Invitation to the 22nd Annual Conference of the German Society for the History of Technology (Gesellschaft für Technikgeschichte)

4 Oct 2012 - 00:00

Invitation to the 22nd Annual Conference of the German Society for the History of Technology (Gesellschaft für Technikgeschichte)

10-12 May 2013, The Saxon State and University Library in Dresden, Germany

The board of the “Gesellschaft für Technikgeschichte” invites proposals for papers at the 2013 Annual Conference, concerning the theme:

The Senses & Technology

Local organizers include the Dresden University of Technology: Chair for the History of Technology and Engineering Sciences; Collaborative Research Centre 804  “Transzendenz und Gemeinsinn”, Sub-project M; and the Special-Subject Collection “History of Technology” at the Saxon State and University Library Dresden (SLUB).

In recent years historians of technology have studied the technological production, re-production, use and epistemological status of images—in short, the visual culture of the history of technology. They have paid less attention to the acoustic, olfactory, gustatory and tactile dimension of technology. Still, all five senses play an important role in the engineering, production, use and disposal of technology. Indeed, the entanglement of the classical senses with other senses—like Eugene Ferguson’s “Minds Eye” of the engineer, or Ferdinand Redtenbacher’s senses of gestalt, order and composition—opens a broad field of inquiry.

Furthermore, technology also shapes our senses: our sensory perception is subject to historical change. Examples for this historical conditioning of the senses include culturally grounded complaints about various trade and industry emissions. For instance, noise and smell accompanied the history of the automobile since its invention. More and more, manufacturers emphasize the sensory qualities of consumer goods: the literal experience of a technology using the senses. Sensory technology should emotionally touch and fascinate users. Therefore the sensory perception of technology is optimized: different senses become involved and intertwined in the design process (synesthesia). Again, the automobile is a key example: sound, smell and the surface feel of the car’s interior are thoroughly developed according to future drivers’ alleged desires. Another recent example is the hype surrounding touch screens of smart phones and tablet computers.

In addition, the sensory dimension of skilled manual work is of special interest. Another field of study is technical measuring, recording and playback devices: the engineering, as well as the use of such tools and instruments requires and affects our senses.

The aim of our conference is the investigation of the above outlined sensory dimension of technology: e.g., one can ask which role the senses play in the engineering of technological artefacts? How are different senses involved in the production process? Which role do they play in the design and appropriation of new technologies? How does sensory perception shape the use of technology and how does technology shape our daily sensory perception? Does increasing technical interconnectedness (CCTV, virtual worlds) affect our perception? To answer these and other questions one can study related discourses, as well as specific sensory practices. Which tacit und embodied knowledge is involved in the sensory appropriation of technology? Is sensory perception part of technological knowledge? How do we learn, develop and transmit such knowledge? And finally: How can we display the sensory dimension of technology in museum exhibitions?

The conference invites participants to an interdisciplinary discussion. It aims to stimulate a critical reflection on the state of the art of historical studies on technology’s sensory dimension, the presentation of interesting case studies, and the identification of desiderata. Not least, questions about the hierarchy of the senses, and the relation of the other senses to the above mentioned visual culture of technology arise: Can we speak of a transformation and hierarchization of the senses in late technical modernity?

The main conference language is German, though selected papers in English will be accepted. Please note that travel expenses cannot be refunded. Abstracts for contributions (max. 350–400 words) and a short, one-page CV are requested by January 6, 2013. Please send these to: Dr. Stefan Krebs, s.krebs[at]

For further information please contact: Dr. Uwe Fraunholz, uwe.fraunholz[at] ; phone +49 (0)351 46334899