The Science History Institute has teamed up with online learning platform Roundtable to offer you compelling courses from the history of science. This online course features the Institute’s Roger Turner, curator of instruments and artifacts, who will show what an ordinary shopping bag reveals about the science and politics of plastic.

Course Overview

You can learn a lot about plastic—and the society that makes it—by closely observing a familiar object through the lens of history. As activists and governments work to reduce plastic pollution, history can help us see how we got to where we are, and how it might have been different. A close reading of one ordinary bag reveals a story at once tragic, maddening, and inspiring.

Science History Institute curator Roger Turner will teach participants how to decode the symbols and messages printed on plastic. We’ll learn about the science of polymerization and the politics of recycling. We’ll discover why shoppers initially hated plastic bags and how industry persuaded customers to accept them. From safety warnings to resin codes to distinctive tiny flaps, bags reflect a contentious history of innovation and resistance. Bring your own bag to read along!

This is a live, virtual course hosted by Roundtable, which includes interactive opportunities and post-course recordings available for all course participants.


$44 for the course

Roger outdoors, looking up and smiling, wearing glasses and blue button-down shirt

About Roger Turner

Roger Turner is a historian of science and museum curator. He studies how our daily lives are affected by the invisible work of nerds, especially in chemistry and environmental science. When he’s not helping visitors understand how a stylish mid-century modern gas chromatograph measured water pollution, he writes for Distillations magazine and produces digital exhibits. He holds a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

About Roundtable

Roundtable by the 92nd Street Y, New York, is an online learning platform featuring live courses and Q&A sessions with some of the greatest minds of our time: world-renowned historians and scholars, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, political pundits, and acclaimed food and wine experts, among others. All courses include interactive opportunities with instructors.

Featured image: Kroger Disposable Plastic Shopping Bag, 1990s.
Science History Institute

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