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On missing landscapes

I’ve lived in Northern Sweden for two years now, and I’m enjoying it for the most part. But I have to say that I miss Norwegian landscapes – the variety, and being able to see the sea and mountains at the same time. This part of Northern Sweden is flat and filled with industrial tree plantations. And mosquitos. It’s a good thing that it’s only a 7-8 hour drive over to visit family in Mosjøen, a small aluminum processing town, dramatically squeezed in under the mountains by the sea.

Water & mountain

Walking the dogs at night (22:15/10:15PM)

Forty years of cabin magazines

Hyttefolk, no. 1, 1972.

Norway’s largest cabin magazine, Hytteliv, celebrated its forty year anniversary this summer. As a good cabin historian, I have of course read every single issue, and was happy to agree when the magazine asked me to write a series of articles about the four decades of Hytteliv. It has been a great opportunity to reach out to a larger audience with my research – the magazine has a print run of about 50,000 copies and is read by more than 300,000 people. It also provided me with an opportunity to hone my writing for non-academic readers, which I see as critical for the cabin history book I’m working on.

I hope I will be able to re-publish all of these articles over at Hyttedrømmen sometime during the fall.

ESEH meeting in Szeged, Hungary

I serve on the board of the European Society of Environmental History, and we meet physically about once a year – either at the biannual conference or in the home town of one of the other board members. In 2010 we met in Salzburg in Austria, and in April we met in Szeged, about two hours by train south of Budapest, in the Carpathian Basin. While we also do online meetings to keep travel costs (and emissions) low, meeting physically does have its advantages – this is particularly true in international organizations, where we face significant cultural differences and ensuing organizational challenges. Of course, I also enjoy traveling and seeing new places – I wish I’d had time to visit Budapest as well.

Szeged was quite beautiful, and were able to stay in a very nice hotel at a ridiculously low price (this is certainly an advantage of meeting outside of the big travel hubs). I took the train down from Budapest (well, the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport), in a shabby but comfortable first-class seat (also very cheap). In addition to a day and a half of meetings, I was able to take a day of sightseeing in Szeged.

Hungarian countryside, filled with rabbits and deer.

Some rather funky architecture

Pál Vágo (1854-1928), “Szeged Will Be More Beautiful Than It Used To Be”, a massive painting depicting the great flood of 1879

Science Fiction Across Media: Alternative Histories, Alien Futures

Digital workshop poster

Together with Ursula Heise (whom I’d invited as a guest professor to Umeå University for a few months in 2011 and 2012), I arranged an international workshop exploring the complex representation of natural and technological ecologies in science fiction in and across its varied media, in HUMlab in April 2012. Science fiction is becoming a mainstream and increasingly popular genre in fiction and film, as demonstrated by recent novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, Michel Houellebecq, Junot Diaz and William Gibson as well as the global success of James Cameron’s Avatar. Yet science fiction is more than simple entertainment. The workshop considered science fiction as multi-medial explorations of alternative histories and alternative futures and invites scholars across the humanities to present their ongoing work on science fiction either in the form of full-length 20-minute papers, or as shorter papers on work in progress or mini-presentations on crucial concepts or ideas (8 minutes). The workshop took place in HUMlab, Umeå University’s digital humanities laboratory, and emphasized informal, yet critical discussion of papers and presentations.

From my own presentation, “Does the Empire Recycle”, on waste and recycling in the Star Wars movies.

Here is a list of the sessions and papers. Note that the keynotes were recorded and can be seen online:


Session 1 – Domesticating the future

  • Cynthia J. Miller, Emerson College: “Domesticating Space: Science Fiction Serials Come Home”
  • Ekaterina Kalemeneva, European University Institute at St. Petersburg: “City under the dome: from scientific fiction to the reality?”
  • Ingrid Wållgren, Lund University: “Freeze, wait, reanimate: An exploration of science fiction and science facts”

Session 2 – Don’t worry, it’s just the end of the world; and other dystopian futures

  • Camilla Ulleland Hoel, Norwegian University of Science and Technology: “The end of the world as defining moment of ethical action”
  • Andreas Nyström, Karlstad University: “Echoes of civilization’s past”
  • Asa Ekengren San Andres, “Neo-Luddism in the United States: Thinkers, Movements and Pop-Culture Against Technology”

Session 3 – Exploring future social orders

  • Mike Frangos, Umeå University: “The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet”
  • Anna Åberg, Royal Institute of Technology: “Witnessing Our Energy Future”
  • Fredrik Andersson, Association of Swedish Higher Education: “Cyberbroke? – Dystopian and Utopian Visions of the Future Economy in Popular Culture”
  • Martin Hultman, Umeå University: “Terminator and Governator: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the question of ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ identities”

Session 4 – Other than human

Joe Trotta, University of Gothenburg: “Do linguists dream of electric sheep? A look at alien languages, future Englishes and linguists in Speculative Fiction”
  • Adam Dodd, University of Oslo: “The virtual reality of the UFO”
  • Henriette Cederlöf, Södertörn University: “The Strugatsky brothers’ unacknowledged meetings with the posthuman”

Session 5 – Future ecologies

  • Dolly Jørgensen, Umeå University: “What have whales done for me lately? Ecosystem services in science fiction”
  • Alexa Weik von Mossner, Rachel Carson Center: “Science Fiction and the Future of Ecological Citizenship”
  • Tony Thorström, Uppsala University: “Digitalised bodies and new technologies: reconfigurations of human ‘nature’ in the wake of the information revolution”
Finn Arne Jørgensen, Umeå University: “Does the Empire recycle? Waste and scrap recycling in the Star Wars movies”

SHOT and Takei in Boston, MA

The spring Executive Council meeting of the Society for the History of Technology took me to Boston in April, and it turned out to be a very enjoyable stay. This was my first time in Boston, so I got to see the MIT campus (where the SHOT EC met), meet up with old friends from Charlottesville, unexpectedly run into a former colleague at Harvard Square (and then getting a tour of the library stacks and of the Harvard Business School, where he is a postdoc), talk to Matthew Battles at metaLAB, have Hanna Rose Shell give me a guided tour of Boston, see George Takei give a plenary talk at the 2012 Conference of the National Popular Culture & American Culture Association (I paid guest fees just for this!), and have dinner with Lisa Swanstrom just days before she was coming to Umeå for the Science Fiction Across Media workshop I arranged. A packed visit, for sure, but of the best kind.

It will certainly not be my last time in Boston!

The Stata Center, MIT

George Takei!