I spent this past weekend at the annual conference of the Society for the History of Technology (which condenses into one of the better academic organization acronyms for pun-making: SHOT) in lovely Portland, Maine. This society also oversees the journal Technology &; Culture. You can check it all out at their new website, which was actually launched during the conference.
There is a lot of overlap between environmental and technological history, which is encapsulated in the Envirotech group, one of the special interest groups (SIG) of SHOT. Envirotech self-identifies as focused on the interrelationship of technology and nature. Envirotech is kind of like NiCHE – it sponsors panels, gives out awards and grants, provides online resources, and disseminates news and announcements. There was also a free Envirotech breakfast at SHOT to allow for networking and a brief business meeting. And SHOT itself is generous with travel grants. Not only are many grants given, but they were hefty enough (at least in my case) to cover all the transportation costs of getting to Portland, as well as the conference fees.
A number of presentations at SHOT dealt with environmental aspects. There were panels on envirotech approaches to accidents; spatial exploration (including a paper on the Canadiar North Star plane); nature and health; agriculture; computing; zoo animals; electricity and power; and a number of presentations on water (urban supply, irrigation, rivers, etc.). In addition to myself there were, by my count, four other presentations with a Canadian connection (i.e. either on a Canadian topic, or by a Canadian or by someone from a Canadian university).
I presented on the envirotechnical aspects of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project at the first session of the first day – despite the early time slot, attendance was decent, as it seemed to be at all panels that I saw. A personal highlight was receiving positive feedback from a member of the audience, and then finding out that it was David Nye (i.e., the coiner of the “technological sublime”)!
Furthermore, a number of environmental historians whose work has a pronounced tech aspect were at the conference, including some names I’m sure many Canadian environmental historians would recognize: Joy Parr, Sarah Pritchard, Paul Josephson, Finn Arne Jorgenson, Thomas Zeller, and Joel Tarr. As an aside, I recently read an excellent book, New Natures: Joining Environmental History with Science and Technology Studies, edited by several of the aforementioned scholars and featuring some NiCHE members as chapter contributors.
A number of appealing field trips were available – such as a New Balance shoe factory, a harbour cruise, iron works, and ship yard. Like environmental history gatherings, SHOT is big on field trips. And I have to say that field trips are one of my favorite parts about being an envirotechnical historian! Unfortunately, due to the timing of the conference – same weekend as Canadian thanksgiving – as well as teaching responsibilities before the conference, I wasn’t able to go on any of the field trips. But I did manage to squeeze in some of the local sights, including more than one lighthouse, and down some Maine microbrews, seafood chowder, and lobster mac and cheese.
I had supper with Maurits Ertsen, one of the administrators of the International Water History Association and an editor of its flagship journal Water History. Given my own focus on water, and the tendency of many types of water history to have an engineering aspect, I’m keen to support this group and journal by giving them a little plug here. The next installment of the IWHA biennial conference is in Delft, Netherlands in 2015. Speaking of next installments, SHOT will be in Dearborn, Michigan next year – this is just outside of Detroit, so it is a short jaunt for many in Canada, particularly those in southern Ontario. And what one could perhaps call a Canadian equivalent of SHOT, the Canadian Science and Technology Historical Association-l’Association pour l’histoire de la science et de la technologie au Canada (CSTHA/AHSTC), meets in early November in Montreal at UQAM. In the past there has been strong environmental history representation at CSTHA, a trend I’m sure will continue (indeed, the keynote at the last meeting was by Graeme Wynn, and this year H.V. Nelles has the honours).
Daniel Macfarlane is Visiting Scholar at the School of Canadian Studies, Carleton University. He blogs at http://danielmacfarlane.wordpress.com/