AAS2016: On Chimneys

The 2016 Australian Anthropological Society conference took us off to Sydney – land of better beaches than Melbourne.

I was lucky enough to add to the fumes of ‘The Smoke Panel’, convened by the fabulous pairing of Yasmine Musharbash and Simone Dennis. With Yasmine talking campfires and wood smoke, and Simone lighting up on cigarettes, I added to the diverse theme by fossicking through the archives on industrial chimneys. The paper was a great opportunity to play with ideas old and new – and with a consequent special issue in the works, I’ll have more to come on this topic.

Here’s the abstract:

When Margaret Hale, heroine of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1854 novel North and South, first sights the distant smoke of a Northern English textile town, she mistakes it for a raincloud. Her confusion is pointed: industrial smoke was neither nature nor the hearth, but incredibly human. One hundred and fifty years later, however, Northern mills are mothballed and crumbling chimneys grow weeds. So, what does a chimney mean? This paper is a literary and ethnographic excavation of the industrial chimney and its smoke: as motif, in memory, and through melancholy. Moving from the weighty prose of nineteenth century novels to lungs and stone in present-day West Yorkshire, I trace the chimney as both Anthropocene agent and haunting artefact.