PLENARY ROUND TABLE

COVID19 — The History of Technology in Times of Global Crisis

Organizer: Erik van der Vleuten

This plenary roundtable discusses the ICOHTEC2020 Conference theme—A History of technology for an Age of Crisis—from the perspective of the current COVID-19 global crisis.  The roundtable discusses what insights the field of History of Technology has to offer for making sense of today’s crisis. And conversely, it asks what lessons from present-day crisis debates could inspire novel and relevant history of technology research. The audience can submit questions via the Zoom chat function.

Four panelists contribute a variety of expertises to discuss these questions. Aarthi Sridhar combines her academic interests in the history of fisheries science in India with practical engagement with environmental problems and actors. She is one of the founder-trustees of Dakshin Foundation, a multidisciplinary NGO in India focused on conservation, development and community well-being especially of fisher communities. Since March, she has assisted Dakshin and its partner networks in India in tackling the fallout of COVID-19 related lockdowns on India’s fishers. The pandemic has made her think (yet again) about connections between academic HoST research and ‘real world’ problems. Arwen Mohun is the author of  Risk: Negotiating Safety in American Society (2013). Her research highlights the historical tensions between expert risk discourses and popular ‘risk vernaculars’ that are again in play in today’s crisis. Arwen appears in and co-produced the Youtube video blog series Technology’s Storytellers: COVID-19 Edition. She is the President-elect of the Society for the History of Technology. Claiton Marcio da Silva’s is currently completing two books on the technological, scientific and environmental history of soybean expansion in ‘the Soyacene’. In the panel he discusses how health and socioecological crises are currently (re)negotiated in the Brazil context—and how historians of science and technology can speak to such “competing crises’.  Karena Kalmbach’s latest book The Meanings of a Disaster. Chernobyl and Its Afterlives in Britain and France (in press) discusses how commemoration of the 1986 Chernobyl crisis shaped and negotiated subsequent political priorities in various European countries. In her recently co-authored article in Technology and Culture she highlighted the triple temporality of crisis—how during a crisis such as COVID-19, representations and interpretations of past, present and future are simultaneously renegotiated. Finally, she applies her current research on fear and the history of technology to the COVID-19 situation.

Aarthi Sridhar is a doctoral candidate at the University of Amsterdam studying the history of fisheries science in India, as well as a founder trustee of Dakshin Foundation and heads its Communities and Resource Governance Programme. Trained in the social sciences, her research interests cover a range of historical and contemporary socio-legal studies, with a focus on regulating resource use, environmental justice and democratic practices. She has also facilitated the creation of some of India’s first collaborative experiments for coastal and marine environmental governance. She has researched and produced documentary films on fisheries, photo-essays field manuals and other learning material on environmental subjects. Her partial identities over the years as activist, researcher and doctoral student has been instructive of the place of order and chaos in inspiring ‘good’ environmental engagement. She wishes it upon everyone.

 Arwen Mohun is the author of  Risk: Negotiating Safety in American Society (2013). Her research highlights the historical tensions between expert risk discourses and popular ‘risk vernaculars’ that are again in play in today’s crisis. Arwen appears in and co-produced the Youtube video blog series Technology’s Storytellers: COVID-19 Edition. She is the President-elect of the Society for the History of Technology.

Claiton Marcio da Silva is Associate Professor at the History Department at the Universidade Federal da Fronteira Sul (Chapecó, Brazil), Research Fellow at the Brazil’s National Research Council (CNPq) and Alumni Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the Ludwig-Maximiliams University of Munich (2021). Professor Claiton has been teaching and conducting research on history of sciences, technology and the environment, currently leading a research project on the global expansion of soybeans. As part of this project, he is coordinating a network of researchers based in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and South America, aiming to explore the links between the expansion of soybeans and the Anthropocene – or, in his own words, the Soyacene. He is author of De agricultor a farmer: Nelson Rockefeller e a modernização da agricultura no Brasil [From rural worker to farmer: Nelson Rockefeller and the modernization of agriculture in Brazil; forthcoming English version 2021]. He is currently working on a book project provisionally entitle “The Soyacene” (2022) and editing a book along Adrian Zarrili (Universidad de Quilmes, Argentina) and Claudio de Majo (PhD Candidate at the Rachel Carson Center, Germany) entitled “The Age of Soybean” about global expansion of soybeans during the Great Acceleration.

Karena Kalmbach holds a tenure track position in History at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). Her areas of expertise include Social and Cultural History of Technology and the Environment (with a particular focus on Nuclear History), Politics of Memory, and Social Studies of Science and Technology. Karena has done extensive research on the question of how national and international nuclear politics have influenced the debate on the health effects of the Chernobyl accident in France and the UK. Furthermore, she researched how the commemoration of the accident has been used to underpin political arguments in various European countries. Taking up her position at TU/e, she set up an interdisciplinary research project with her TU/e colleagues Andreas Spahn (Philosophy) and Ginevra Sanvitale (Anthropology) in which they investigate the interrelation of Fear and Technology, focusing on the question: How does fear drive technological innovation?

Erik van der Vleuten is Professor of History of Technology and Chair of the History Lab at the Eindhoven University of Technology, as well as scientific director of the Foundation for the History of Technology SHT. Erik’s areas of expertise include transnatonal history of technology, sustainability transitions, and transnational infrastructure. Erik has been co-founder and chair of the Tensions of Europe research association, and currently coordinates that network’s research program on Technology and Societal Challenges ca. 1800-Today. In this context he also co-authored a textbook history of engineers and socio-ecological challenges called Engineering the Future. Erik serves on the ICON editorial board, and on the ICOHTEC2020 program and local organizer committees.