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  • Thirty-Ninth Symposium of the International Committee for the History of Technology:"Technology, the Arts, and Industrial Culture," Barcelona, Spain, 10-14 July 2012
  • Bahar Emgin (bio), Georgina Ruff (bio), Matteo Serafini (bio), and Jytte Thorndahl (bio)

The thirty-ninth symposium of ICOHTEC, "Technology, the Arts, and Industrial Culture," was held at Escola Tècnica Superior d'Enginyeria Industrial (ETSEIB) in Barcelona between 10 and 14 July 2012 (fig. 1). The meeting attracted a wide range of papers on topics such as the social history of military technology, media reception and representation of technology, technical education, materials, engineering, sports and leisure, technological heritage, and audiovisual communication. The papers were organized into five parallel sessions each day, which resulted in a fairly intense program. It is a compliment to the program committee chaired by Jan Kunnas (Finland) that we were spoiled by choice.

Relevant to the conference theme, a number of sessions and papers addressed the interaction of technology and the arts, design, and architecture. Within this perspective, discussions focused on representations of technology in arts, particularly in paintings; the use of technology in the arts and design practice; the use of technology in the education of engineers, designers, architects, and artists; and changing styles and cityscapes through the influence of technological development. Another subject considered within this context was industrial heritage and alternatives to the renovation [End Page 158]

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Fig. 1.

Vasily Borisov at ICOHTEC symposium headquarters, Barcelona. (Photo: Alla Borisova.)

and re-use of architectural and industrial sites. On the first day, presenters at "(Re-use of) Industrial Heritage" asked difficult questions concerning the legacy of industrial sites in Italy, Germany, and Russia. Anatoly Kurlaev (Russia) traced the history of industrial preservation in the Urals since the 1920s, and Francesco Carlo Toso (Italy) gave an interesting paper on hydroelectric heritage in Alta Valtellina, the northernmost valley in Lombardy, which supplied Milan electricity via high-tension transmission. They agreed that these spaces should be neither overlooked nor overturned, but rather valued as part of the historic fiber of their respective regions and communities. Torben Ibs (Germany) argued for the importance of industrial areas that had shaped the community and not just preservation of aesthetically pleasing architecture and particularly renowned sites. He detailed the distinctive preservation effort of the coal mines of Lausitz [End Page 159] in the former GDR that, rather than using traditional physical preservation techniques, embraced the implementation of a regional program of preservation that will survive the imminent flooding of the old mines.

The symposium was notable for research dealing with the influence of technology on both discursive and material construction of modernity. In the "Built Environment and Technological Modernization" session, Markku Norvasuo (Finland) discussed the emerging town-center concept in regional planning during the 1940s as "idyllic worker's communities," while Evangelia Chatzikonstantinou (Greece) argued that road design and urban planning in Athens at the beginning of the twentieth century was part and parcel of a search for a shortcut to modernization. A panel on "International Expositions circa World War II" offered the packed room fascinating images of these catalysts for patriotism and tools of propaganda. Arthur Molella (USA) elaborated on Mussolini's unrealized vision for the 1942 World's Fair in Rome, remarking that plans are concretizations of dreams and dreams are full of symbols. In this case, the symbols were those of a modern Roman empire. The most remarkable thing about these nationalistic dreams was the dominant role of technological modernization or, in the case of the 1937 German Schaffendes Volk exhibition, its rejection. To explain the unique German blend of folk aesthetic and modernist impulse during this time, Karen Fiss (USA) used the term "reactionary modernism"—one of many modernisms discussed during the conference.

Among many technologies and infrastructures usually related to modernization, the history of electrification in Europe and America during the first half of the twentieth century was handled from different disciplinary perspectives in several sessions. Many of these papers converged in some ways, including those dealing with domestic electrification as an architectural element. Although presented in different sessions, "Invisible Mechanisms of the Modern Interior: Electric Lighting and the Expression of the American 'Machine...


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