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Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) 580-581

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Book Review

Teknikens landskap: En teknikhistorisk antologi tillägnad Svante Lindqvist

Teknikens landskap: En teknikhistorisk antologi tillägnad Svante Lindqvist. Edited by Marika Hedin and Ulf Larsson. Stockholm: Atlantis, 1998. Pp. 396; illustrations, tables, notes/references.

The occasion for the publication of this collection of essays was the fiftieth birthday of Svante Lindqvist. Lindqvist is well known to many members of SHOT. A leading figure in institutionalizing the history of technology as an academic discipline in Sweden, he organized the first overseas SHOT meeting in Uppsala in 1992. His 1984 book, Technology on Trial (Uppsala and Stockholm: Uppsala Universitet and Almqvist & Wiksell) in which he analyzed the introduction of steam power in Sweden, has become a classic. In 1989 he was appointed to the first chair in the history of technology at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, where he subsequently built up the Department of History of Science and Technology. He has now left the Royal Institute in order to establish the Nobel Museum in Stockholm.

The authors whose work appears in Teknikens landskap are fairly young, and nearly all of them have had Lindqvist as a teacher. Their nineteen essays are grouped under five themes: technical change (five essays); aspects of technology and society (four); Swedish "landscapes" of technology, that is, communities, buildings, and homes (four); the presentation of science in museums (three); and the presentation of science in historical research (three).

Because the authors come from many different professional backgrounds, there is no common methodology except the most general historical principles. This is perhaps a strength rather than a weakness, as it helps to assure a fairly high professional standard. It is not possible to consider each of the essays individually here, but one or two general points can be made. A number of the authors deal with people and institutions that have not received much attention. In her essay on deep-sea sounding in the nineteenth century, Helen M. Rozwadowski emphasizes that technology was the whole complex of varying jobs and tools used on the vessels where measuring took place. Dag Celsing's contribution on early-nineteenth-century bridge-building is to a great extent centered on problems with the traditional subcontracting to local contractors. Jenny Beckman's essay deals with the Ekblom family, who dedicated their lives to illustrating botanical works at the Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.

Many of the essays concentrate on the ways artifacts were conceived and interpreted by their contemporaries. The last two themes on how science is addressed in museums and in historical research fit nicely into that picture, but the approach also prevails in several of the other essays. For example, Mats Fridlund considers three so-called pseudotechnologies--cramp rings, divining rods, and lightning conductors--and asks whether they are "false" [End Page 580] technologies just because we today condemn them for having no effect. Even if we do not accept them as functional, they shed light on collective perceptions of technology and rationality.

The focus on how things were conceived of and interpreted by contemporaries reflects a general trend in historiography, and one that is further emphasized here by the contributions from ethnologists and historians of ideas. In some cases this approach raises the question, are we still talking about the history of technology? For instance, Marika Hedin, in a very inspiring essay, argues that the liberals in the first volumes of Socialt Tidsskrift (Review of social affairs), published from 1902 to 1908, were united in the view that their new social science was a value-neutral instrument for social improvement. The same question crops up with regard to Ulf Andréasson's Foucalt- and Elias-inspired article on mental health care at a hospital in Gothenburg in the late nineteenth century. Surely there were material aspects both in social improvement and in mental health care, but these are not taken up by either of these two authors.

More within the traditional framework of the history of technology (and related disciplines such as ethnology) is Anders Houltz's...


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