Robins Presents Kapok Paper

Jonathan Robins presented a paper on the history of kapok and kapok substitutes at the 2024 American Society for Environmental History Conference. The Conference convened April 3-7 in Denver, Colorado.

Kapok is a tree fiber once widely used for stuffing mattresses, pillows and life jackets. However material shortages during World War II inspired new research into artificial materials. Unfortunately the newer materials eventually displaced kapok and other natural fibers from key markets. The research is part of a larger project on historical transitions from biomaterials to synthetics in fiber-consuming industries like rope, fishing nets and insulation.

About Jonathan Robins

Jonathan E. Robins
Jonathan E. Robins
Associate Professor of History

Jonathan Robins is an award-winning historian of commodities, environments, and politics. He has published on oils and fats, fiber crops and textile industries, food and consumption, economic development, and environmental and labor history broadly. His current research interests include waste and waste landscapes, technological transitions in natural and synthetic fibers, and agroforestry. He serves on the steering committee of the Commodities of Empire project and as global book review editor for Agricultural History.

About the Social Sciences Department at Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech’s Department of Social Sciences offers bachelor of science degrees in AnthropologyPolicy and Community DevelopmentSustainability Science and Society, and Social Science, along with a bachelor of arts degree in History. Our graduate program includes masters and doctoral degrees in Environmental and Energy Policy and Industrial Heritage and Architecture (the only one of its kind in the world), and a master’s in Sustainable Communities. Plus, you can get a graduate certificate in Public Policy in by taking three courses in just one term.

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