Sunday, August 22, 2010

A long awaited essay ...

Four years ago over a weekend in early June, I participated in an NSF-sponsored workshop with several colleagues at the University of Maryland.  Our task was to review drafts of essays that each of us had written during the previous six months which we hoped to pull together into a book tentatively entitled The Ties that Bind: Environment and Technology in History, which was being prepared under the auspices of Enivrotech, a special interest group of the Society for the History of Technology, which I had co-founded with historian Sarah Pritchard in Munich, Germany in August 2000The workshop was quite wonderful, and then it was left to each of us to finalize our essays, have the collection's editors Steve Cutcliffe and Marty Reuss carefully edit and critique them, and eventually get the final manuscript prepared for press.

Projects such as these often take a very long time, and this one was no exception.  But, at long last, the book has finally been released.  The title changed a bit, now Illusory Boundary: Environment and Technology in History, but the initial purpose of the book has not changed at all.  Anne Greene, author of Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America, suggests the importance of Illusory Boundary: "An exciting collection of essays elucidating the 'Envirotech' approach to history. This important work not only challenges a traditional nature-technology dualism, but stakes new intellectual ground. It demonstrates the meaning of 'Envirotech' through essays that address matters of historical interest and debate -- industrialization, the American West, cities, food, agriculture, science. This volume is an original, substantial, and significant accomplishment."

I am flattered that my contribution, "Understanding the Place of Humans in Nature," is the lead essay in the book.  I can hardly wait to get my hands on it and read the other contributions.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fun in Finland ...

Although not on Alizee or any other boat for that matter, we had a lovely two-week trip to Helsinki and Tampere, Finland.  As you may know, if you've been reading Newsweek magazine, Finland is first among one-hundred nations in a number of categories, making it the best country in the world in which to live.  Well, say we, indeed it's probably so for the summer months, but we'll take a pass on the snowy rest of the year, even if they do have saunas to warm you up.

We landed in Helsinki four days before my annual history of technology symposium started in Tampere, which gave us plenty of time to recover from jet lag.  Our first stop was the Hotel Katajanokka, which served for a century as a prison and was converted to a Best Western hotel two years ago, keeping as much of the original prison interior as possible.  After a day or so of recovery, we had plenty of time to wander around this beautiful city on the archipelagos of southern Finland.  There are multitudes of lovely sailboats along the quays, from traditional Baltic fishing and freight schooners to modern fiberglass boats ... and for those of you who sail in more moderate climes, remember every one of the Finnish boats must be hauled and winterized at the end of the relatively short sailing season.  But they were certainly a treat to look at.

Even better, I found the boat I want after I'm done with sailing ... a wonderful old fishing boat with room for my baby grand piano in the salon.  What fun!!

Penelope and I agree that one of the best things about Finland in the summer are the wonderful markets.  The fresh produce is amazing.  Berries, berries, berries - the freshest raspberries, blue berries, lingonberries, cloudberries.  Fresh chanterelle mushrooms.  The most wonderful variety of lettuces and greens.  And every other imaginable item.  And gourmet meats - my mouth watered at the lamb tenderloins and wonderful little racks, and the reindeer, which we had in a restaurant in Tampere, was wonderfully tender.  We're ready to let a place for a month or two and just spend our time cooking and eating!

The symposium itself was great fun.  I gave my paper on "Sailing as Play: A Case in Technological Possibilities," which focused on the role of fiberglass in making sailing available as a sport and pastime for the middle classes, and I heard several other very interesting papers on a variety of topics.  Of course, I had to attend a couple of business meetings, but most of the time was spent meeting up with old friends, meeting new friends, and otherwise socializing.  My band, The Email Special, played its gig at a wonderful location in a technological museum, and we were joined by a couple of young Finnish back up players on drums and bass.

Pen and I missed the sauna night, but we did go for dinner with the symposium group on a nearby island, so we got a boat ride.  And the banquet on the last night was really one of the best we've been to ... no rubber chicken, that's for sure.  Maybe Finland is the best country in the world after all ... although the Swiss are challenging the Newsweek tallying of points.
After a week in Tampere for the symposium, we returned for two more days in Helsinki and enjoyed dinner with some friends we'd not been able to connect with at the symposium.  Then it was off to the elongated silver tube of transport for the trip home.  And, here we are!

More photos