Newsletter #124 – Summer 2010 – President’s Message
Royal Institute of Technology
I am looking forward to going to Tacoma in the fall. It is a part of the US that I have heard is very beautiful, and I have never been there before. And, most importantly, the Annual Meeting that will take place there promises to be very exciting. You will find the program for the meeting in this Newsletter. The Program Committee has done an extraordinary job. There were an unusually large number of individual paper proposals this year which the committee has creatively organized into 27 sessions. They have grouped papers with similar topics, invented exciting session titles and identified colleagues who would be suitable commentators and chairs. That takes a lot of creativity! I hope that these sessions will lead to fruitful encounters of scholars working with similar topics who did not know each other before.
One of the most fundamental tasks of our society is precisely this – to provide a stimulating arena where scholars from different places but with similar interests can meet and forge intellectual and social ties. I very well remember when I went to my first international conferences in the mid 1980s. Coming from a small country where we were only a handful of historians of technology at the time, it was extremely exciting and inspiring for me to meet colleagues who had been doing research of similar kinds as me, but in different settings.
As I write this message I am busy preparing for another conference that will take place in Sofia, Bulgaria, June 17-20. It will be the fourth Tensions of Europe conference with some 200 scholars from all over Europe and North America. Tensions of Europe, ToE, is a research network which has been in existence for 10 years with the aim “to explore and define ways to study transnational European history with a focus on the role of technology as a force of change”. This network has arranged three previous conferences, more than 60 research workshops and 5 summer schools. Results of its research have been published in edited books, journal articles and working papers, and information about this work can be found on www.tensionsofeurope.eu.� Over the past three years around 100 researchers have collaborated in the research program Inventing Europe which was initiated by ToE and is coordinated through the European Science Foundation, ESF. The results of this program will be presented in Sofia. And in fall 2010 the production of a series of six books synthesizing much of the joint research over the past 10 years will start.
ToE has thus been – and still is – an extremely productive international network. It is a network which would not have been possible without SHOT. ToE was established at a meeting in Eindhoven in 1999 with some 15 participants who all knew each other through SHOT. We have met numerous times at Annual Meetings and shared intellectual interests, and moreover, we also trusted each other. Trust is an important asset when you start an uncertain endeavour of this kind. Another important asset that the ToE network has benefited from is the organizational skills of our Dutch colleagues, especially Johan Schot and Ruth Oldenziel. The Foundation for the History of Technology (SHT) in the Netherlands has been an administrative host for ToE.
Our initial group reflected the membership pattern of SHOT. We all came from Western Europe and from North America, and realized that we needed to extend our network, in particular in Eastern Europe. Karen Freeze came to play a key role in this context. Karen, who sadly passed away a year ago, was a historian of technology from the University of Washington. She was also fluent in Slavic languages and knew historians in Prague, Budapest and other places. On behalf of ToE, Karen established contacts with young scholars in Eastern, Central and Southeastern Europe. These scholars have gradually been integrated in the ToE network and now form an indispensable part of it, providing new insights about developments of technology in these parts of Europe, not least during the Cold War era. In fact, Karen very much worked in the spirit of SHOT’s principal goal, namely “to foster interest in the development of technology and its relations to society and culture, and to promote scholarly study of the documents and artifacts of the history of technology”, as it is formulated in our Constitution.
Because young scholars in the Eastern, Central and South – eastern parts of Europe often have few financial resources which hampers their research, SHOT and SHT have jointly set up the Karen Johnson Freeze Fellowship Fund in memory of Karen to help over come this obstacle. The Fund will award fellow ships to early-career scholars from these parts of Europe which will enable them to attend conferences, visit distant archives, and in other ways advance their research. In the future, SHOT has a possibility to make similar arrangements in other regions of the world to “foster interest” in and “promote scholarly study” of the history of technology there too.