aid research and writing on 'Talking Trash: A History of Refuse in Mesoamerica' - Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship
SARAH E. NEWMAN, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginian, was awarded a Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship in October 2016 to aid research and writing on “Talking Trash: A History of Refuse in Mesoamerica.” The resulting manuscript explores the changing nature of “waste” in Mesoamerica from Pre-Columbian times through the twentieth century. The book’s long-term, cross-cultural perspective challenges contemporary understandings of trash by highlighting alternative ways that people in the past conceptualized, experienced, and managed material and bodily wastes. Drawing together evidence from archaeology, material culture studies, anthropology, history, and environmental studies, Talking Trash details the culturally and historically specific ways that refuse could be a resource, discard was a form of production, and disposal harnessed the latent potential of objects in Mesoamerica. During the colonial encounter, however, differences in perspectives and practices surrounding rubbish transformed waste, not only into a problem, but into an object of control as well. In tracing trash through time, the book highlights the ways in which applying modern notions of waste to the past is not only anachronistic, but actively limits our potential for understanding. As contemporary issues of climate change and waste management loom large in public discourse, this book is a timely intervention. Talking Trash offers an alternative to focusing on behavioral changes: perhaps refuse needs to be rethought altogether.