SHOT 2012 in Copenhagen

I’m at SHOT 2012 in Copenhagen this week, the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology, though I’m only halfway attending the conference. For the last two years, I have served on the Executive Council of the organization, and we met all day on Thursday. The conference itself started today, but besides from chairing one session on technology and propaganda, I have only hung out in the coffee area (the ceiling is depicted below) to watch my kids (who are here with us this week), talk to old and new friends, look at new books from the few presses who were present (the book exhibits are always much nicer at the US meetings), and to discuss a potential book project with an aquisitions editor from a university press. To me, this has become the real purpose of going to the main conferences in my field – listening to paper presentations in sessions is just something I do if a paper looks particularly interesting (this is different in smaller, more focused conferences, though).

Copenhagen Business School, Kilen building

I’ve come back to SHOT every year since the Amsterdam meeting in 2004 (where I met my wife!), and a significant part of my professional network grows out of my continued presence at this conference. The other graduate students I got to know back then are now gaining tenure one after another, working on exciting projects and driving the field forward (or sideways. Or in other directions – I did not mean to imply a linear progress story…). I think there is a good lesson here for young scholars wanting to get to know the key people in their field – just ignore whoever is important right now, get to know your cohort instead. They will be the key people in not too long! And you can be one, too!

On a side note, it’s been interesting to see how SHOT has continued to have a rather modest social media community, unlike for instance ASEH, where the Twitter backchannel was quite humming at the 2012 meeting. We have generally only been 4-5 SHOT people on Twitter, and the #SHOT2012 hashtag hasn’t seen all that much traffic. I wonder if this indicates a lack of excitement in the field, of scholars not all that interested in engaging with each other. Or are the SHOT conferences still small enough that people feel they can get a good enough overview and talk to all the people they want to in person? I don’t know what the answer is, but I suspect any change will have to come from the next generation of SHOT scholars.

Next year’s SHOT conference will be in Portland, Maine – I’m really looking forward to going there! New England is a rather unexplored area for me, except for my visit to Boston this spring.

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!

Modernizing Rural Landscapes in Pori and Reposaari, Finland

I was invited to teach at a PhD workshop on “Modernization of Rural Landscapes” and to give a keynote at a public seminar titled “Maaseutumaisema modernisaation kourissa” in Pori, Finland in December. The workshop took place in a small research station on the island of Reposaari just outside of Pori. Pori seems to me like the Detroit of Finland, a heavily industrialized place that was hit hard by the recession that hit Finland in the 1990s. This was also visible in the island of Reposaari, where many workers used to live. Some still lived here, but the average age was getting rather high. Some new leisure cabins had been built, but the island was pretty dead in the winter (see the pictures below).

My keynote was titled “The Norwegian Leisure Cabin and the Infrastructure of Nature,” discussing how Norwegian nature was discovered and make accessible through the development of particular kinds of leisure infrastructure.

Map of the region
Leisure cabins and shipyards
Not a whole lot of traffic