- "Technology and Power"The International Committee for the History of Technology's (ICOHTEC), University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland (July 22–27, 2019)
The International Committee for the History of Technology's (ICOHTEC) forty-sixth conference took place in Katowice, in the heart of Poland's mining and heavy industry region in July 2019. Hosted by the University of Silesia's Faculty of Social Sciences, the symposium had the all-encompassing theme "Technology and Power."
When ICOHTEC came to Poland for the first time in 1973, the Iron Curtain was still drawn. The Committee certainly succeeded in its job back then, since facilitating scholarly exchange in the emerging discipline of the history of technology was one of ICOHTEC's cornerstones since its foundation in 1968—a brainchild of SHOT founder Melvin Kranzberg. Today's world is perhaps no less divided than before (albeit in different ways), and the symposium in Katowice brought together scholars from contrasting regions, cultural backgrounds, and political views. Over 150 participants from Europe, Asia, and both Americas attended: men and women, emerging as well-established scholars, some of them disabled academics. Their diverse perspectives, research interests and lived experiences ensured lively and provocative discussions. The conference's chosen language was English as usual, but for the first time in ICOHTEC's half-century history, it was partially translated in American Sign Language. [End Page 1188]
The setting for the opening ceremony was the main assembly hall of the Silesian Regional Parliament, a massive structure built in the 1920s to showcase the cultural identity of the region; there could not be a better place to immerse everyone in contemplating the true meaning of power. Introducing participants to this main theme of the conference in the traditional Kranzberg Lecture was Dagmar Schäfer, director of Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. In her presentation "Cotton and Silk: Capitalism, States and Market Regimes in Premodern Technological Change," Schäfer challenged the division between Chinese state interventionism and European entrepreneurial freedom that scholars often use to analyze both present and past economic phenomena in China and Europe. Drawing on the case study of silk production—its development in China and attempts to transfer this to Europe—and utilizing primary sources and artistic representations, she revealed how misleading a clear division between Chinese and European economic models can be. The lecture provided an excellent introduction to the conference's panels. The predominant topics were the interrelations between technology and politics, culture, and health, as well military technologies.
Technology has always shaped growth and development and thus exercises power in different ways. This force is particularly visible in the energy sector, where for sustainability and production reasons, technocratic expertise is widely accepted. The State, Energy, Politics and Environment session organized by Anthony N. Stranges touched on the essential aspects of solar energy and its limitations for energy development options. In the same session, focusing on infrastructure and its encroachment on the environment, John B. Stranges discussed the forgotten legacy of Robert Moses, who was responsible for establishing parks and infrastructural projects, many of them causing environmental damage. The session also discussed how state authorities managed and contained the Chernobyl catastrophe in its first few hours. On the same theme, Domna Iordanidou highlighted Greek energy politics' reliance on lignite, while Peter Wulff made significant observations on climate change histories. Clarence Hatton Proulx treated the case study of the electrification of Montréal, demonstrating electricity companies' clever tactics to target women as potential consumers by emphasizing that electricity would make household chores easier. Presentations also highlighted photovoltaic technology and how European energy funding is gearing towards it, albeit selectively. Daniel Zapico presented engineers' questioning of electrification and their rocky relationship with the Spanish state between 1873 and 1931. Martin Schröder detailed the impact of Venezuela's oil extraction industry on rural society, in particular the indigenous Wayuu community.
Exploring the concept of power and technology, three interesting case studies of nuclear technology in non-western countries all led to different conclusions. The first was about Lithuania's Ignalina nuclear power plant and...