Conference Report Thirty-Eighth Symposium of the International Committee for
the History of Technology "Consumer Choice and Technology," Glasgow, UK, 2–7 August 2011
ICOHTEC's thirty-eighth conference was hosted for the first time in Scotland, in the city of Glasgow, renowned for its universities, museums, and remarkable contributions to world technological heritage. Conference
members met on the impressive premises of the University of Glasgow (fig.
1, above: The main building at Glasgow University, Gilmorehill Campus. Photo,
James Williams.) where the local organizing committee, chaired by Ray Stokes, worked
diligently for the meeting's successful outcome.
In twenty-five panels, veterans and newcomers presented their papers, many based on specific historic-technological cases examined through a wide social context. Organized by individuals or the program committee,
the panels were usually held in several sessions, each with three speakers
and lasting ninety minutes. Participants explored "Consumer Choice and
Technology" in various ways, including consumer-driven innovations, gender
and consumption, marketing and culture of consumption, power and
producer–consumer relationships, technology and the household, museum
consumers, technology's past monuments, and consumption of information
technologies, food, and health.
The theme also appeared in panels that over the years have become
focal points for new and ongoing research, such as social history of military
technology, playing with technology, fuel and energy,music and sound and
the history of technology, civil engineering, climate control, engineering
development, history and education, and technology education. The panel on a new British Science Museum exhibition of artifacts belonging to the
eminent Scottish engineer James Watt fit well in the conference's venue.
The exhibition is based on 6,500 items that have been preserved intact in Watt's workshop, closed since his death in 1819.
The conference was made possible with the kind support of the Lind Foundation, the Centre for Business History in Scotland at the University
of Glasgow, the University of Strathclyde Glasgow and the University of the
West of Scotland, the National Museums Scotland, the City of Glasgow, the
Glasgow City Council, the Ballast Trust, the Foundation for the History of
Technology, and ICOHTEC. During the conference ICOHTEC was cordially
hosted in Glasgow's elegant city hall.
Hans-Joachim Braun (Germany), former ICOHTEC president and an
enthusiast for the arts, gave the traditional Kranzberg Lecture (fig. 2, right: Professor Hans-Joachim Braun giving the Kranzberg Lecture.
Photo, Slawomir Lotysz). He
examined the complex question of creativity as manifested in technology
and arts, ending with the conclusion (and hope) that the riddle of creativity
will not be solved by the many savants who treat the question.
As in previous conferences, members gathered for the general assembly.
They were first briefed by president James Williams (United States) and
secretary general Timo Myllyntaus (Finland). Journal editor Mark Clark
(United States) described changes in ICON, the organization's annual publication.
Past hard-copy volumes, holding invaluable papers by both members
and nonmembers, are now planned to be made net-accessible in subscribed libraries. Wolfhard Weber (Germany), involved with many volumes,
called for a step-by-step process to safeguard the intellectual rights
of ICOHTEC. Upgrades to the website and new links in the social network
were discussed by energetic webmaster Slawomir Lotysz (Poland). Treasurer
Patrice Bret (France) described a new and easier membership payment
process for students, due in part to an increasing number of student applications. Keeping members posted during the year on academic events, on new literature, and on ICOHTEC in general is the task of newsletter editor
Stefan Poser (Germany). Prepared and sent monthly, his letters are being
enjoyed lately by wider circles of readers, who find the data helpful in their
academic pursuits. The assembly approved three new members for the executive
committee: Maria Elvira Callapez (Portugal), Masaaki Okada
(Japan), and Klaus Staubermann (United Kingdom). All are longtime contributors
to the annual conferences.
Since 2008 ICOHTEC has awarded young scholars a yearly prize for the
best recently published book, and two roundtable sessions were held with
the winners of 2010 and 2011. Anne-Katrin Ebert (Germany) compared
the use of the bicycle during the first decades of its existence in the Netherlands and Germany, demonstrating how the practice of cycling was embedded
in discourses on themes such as the mind, the body, and machines;
thermodynamics; and nationalism. The second winner, Christopher Neumaier
(Germany), studied the patterns in sales of diesel cars as compared
to conventional cars in West Germany and the United States from the 1950s
to the first years of the twenty-first century, explaining the differences
through a comprehensive investigation of the factors that influenced consumer
choices in both countries. Prizes were donated by the Fundación
Juanelo Turriano (Spain). The prize committee, headed by vice president
Dick van Lente (Netherlands), with members proficient in several languages,
continues to encourage book submissions to promote studies by
All of the panels are described in the conference program; each merits
a detailed review that cannot be made in this report. Nevertheless, a brief
exposition of representative papers and panels can provide an overall
impression of the scope of issues (fig. 3, below).
FIG. 3: An attentive moment in one of the panel gatherings. (Photo:
The program committee organized the panel on success and failure of
consumer-driven innovations. In the first session Richard Vahrenkamp
(Germany) argued through specific cases in the United States and Europe
until the 1950s that the retail food sector was the driving force for product
development,mass production, and distribution. Advait Deshpande (United
Kingdom), on the other hand, provided an example from modern telecommunications in the United Kingdom where the power of end users to dictate
their needs became more complicated with increasing fragmentation, denationalization,
and competition. Anne Sudrow (Germany) observed that the
interwar shoe industry in Britain and Germany disliked the changing preferences
of consumers, since it was a threat to routine operations in manufacturing. This was resolved gradually by the conceptual turn of producers and
the advent of market research.