Bulldog revolver technology used in 1878

Bulldog revolver technology used in the first revolutionary terrorist deed, 1878  (Photo: Mats Fridlund)

Project (2018-2019)

The Uses and Abuses of Things: Reconceptualizing Technology-in-use within the History of Technology

This project’s interconnected aim is conceptual and empirical: to develop artifact-focused conceptual tools to understand technological use and to conduct empirical studies of nineteenth- and twentieth-century technologies-in-use.

The conceptual tools such as pseudo technology, sociotechnical affordances, artifactual affects, object, and subject histories of technologies engage with the "three-dimensionality of technology" and the differences the specific material configuration and physicality of technological artifacts make possible, in this connecting to "new materialism" and the current material turn.

The empirical studies of technologies-in-use from medieval times until the present originate primarily from the Western world and China; they combine traditional historical methodologies with new digital history methodologies. In addition to studies of the use of twentieth-century electric power technologies in the context of collective innovation and object biographies, several studies concern the "abuse" of technology. This abuse concerns technologies applied for criminal, subversive or controversial uses, such as the use of explosives, arms, and media technologies by nineteenth-  and twentieth-century revolutionaries and terrorists, or the use of dowsing rods in contestation of official scientific theory and academic university norms. The project contributes to expanding and complicating current studies of the history and sociology of technology-in-use, primarily seeing users as laudable innovators, consumers, or maintainers. An additional methodological dimension is that some of the case studies employ and develop digital history methodologies in the form of text mining and big-data visualizations of historical digital newspaper archives and bibliometric citation databases.