Research Seminar: Miracle Materials

Research Seminar: Miracle Materials

Rachel Gross of the University of Wisconsin-Madison will discuss her paper, “Miracle Materials: Synthetic Fibers and the Construction of Comfort in Outdoor Recreation.” 

Comment: Susan Strasser, University of Delaware

Author's abstract for the seminar paper:

Readers flipping through the pages of Backpacker magazine in the late 1970s would have seen page after page referencing a revolution in fabric. Alongside advertisements for outdoor companies like REI were ads from DuPont, Gore, and 3M announcing tents, sleeping bags, and jackets made with new miracle fibers. Synthetic fibers like Hollofil and Gore-Tex are some of the most striking examples of a broader phenomena of massive technological innovation around materials near the end of the twentieth century. As the outdoor recreation industry grew, chemical companies learned that labeling fabrics “comfortable” because of physical characteristics was less effective than playing up the subjective, emotional aspects of comfort. This chapter uses advertisements and company archives to show how comfort physiologists at Gore and DuPont taught American consumers to reimagine comfort as a process of managing moisture and warmth. As Americans became versed in the hi-tech vocabulary of synthetics woven into their everyday lives, they reinforced consumption as a way of mastering both the outdoors and their own bodies.

The seminar is open to the public and is based on a paper that is circulated in advance. Those planning to attend are encouraged to read the paper before coming to the seminar. Copies may be obtained by emailing Carol Lockman, Reception at 6 p.m., seminar begins promptly at 6:30, and takes place in the Copeland Room of Hagley’s library building.

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