Brown University School of Engineering

SRP Seminar: Judith Rainhorn

Friday, February 21, 2020


Superfund Research Program

BH, 190

White Lead. The History of a Legal Poison (France, 19th-20th c.)
This is the story of a legal poison, in modern France. Lead is a perfectly identified toxic, massively used by industry since late 18th century without being strongly threatened. To understand the reasons for this collective acceptance, Judith Rainhorninvestigates the history of white lead, massively manufactured and used to whiten the paint that covered the walls of European cities during the urban revolution of 19th century. A labour poison for the workers who once handled it in dusty workshops and to the painters who covered the buildings, lead pigment, responsible for lead poisoning, is now an environmental poison. Social, industrial, scientific and political logics have imposed its pace and its necessities.
Judith Rainhorn is a professor in Modern History at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and was recently a visiting researcher at Maison française/Wolfson College at University of Oxford. She has published extensively on the history of urban societies, migrations, and the environmental and occupational issues. Her most recent book is entitled Blanc de plomb. Histoire d’un poison légal (Presses de Sciences Po, 2019).