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Waste into Weapons
Recycling in Britain during the Second World War


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Part of Studies in Environment and History

  • Date Published: October 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107492097

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About the Authors
  • During the Second World War, the United Kingdom faced severe shortages of essential raw materials. To keep its armaments factories running, the British government enlisted millions of people in efforts to recycle a wide range of materials for use in munitions production. Recycling not only supplied British munitions factories with much-needed raw materials - it also played a key role in the efforts of the British government to maintain the morale of its citizens, to secure billions of dollars in Lend-Lease aid from the United States, and to uncover foreign intelligence. However, Britain's wartime recycling campaign came at a cost: it consumed items that would never have been destroyed under normal circumstances, including significant parts of the nation's cultural heritage. Based on extensive archival research, Peter Thorsheim examines the relationship between armaments production, civil liberties, cultural preservation, and diplomacy, making Waste into Weapons the first in-depth history of twentieth-century recycling in Britain.

    • The first in-depth history of twentieth-century recycling in Britain
    • Based on research at more than twenty archives in Britain and the USA
    • Reveals many new details about Lend-Lease and Anglo-American relations during World War II
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    • Shortlisted, 2017 Turku Book Award, Environmental Society for European History and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

    Reviews & endorsements

    'An important contribution to our understanding of total war. This is a vivid and original account of the shifts and expedients of warfare as they interacted with the voracious demands of a war economy. This study deserves attention.' Jeremy Black, University of Exeter

    'Waste into Weapons is a novel study. Historians have not given due attention to the important role of preserving resources in wartime, which speaks both to the urgency of the war and the kind of sacrifices expected from the citizenry. But as Peter Thorsheim pointedly reminds us, there was an 'urge to destroy' parts of the material culture that transcended the patriotic duty of winning the war. This is a book that brings together the materiality and culture of the war like few others.' Martin V. Melosi, author of The Sanitary City

    'This is an excellent book. Salvage collection and recycling during the Second World War made a major contribution to the British war effort, and at last we have a full history. Based on extensive research in many archives, Thorsheim finally gives this unique episode in the history of recycling the attention it deserves. The analysis ranges from the strategic and diplomatic to the economic and psychological, providing new insight into the efforts made to secure scrap metal; the sacrifice of historical artifacts, books, and documents; and women's and children's contributions as salvage collectors.' Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, University of Illinois, Chicago

    'This book is written in a lively and accessible way. It reveals that there is still much to learn about this conflict. Aside from being a key text on recycling and salvage in wartime, this book, owing to the breadth and depth in which topics such as the home front, women and Britain's international relations are examined, is likely to become essential reading for scholars and general readers alike, interested in the complex nature of the Second World War.' Mark J. Crowley, Twentieth Century British History

    'Waste into Weapons is a timely and insightful addition to the growing literature on waste and recycling. Thorsheim's meticulous research has amply demonstrated the paradox of the Second World War - that Britons were encouraged and ordered to conserve and recycle in order that the war effort could destroy. Waste into Weapons reveals the militarization of everyday life that redefined rubbish and that destroyed historical artifacts, buildings, and manuscripts. It speaks to the power of propaganda but also to the limits of coercion. This is a must-read for historians of war, the environment, consumption, and waste. Thorsheim's work is a valuable addition to the literature and is also evidence that the Second World War remains a fruitful field of study. Sandra Dawson, H-War

    'Waste into Weapons is a very good book that will appeal to scholars and general audiences interested in military history, environmental history, waste management, material culture, and heritage conservation.' Alex Souchen, Canadian Military History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107492097
    • length: 306 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 155 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.47kg
    • contains: 21 b/w illus. 2 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Beating Ploughshares into Swords:
    1. Salvage in times of peace and war
    2. Persuasion and its limits
    3. Britain's darkest hour
    4. Private enterprise and the public good
    Part II. Alliances:
    5. Lend-Lease
    6. Waste becomes a crime
    Part III. History, Culture, and Civil Liberties:
    7. The built environment
    8. Wasting paper
    9. Requisition
    10. Victory and postwar

  • Author

    Peter Thorsheim, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
    Peter Thorsheim is Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.


    • Shortlisted, 2017 Turku Book Award, Environmental Society for European History and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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