We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Staff and Governance

Core Staff

The day-to-day running of IMEMS is the responsibility of the Core Executive Committee, comprising the Director and Associate Directors and the Administrator. 

Publication details for Dr Mary Brooks

Brooks, M. M. (Published), Forgotten Histories & Possible Futures: Learning from 20th century fibres and films made from waste regenerated protein sources, in Brooks, M. M., Blackburn, R.S. & Quye, A. eds, Plastics Heritage Congress. Lisbon, Portugal, Ludus.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper explores the forgotten history of fibres and films made from regenerated protein sources such as milk,
soyabeans, maize, peanuts, egg-white, feathers and slaughter-house products from historical, technological
and ecological perspectives. It argues that learning from these experimental 20th century fibres can provide new
approaches for creating sustainable fibres for the 21st century.
As war loomed, politicians and planners became anxious about the availability of wool for military requirements.
Transforming surplus or waste proteins into fibres and films was actively encouraged. Major companies
registered patents using regenerated proteins. Du Pont argued such ‘new and valuable composition of matter
comprising intimate mixtures of proteins and synthetic linear polyamides’ resulted in strong, flexible films.
Analysing the rhetoric of national duty and ideology associated with these materials illuminates their trajectory
from futuristic and utopian to association with deprivation and substitution. Thomson’s rubbish theory is used to
analyse their disappearance from cultural memory. Evidence from these failed and forgotten fibre is reframed as
the basis for new experimentation into sustainable fibres.
Material studies of these regenerated proteins draws on textual and visual archival sources, including patents,
fibre samples, and rare surviving textiles and dress from international museum collections.
Contemporaneous technical literature describing historical methods of industrial production and use gains
particular importance, bringing insight into chemical and physical expectations of the fibres with which to develop
appropriate scientific methods for identification, and to investigate their material significance and preservation.
Issues of sustainability in relation to materials used for manufacturing textiles and the impact of such textiles
during use (e.g. generation of microfibres) and at the end of their life will be discussed. These present
opportunities for using waste materials for a sustainable fibre. Textile fibres produced from food waste that do
not require any extra land use, whose microfibres have minimal impact in the environment, and that are fit for
purpose could truly provide a next generation of material.
Deeper understanding of previous experimental work in the use of surplus/waste proteins to produce fibres and
films, and cultural reactions to these materials, is valuable in developing innovative fibres to meet current
ecological concerns.

Full Executive Committee

Our Full Executive Committee is made up of the Core Executive Committee, listed above, plus a number of executive members including:

International Advisory Board

We are extremely fortunate to have be able to call on the help and guidance of colleagues from around the world who help to shape and guide our direction, strategy and international reach. Our current Advisory Board members are: