Trace Material Podcast: Season 2

The Fourth Kingdom

This season, our story starts at the turn of the twentieth century, when the natural materials everyday objects were made from were becoming more scarce. Enter the era of the inventor; it was time to forge new materials and build a new world.

But at what cost? In our first episode we’re taking you on a trip to the Fourth Kingdom, the synthetic world born of test tubes and laboratories. We’ll introduce you to Leo Baekeland who opened Pandora’s box when he invented Bakelite, made our modern world possible, and set the stage for our current plastics crisis.

Jessica Walthew, objects conservator at Cooper Hewitt, will be our guide as we examine the transition from natural plastics to the early synthetics that have come to define our material world.

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See a gallery of images referenced in the episode below:

Click here for a full transcript of the episode.

Trace Material is a project of Parsons Healthy Materials Lab at The New School. It is hosted and produced by Ava Robinson and Burgess Brown. Our project director is Alison Mears, and our research assistant is Olivia Hamilton. Trace Material was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our theme music is Rainbow Road by Cardioid. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions.


Jessica Walthew,


Our research for this episode was heavily informed by American Plastic: A Cultural History by Jeffrey L. Meikle and Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel.

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