Episode 61: Dust

Friday, April 6th, 2018

‘Pelvis et umbra sumus’  (We are but dust and shadow – Horace, The Odes (23BC))


Welcome to Histories of the Unexpected where you will discover the history of things you didn’t know even had a history, like the history of scars or the history of tears.

For this episode Professor James Daybell and  Dr Sam Willis, sift through the detritus of ages past to bring you the unexpected history of dust.

Let us join Sam and James as they led us through the smog and murk from National Trust buildings and the collections that they house to the development of optics in the 1650s, from John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, and cleanliness to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, from the spinning rooms of the flax mills to the ‘widow makers’ of the South African mines, from the dust yards of Victorian England to Egypt in the 1920’s and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and from the recent archaeological excavations of London’s plague pits to the mass production of the tractor and the American depression.

Our two curators sweep away the smut and soot and discover that this unexpected history is actually all about; tourism and conservation, collections and preservation, fear and anxiety, politeness and Enlightenment, industry and progress, filth and money, pathogens and illness, war and stock markets, environment and intervention.

Listen out as Sam demonstrates how to make some dust and James explains the cob-wall time bomb!


‘Dust in the air suspended/ Marks the place where a story ended’   (T. S. Eliot Little Gidding (1942))

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