"Towards a Global History of Production I: Machine Tools and the International Transfer of Industrial Technology" March 30-31, 2009 Centre for History and Economics, King’s College, University of Cambridge, UK
Between the 1860s and the 1960s there was an extraordinary quantum leap in humanity’s capacity to transform raw metal into highly complex machines. Tracing the development of these productive forces and the discourses that surrounded and impelled their development is the subject of our conference, which seeks to explore and map the development of machine-tool technology from the late 19th century up to the 1960s. We concentrate on machine tools because they are the ubiquitous instruments of modern manufacturing and because right up to the 1980s they occupied an iconic position in debates about industrial modernization. To date, the historical literature has focused very heavily on the divide between the US and Europe. It has sought to understand this divide in terms of a distinction between “special purpose” and “general purpose” machine tools. A fundamental premise of our conference is that this has been over-hasty. We simply do not know enough about the development of this key technology and its geography for it to be useful to adopt such stark dichotomies.
The basic starting point for our conference, therefore, is that the dichotomy between special purpose and general purpose tools, which was widely used from the late nineteenth century onwards to describe the “revolution” marked by the emergence of American industry, should be treated not as a framework for analysis, but as an object of analysis in itself. Our conference therefore is double-edged. It addresses itself both to discourses about technology and to the objects to which this talk was directed. It is also symmetrical in the sense that it keeps in mind both the complex pattern of similarity and difference between the “United States and the rest” and the more general process of manufacturing development across the industrialized world. In this sense we hope to mark a departure from recent debates in comparative industrial history, which have been overshadowed by the European-American productivity gap and by questions of catch-up.
The conference will bring together scholars from different parts of the world to investigate the topics for the period between late 19th century and 1960. The convenors would like to invite papers from a wide range of areas, such as history of technology, economic and social history, business history, organisation studies, cultural studies or industrial relations, applying both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.
The following questions are of primary interest:
• How did industrial producers across the world achieve the spectacular increases in metalworking capacity?
• What kind of metalworking machinery was applied in different countries?
• How did contemporaries interpret these products and processes?
• What were the channels of communication, imitation and appropriation that kept the development of the major industrial economies on such a fundamentally similar path?
• How did the use of different types of machine tools influence industrial relations?
• How did ideas about industrial modernity and the iconic status of machine tools, in particular, impact on the process of industrialization itself?
PROPOSAL SUBMISSION AND TIMELINE
Applications from PhD-students, postdocs and young scholars from all disciplinary and national backgrounds are strongly encouraged. An abstract of your proposed paper (max. 500 words), written in English, along with a brief CV should be submitted to Ralf Richter (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 30th September 2008. Successful applicants will be contacted before end of October 2008. To facilitate discussions at the conference, participants will be asked to submit draft papers of about 3.000 to 5.000 words for pre-circulation by 10th March 2009. Panels will consist of up to three papers of 20 minutes each and 20 minutes discussion. The conference language is English. A publication of selected conference papers is planned.
Thanks to the generous funding by the Hans Boeckler Foundation, Duesseldorf, and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Cologne, travel expenses (flights and transfer from London airports to Cambridge) as well as accommodation will be fully covered.
David Edgerton (Imperial College London)
Ralf Richter (Bielefeld University)
Cristiano Ristuccia (University of Cambridge)
Adam Tooze (University of Cambridge)
Thomas Welskopp (Bielefeld University)
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