Corona (Covid-19) and ICOHTEC 2020

Dear Members and Friends of ICOHTEC,

Given the current epidemiological situation, the 47th Annual Meeting of ICOHTEC in Eindhoven (scheduled for July 13-19, 2020) will not take place physically on location. This also applies to the connected Summer School. The decision was made after thorough consultation between the ICOHTEC officers and the Local Organizing Committee.

However, we are seriously considering organizing the 2020 symposium in a digital format. We expect that due the current lock-down situation and its foreseeable aftermath (many other meetings have been cancelled), ICOHTEC members may be particularly eager to have professional exchanges with their international peers.

We hope to make a go/ no go decision for such an online congress by Mid-April. All of you, whose paper and session proposals have been accepted, would be invited to take part.

Before we make our decision, we would like to consult you. Would you be interested in participating in such an experiment? We prepared a short survey. Please respond to this survey by Thursday 2 April 2020, 9.00 AM (CET).

Go to the online survey

We will use your feedback to make our go/ no go decision and also on further decisions regarding technical requirements, costs & conference fee, format, and so on. We count on your advice to make this event a valuable experience.

Alternatively, if you are not interested in attending the digital conference, you may move your accepted paper to our next standalone conference in 2022 (the venue is not yet known). Your paper would not have to go through a new evaluation process, and you will have right to modify it to reflect your recent findings. Unfortunately, we can not offer moving it to 2021 symposium in Prague, which will be held part of the ICHST Congress, because its deadline is already closed. There is still a chance, however, to get together in Prague next year: the deadline for single paper submissions for ICHST is November 30, 2020 ( )

Your indication of interest in a digital congress (or not)  is key to our decisions making.  So please, make sure you take fill out the survey before April 2.

Stay safe, we are looking forward to seeing you soon in more optimistic circumstances,

Sławomir Łotysz, The President of ICOHTEC

Stefan Poser, The Secretary General of ICOHTEC

Erik van der Vleuten and Jan Korsten, Chair of the Programme Committee

A History of Technology for an Age of Crisis

46th Symposium of ICOHTEC in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, 13 – 18 July 2020

Technological paradox

Technology and crisis are linked in multiple and paradoxical ways: although technological developments have precipitated many crises, technology has just as often been proposed as a proper way out. Resistance against new technologies (such as the 19th century Luddite movement or the 20th century anti-nuclear movement), subversive uses of mainstream technological solutions, and some instances of user-innovation and appropriation can be studied as indications of crisis as well as strategies to cope with crisis. In general, members of industrialized societies seem to have a very strong belief in technology and innovation as key to manage and solve crises: in case of the long lasting crisis of the 19th century, labeled the “Social Question”, there was demand for new technologies solving social problems as well as those of industrial health and safety. Although the expression is linked to 19th century, the Social Question is on display until today – now combined with the Environmental Crisis.

Technological solutions

Politics mirror the paradoxical relation of technology and crisis: although democratic and authoritarian regimes, and political parties of very different stripes, might disagree fundamentally about the causes and nature of crises and the issues at stake, they have often converged in favoring technological solutions to major societal challenges. Attempts to deal with the Environmental Crisis (which is largely technology-made in the sense that anthropogenic climate change, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion followed the expansion of the human-built world) seems to follow a similar path: technological fixes are discussed, ranging from renewable energy, AI-based efficiency, sensor technologies, electric cars, smart homes, and other ‘sustainable’, ‘responsible’ or ‘smart’ innovations. Such approaches often sidelined non-tech solutions such as zero-growth. It remains an open question whether technology will provide solutions.


This raises the question if and how historians of technology should engage with present-day debates on the ambivalent roles of technology in today’s global crisis—the so-called grand challenges to humanity, society, and the environment. The paradox of crisis and technology rises questions such as:

  • In which way have crises influenced technological change, and conversely, how have technologies shaped crises?
  • What’s the role of technology to predict, avoid, or manage crises?
  • How can we study the geography of crisis, taking into account transnational and (post)colonial relationships and global North-South interactions?
  • In which way did different societies and societal groups cope with technology-related crises?
  • How has the historic pursuit of innovation by technology companies and designers contributed to the creation of technological crises?
  • What role(s) did protests and resistance against technology play in avoiding or managing technology-related problems or crises?
  • How have media representations shaped narratives of technological crises and/or technological redemption?
  • Do crises “reveal” how deeply technology is embedded in society?
  • What (and whose) histories do the imaginaries and historiographies of technological crises highlight and obscure?

Paper- and session proposals

We invite sending in paper- and session proposals on technology & crisis for a broad range of historical periods, geographies, and crisis domains—including political conflicts, social and civil rights, colonial practices, health epidemics and health care, economic depressions, environmental disasters, and so on, along with the crises of collective identity that are often related to both technological crises and technological solutions. Contributions which examine the correlations of crisis and technology are welcome, as are case studies of specific technologically-related crises, and presentations which explore the implications and interconnections of technological crisis in media representation, art, and legislation for example.

Beside contributions to the main theme of the symposium, paper and session proposals on different topics of the history of technology are welcome.