Where is the History of Technology?: Rethinking the Geographies of Things
Abstract: Based on questions raised while researching and writing his recently published book, American Lucifers: The Dark History of Artificial Light, 1750-1865 (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), in this paper, Zallen explores what is to be gained and lost by reconfiguring analysis of technologies of light away from the things themselves to encompass the spaces and practices of lamps and candles' reproduction, lives, and deaths. Where, for example, should the history of a sperm-oil lamp begin? Is the answer different if that lamp was burning on a London street or in Jamaican sugar boiling house? Where can we say a whaleship ended and a candle began? What was the relationship between the geographies of freedom that enslaved turpentine makers built against their enslavement in North Carolina's piney woods and the New York domestic workshops organized around lamps burning that turpentine? Most histories of science and technology hew closely only to the final products of processes of making that often spanned enormous distances and entangled seemingly disconnected struggles. This paper makes the case for taking a more ecological approach to the discipline.