This is a first announcement for a conference on the history of lightning rods to be held November 4-6, 2002 at The Bakken Library and Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA). (The conference is timed to precede the History of Science Society conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 7-10, 2002, for the convenience of scholars trvaling from outside the USA).
Although in general it is difficult to give the exact date of a scientific discovery or the invention of a technical device, it is sometimes possible to name an event that ? at least in retrospect ? is inseparably connected with such an achievement. One such event is certainly the demonstration of the electrical nature of lightning that took place in Marly near Paris on May 10, 1752, an event which is linked both to the development of the lightning rod as well as to Benjamin Franklin. This event provides the occasion to propose a conference on the history of the lightning rod. Our intent is not simply to commemorate the anniversary of a major technological achievement, but also to fill one of the desiderata in the history of science and technology. From our point of view, this device, its development and implications still await the comprehensive scholarly attention it deserves. With this in mind we intend to approach the subject matter from a wide variety of perspectives: namely history of science and technology, mentality and literature.
What were the symbolic and metaphorical uses of the lightning rod, e.g., in enlightened politics? The discussions on the prospective value (and danger) of this artificial device as well as its moral implications are paradigmatic for the discourse of the enlightenment. The commodification of the lightning rod, related economic aspects, its appearance in fire insurance policies as well as its use by the military are also of relevance.
We are further interested in different protection mechanisms against lightning, for example more traditional ones. We do not intend to solely focus on the second half of the eighteenth century, but would like to follow the developments in the 19th century and beyond. Of equal importance is a comparative element, which we hope to achieve by contrasting the introduction and uses of lightning rods in different countries and cultures.
We ask scholars from all fields interested in the topic to mail a brief description of their intended talk to
The description should be mailed to us by July 31, 2001.
We hope that this conference topic will appeal to many scholars and we are looking forward to getting your responses.
Peter Heering (University of Oldenburg)
Oliver Hochadel (University of Vienna)
David Rhees (Bakken Library and Museum)
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