January 4, 2023

EP. 298 — What’s The Sordid History Of U.S. Trash Collection? with Professors Patricia Strach and Kathleen S. Sullivan

New year, Gilded Age drama! Today we might think of municipal trash collection as a mundane activity. But in the late 1800s, trash collection in the United States was the site of dirty politics, public health debates, and a whole lot of mess. Professors Patricia Strach and Kathleen S. Sullivan join Jonathan to discuss how we went from 16-foot-tall trash piles in the streets to our modern system of trash pick-ups. And we’re getting into all the unsavory details…


Want to (dumpster) dive deeper into the politics of trash? Check out their new book The Politics of Trash: How Governments Used Corruption to Clean Cities, 1890-1929, published by Cornell University Press. You can visit the book’s website for more information!


Patricia Strach is professor in the Departments of Political Science and Public Administration & Policy at the University at Albany, State University of New York and a fellow with the Rockefeller Institute of Government. With Kathleen S. Sullivan, she is the author of The Politics of Trash: How Governments Used Corruption to Clean Cities, 1890-1929 (Cornell University Press 2023). Her previous books include Hiding Politics in Plain Sight: Cause Marketing, Corporate influence, and Breast Cancer Policymaking (Oxford University Press 2016) and All in the Family: The Private Roots of American Public Policy (Stanford University Press 2007).


Kathleen S. Sullivan is Associate Professor of Political Science at Ohio University. With Patricia Strach, she is the author of The Politics of Trash: How Governments Used Corruption to Clean Cities, 1890-1929 (Cornell University Press 2023). She is also the author of Constitutional Context: Women and Rights Discourse in Nineteenth-Century America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). She is currently researching sailors’ boardinghouses.


You can follow Professor Strach on Twitter @PatriciaStrach and Professor Sullivan on Twitter @kathlsullivan.


Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @CuriousWithJVN to join the conversation.


Jonathan is on Instagram and Twitter @JVN and @Jonathan.Vanness on Facebook.


Transcripts for each episode are available at JonathanVanNess.com.


Our executive producer is Erica Getto. Our associate producer is Zahra Crim. Our editor is Andrew Carson.


Our theme music is “Freak” by QUIÑ; for more, head to TheQuinCat.com.


Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness & Kathleen S. Sullivan and Patricia Strach   JVN [00:00:00] Welcome to Getting Curious. I’m Jonathan Van Ness and every week I sit down for a gorgeous conversation with a brilliant expert to learn all about something that makes me curious, honey. And I hope it makes you curious, too! On today’s episode, we are joined by not one but two major people, Kathleen Sullivan and Patricia Strach, where I ask them: What are the dirty politics of American trash collection? Welcome to Getting Curious. This is Jonathan Van Ness. Honey, we have a very special episode for you because we have not one, but two experts. Now, you know this about me: I love a historical drama, and today’s episode is delivering in gorgeous, big, dirty, smelly heaps, honey. We are getting curious about the history of trash collection in the United States. It’s a story of local politics, public health, and racial and gender hierarchies and a whole lot of mess,

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