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  • Fortieth Symposium of the International Committee for the History of TechnologyICOHTEC at the ICHSTM, Manchester, UK, 21–28 July 2013
  • Layne Karafantis (bio), John Laprise (bio), and Slawomir Lotysz (bio)

The International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC) hosted its annual symposium under the auspices of the Twenty-fourth International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine (ICHSTM), which was held in Manchester, UK, during 21–28 July 2013. This massive gathering, one of the largest to date in the history of the field, featured nearly 1,400 papers, 411 sessions, and 1,758 registered delegates. For those ICOHTEC members arriving in Manchester, Monday the 22nd was particularly significant because the fortieth symposium was being celebrated since ICOHTEC’s founding forty-five years ago.

Three anniversary sessions dealt with different features of past symposia, starting with the first one held in Paris in 1968 to last year’s in Barcelona. It was most interesting to trace how the agendas of our annual symposia have evolved over the past four decades as ICOHTEC has kept pace with a profoundly changing world. Yet, ICOHTEC has remained committed to enhancing scholarship in the history of technology by bridging the barriers among researchers from different cultures and political systems. The collegial atmosphere at ICOHTEC meetings throughout the years has helped foster this goal (figs. 1, 2).

The first anniversary session, organized by Hans-Joachim Braun (Germany) and Timo Myllyntaus (Finland) with the theme “Get Socialised: [End Page 211] ICOHTEC in the Big Picture,” consisted of four papers. Opening the session, Myllyntaus reminded the audience that ICOHTEC was founded to help reduce the cold war divide and to foster collaborations among historians of technology from both sides of the Iron Curtain. He argued that ICOHTEC not only accomplished this goal, but also managed to adjust to the changing conditions of the modern world. Myllyntaus referred to the years surrounding the end of the cold war, roughly 1986 to 1995, as a turning point in ICOHTEC’s history, when its focus transitioned from internationalism to transnationalism.

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Fig 1.

ICOHTEC officers (l-r): Slawomir Lotysz, secretary general; James Williams, editor in chief of ICON; Patrice Bret, outgoing treasurer; Timo Myllyntaus, president; and Dick van Lente, vice president.

(Photo: Slawomir Lotysz.)

The next speaker, Vasily Borisov (Russia), considered the success of collaborations between East and West during the cold war. He emphasized the role played by Semyon Shukhardin, one of ICOHTEC’s four founding fathers, examining how Shukhardin’s prominent position among Soviet historians of science and technology, coupled with his dedication to ICOHTEC, led to the USSR hosting two symposia (in Moscow [1971] and Kaluga [1976]). Breaking the ice during the cold war was easier when people warmed up at the meetings—this was the general conclusion of the third speaker in this session, Slawomir Lotysz (Poland), who spoke on “After Work Hours: Excursions, Receptions, and Social Atmosphere.” He argued that various events, such as pre- and post-conference tours, welcome receptions, and farewell banquets, greatly contributed to closer relations among members. While these events may not have always led to scholarly collaborations, they certainly created more trust and understanding [End Page 212] among ICOHTEC members. The last speaker in this session was Susan Schmidt Horning (U.S.), who provided an overview of a unique feature of the ICOHTEC meetings: the jazz evenings, at which musically inclined members played together at international symposia. The musical group has been known as “Email Special” since its inception in 1996, when Hans-Joachim Braun organized a jam session during the symposium in Budapest. Since then, the jazz evening has been a regular offering to conference-goers as both entertainment and a unique opportunity to communicate across cultures through the universal language of music. Horning traced the history of music at the ICOHTEC meetings back further, to the late 1980s, and attributed its beginning and ongoing presence at the annual symposia to the collegial atmosphere of our society (fig. 3)

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Fig 2.

Changing ICOHTEC officers (l-r): James Williams, outgoing president and incoming editor in chief of ICON; Patrice Bret, outgoing treasurer; and Timo...


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