- Forty-third Symposium of the International Committee for the History of Technology“Technology, Innovation, and Sustainability: Historical and Contemporary Narratives,” Porto, Portugal, 26–30 July 2016
The forty-third annual meeting of the International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC) was hosted by the University of Porto (FLUP), Portugal, from 26 to 30 July 2016. The symposium was co-organized by ICOHTEC and the CIUHCT, the Interuniversity Center for the History of Science and Technology that brings together researchers from the University of Lisbon and NOVA—New University of Lisbon. Prior to the meeting, on 23–25 July, symposium organizers hosted a three-day intensive seminar course (“summer school”) for Ph.D. students and recent postdoctoral researchers, aimed at rethinking historical and contemporary narratives on technology and related topics. The young participants joined the symposium afterward. More details are found at the end of the report.
The symposium was opened at the city center, in the historic building of the rectory of the University of Porto, with welcomes by university officials, local organizing committee members, and the ICOHTEC president. [End Page 250] Helmuth Trischler, professor of modern history and history of technology at Ludwig Maximilian University Munich and head of research at the Deutsches Museum, delivered the traditional Kranzberg Memorial Lecture: “The Anthropocene: A Challenge to the History of Science, Technology, and Sustainability.” The term Anthropocene for the new geological era was proposed in 2000 by the atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul J. Crutzen and the limnologist Eugene F Stoermer. Soon, the geological community began to investigate the possible scientific evidence for the new epoch, while the term Anthropocene began to be viewed also as a cultural concept. Anthropologists, historians, sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, theologians, and scholars from other disciplines began to examine this “age of humans” through the lenses of their respective disciplines, yielding reassessments of previous narratives. Trischler provided examples of new histories, new ideas to understand historical change, and new temporalities shaped by scholars who have embarked on the challenge of the Anthropocene as a cultural concept to question established stories and narrations.
In the following days, the participants took part in presenting their findings and viewpoints in the various panels and sessions dedicated to multiple topics in history of technology. Among the topics discussed were consumers and sustainability, energy resources, computers, environment, processes of wine making, military technology, sound technology, technology as play, electricity, food, health, globalization, imperialism/colonialism, innovation, and the special technological aspects in the former Soviet bloc and Eastern Europe in general. The discussions and warm hospitality of the Portuguese team, coupled with the settings in the city of Porto and the social events, made the symposium a memorable event. Our longtime Portuguese members, Ana Matos, Maria Elvira Callapez, and Maria Louisa Sousa, are kindly thanked for their efforts, as are Porto University and CIUHCT.
Two sessions were devoted to the history of electricity, organized by Michael Kay (University of Leeds), who introduced to the audience the idea of creating an international network on the history of electricity supply and consumption. Six interesting papers followed covering different aspects of the subject. In her paper about marketing strategies of foreign companies in Russia (1880–1917), Natalia Nikiforova (Saint-Petersburg Polytechnic University) explained how companies like Siemens & Halske, Belgian Society for Electric Lighting, and Helios were able to create an image of electricity as a technological novelty, which was welcomed by Russian consumers. The paper dwelled on the process of assimilation of electric lighting as (1) a vital part of imperial spectacles that were designed to promote national ideology and (2) a medium of advertisement at department stores and national exhibitions, which became important parts of the consumer culture. The development of the consumer market was also [End Page 251] the subject of a paper by John Laurence Busch (Independent Historian, United States), who analyzed the invention of the figure of the new consumer who was eager to travel by steam vessels from home to work or to some attractive touristic destinations.
In a paper entitled “For Health’s Sake—Use Electricity,” Paul Coleman (University of...