On Monday 29 April 2024, Assistant Professor Elsa Devienne (Northumbria University) will lead this month’s session of the Seminar Series on Modern North American History, organized in cooperation with the Sciences Po Center for History (CHSP) in Paris.

You can attend her online lecture, titled “One Simple Thing to Save the Earth”: Beach Clean-Ups and the Making of the Plastic Crisis in the Neoliberal Era (1980s-2020s), from 17:00 to 18:30 CEST.

In her presentation, Devienne will analyze the evolution of beach clean-ups from grassroots initiatives to global movements, assessing their role in addressing the plastic crisis within the context of neoliberal environmentalism.

Holding producers accountable

In the 1970s, health and safety accidents involving plastics and the counterculture’s emphasis on a return to natural materials made plastics uncool, dangerous even. A decade later, plastics were back in style and more convenient than ever. Yet some women in Texas and Oregon started noticing huge amounts of plastics littering shorelines. By organizing the first “citizen” beach-clean-ups, they brought the public’s attention back to the dangers of plastics. While often framed in the rhetoric of the “small gesture” that could “save the earth,” these events offered a radical proposition: holding producers accountable.

Today, the beach-cleanup has become one of the most popular forms of environmental action, with Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day mobilizing over one million volunteers in 150 countries each year. But, for what and for whom are beach cleanups? By historicizing the beach cleanup, this talk will revisit the plastic crisis, modern environmentalist tactics, and nature consciousness in the neoliberal era.

Elsa Devienne - portrait

Elsa Devienne

Elsa Devienne is Assistant Professor of History at Northumbria University in the UK where she teaches environmental history, US history and American Studies. Her first book, Sand Rush: The Revival of the Beach in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles, is out this spring with Oxford University Press. In 2021, the French version of the book won the Willi Paul Adams Award given by the Organization of American Historians and was a finalist of the Prix de la Recherche SAES/AFEA.


If you are interested in attending this lecture, please register here before Friday 26 April.

For more information on Elsa Devienne and the event, click on the invitation. We look forward to seeing you there.