“From Cloaca Maxima to America: Italy’s ‘History of Shit’”

Sasha Goldman's picture
Call for Papers
February 12, 2020
Illinois, United States
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Italian History / Studies

Call for Papers: College Art Association 2020 Annual Conference in Chicago, IL

“From Cloaca Maxima to America: Italy’s ‘History of Shit’”

Italian Art Society Sponsored Session

Organizers: Danielle Abdon, Temple University and Sasha Goldman, Boston University 

Chair and Discussant: Pamela O. Long (Independent Scholar)

Dominique Laporte’s 1978 History of Shit argues that modern subjectivity should be seen as developing in direct relation to the history of human waste management, offering a theoretical grounding for the adage ‘you are what you eat.’ An Italian ‘history of shit’ reaches back to the Ancient Romans, who established a legacy of excellence in waste engineering with the Cloaca Maxima, one of the world’s first sewer systems. While in the past, human waste remained a topic of architectural and urban interventions due to its association with disease and the formation of ‘corrupt airs,’ immersing the theme in environmental and public health histories, engagement with the scatological has persisted in Italian art making, exemplified recently by Maurizio Cattelan’s America (2016). Considering its impact on all levels of society, a history of artistic commentaries on and social interventions into the presence of human waste remains critical to cultural ideas—often revealing attempts to control bodies, buildings, and the environment. Yet, despite the current infrastructural and ecological ‘turns’ in the humanities, art and architectural histories of Italy have tended to shy away from discussions of human waste.

This panel invites papers that examine Italian engagement with or uses of human waste as a material, method, or impetus for artistic and architectural invention. Topics might include, but are not limited to, architectural and urban infrastructures of waste management; artistic responses to or uses of fecal matter; and waste as a signifier of humanistic production and consumption throughout Italian history.

Please send a 300 word abstract and a 50 word bio to both panel organizers by Saturday April 13 at 5:00PM EST to be considered for the session. 

Contact Info: 

Panel Organizers:

Danielle Abdon, Temple University (danielle.abdon@temple.edu)

Sasha Goldman, Boston University (sbgold@bu.edu)

Contact Email: