Carl Zimring

Photo of Carl Zimring

Professor Social Science & Cultural Studies 718.687.5958 p Brooklyn Campus, DeKalb Hall 108

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B.A., University of California at Santa Cruz; M.A., University of Chicago; M.A., Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University.


Carl Zimring is an environmental historian interested in how attitudes concerning waste shape society, culture, institutions, and inequalities. This interest led him to work as a brownfields surveyor, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fellow, on the board of directors of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, and snooping in dumpsters and recycling bins all around the world to see what and how we discard.

Zimring's books focus on aspects of waste history. Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America (2005) examined changes and continuities in how Americans salvaged and recycled materials as the nation industrialized, how this practice became associated with the modern environmental movement, and how that association obscures important environmental and economic issues. Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (2015) provided an argument for evolving concerns about waste in the nineteenth century providing the context for structures of environmental racism identified in the late twentieth century. Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective (2017) emerged from conversations with design faculty and students at Pratt. This book considers secondary aluminum use worldwide since World War II as a precursor to twenty-first century attempts at industrial upcycling, with an eye for using history to inform contemporary sustainable design strategies.

Zimring has also published essays and articles on environmental history topics including the complex environmental legacy of automobile shredders, the recent history of New York City's curbside recycling program, the rhetorical context behind passage of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, the social history of Gilded Age scrap recycling workers in the United States, the historical dimensions of critical discard studies, (with Michael Bryson) the past, present, and future of Chicago's Bubbly Creek, and (with Joel Tarr) the development of St. Louis's influential smoke control ordinance of 1940.

With William L. Rathje, Zimring edited the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage (2012). Other co-edited works include joining editor Fredric Quivik in publishing a special issue of IA - The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archaeology on industrial waste and (assisting Michael Conzen) two volumes of essays on the historical geography of the Illinois & Michigan Canal Corridor.

Zimring joined Pratt in 2012 to create and coordinate the Institute's sustainability studies minor. Before arriving in Brooklyn he helped create the first sustainability studies BA program in Illinois at Roosevelt University. He previously taught at Oberlin College, Michigan Technological University, the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and Carnegie Mellon University. Research support includes funding from the Smithsonian Institution, the Hagley Museum and Library, Columbia University Seminars, the U.S. EPA, and the American Society for Environmental History's Samuel P. Hays Fellowship.

Zimring teaches seminars on waste, energy, and the histories of technology and the environment, as well as the general education Sustainable Core course. Students interested in declaring a Sustainability Studies minor should contact him.