Oil and Energy as Challenges to Contemporary History - Reassessing the Oil Crises of the 1970s
Conference at the Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam, September 26-28, 2013
Conveners: Prof. Dr. Frank Bösch (Potsdam), Dr. Rüdiger Graf (Bochum)
Securing energy supplies has been an essential political, economic, and social challenge for several decades. While the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s was based not least on cheap and abundant energy supplies, the oil crises of the 1970s brought energy issues to the foreground of scientific, political, and public discourses. Oil, above all, has been regarded as an essential resource of power affecting international relations, even causing crises and wars, while the oil price influences rates of economic growth and inflation globally. The first oil crisis of 1973/74 appears as a watershed in these discourses although political transformations in the field of energy had started earlier in Western Europe and the United States and not before the end of the 1970s in other regions. Attitudes towards energy and its use have been ambivalent ever since: consumer societies have flourished alongside conservation efforts and the enhancement of global strategies of resource development has accompanied new ecological considerations. Questions of energy production and consumption are not to be answered solely by economists and natural scientists. Rather, the very production of this expert knowledge must be scrutinized and historicized.
This conference tries to assess the importance of oil and the accompanying energy questions for contemporary history forty years after the first oil crisis. It asks how contemporaries viewed the oil and energy issue and aims at determining the scientific, political, economic and social consequences of these perceptions. Starting from the oil crises, the conference examines both the transformations of energy policies and the importance of energy production and consumption for contemporary history. Were the oil crises of the 1970s crucial turning points and do we still experience their effects or were they of minor importance within a continuous historical development? The conference addresses a neuralgic point of contemporary history as the 1970s are now commonly conceived as an epochal transformation in Western industrialized nations if not in the world as a whole. As most constructions of the 1970s as a historical caesura point to the oil crises and the transformations in the energy sector, examining them in detail may lead to a review and differentiation of this now dominant narrative.
The conference pursues two goals: it examines and historicizes the oil crises and the subsequent transformations of energy policies while also determining the importance of oil and energy for research in contemporary history. Papers may address both or only one of these aspects. Although oil will be at the center of our discussions, we welcome papers concerning other forms of energy (coal, gas, atomic, regenerative energies). The conference will not focus on a particular region but try to foster the exchange of research concerning the producing and the Western consuming countries as well as Eastern Europe and the so-called Third World. Particularly welcome are papers addressing one of the following areas:
1.) Energy and the History of Politics: How did energy emerge as an autonomous field of policy? How do we explain similarities and differences of national energy policies? What effect has energy had on international relations and conflict geographies (Cold War/resource wars, embargoes and sanctions, developmental policies)?
2.) Economic History of Energy: What are the peculiarities of energy industries? How do state and management strategies influence the development of certain energy regimes? How do multinational oil companies relate to governments? What was the effect of energy transformations on other parts of the economy (e.g. automobile and chemical industries) and macro-economics (e.g. currencies, growth)?
3) Social and Cultural History of Energy and Energy Consumption: How did the use of certain forms of energy affect the „natural“ and man-made environment? How did changes in the economy of energy influence energy consumption and conservation? How has public and scientific knowledge about energy changed over time?
4) Environmental History as a History of Energy: What is the role of energy within an environmental history that treats changing human-nature interactions? What was the importance of changing energy regimes or certain energy projects for the emergence of environmental movements, for example in the cases of atomic energy, oil production and climate change?
In order to address these questions in an international and global perspective we seek contributions of a medium range that relate case studies to the broader issues outlined above. Please send your paper proposal of no more than 300 words along with a short CV to Frank Bösch (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Rüdiger Graf (email@example.com). The deadline is September 30, 2012. The conference language will be English. Provided we secure funding, the organizers will cover travel expenses to Berlin/Potsdam and accommodation.
Dr. Rüdiger Graf
Fakultät für Geschichtswissenschaft
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