Back in January of 2008, I came across an NYC event listing that seemed to have been drafted just for me: a presentation given by a group of NYU anthropology students who had spent a semester planning a museum to honor the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY). Professor Robin Nagle, DSNY’s anthropologist in residence co-taught the course.
That’s how I discovered that such a position existed and that’s the first time I got to hear Nagle lecture on the history of trash in New York City. Her passion for the subject came across so clearly that I knew right away this idea of a museum honoring the sanitation department constituted more than a hypothetical class assignment. We discussed it a bit more one Trashtastic Tuesday; and a couple years after that I got her to join me on a panel about art and garbage that took place inside an RV parked on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Since then, I have kept up with Nagle mainly through social media (she has a badass Instagram feed) and by following the academic waste blog she founded, Discard Studies.
Then, a few weeks ago, my friend Oriana Leckert of Brooklyn Spaces asked if I wanted to join her at an event that merged her passion for unique creative venues with my passion for trash at the fabulous headquarters of Atlas Obscura. Nagle gave a fabulous lecture on the history of New York City’s struggle to deal with our trash. Highlights included amazing footage shot by Thomas Edison of sanitation workers loading a trash barge in 1903. Did you know Edison took little slice of life vignettes of the city and that you can view them all on YouTube thanks to the Library of Congress? You’re welcome.
After the lecture, I went home and opened up my copy of Picking Up, Nagle’s wonderful book in which she chronicles her time on the job as a sanitation worker and puts a human face on the corps of people who deal with our trash once we throw it “away.”
The book is full of great anecdotes, personal stories and incredible facts. It’s a must read for all trashes and is now available in paperback. Go forth and purchase.