2019 Turriano ICOHTEC Prize

Laudatio : Katowice, July 2019

As probably known to most of you, the Turriano ICOHTEC Prize is an Early Career Prize for Books on the history of technology, awarded by the International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC). Concerning the Book Prize, ICOHTEC is interested in the history of technology, focusing on technological development as well as its relationship to science, society, economy, culture and the environment. The history of technology covers all periods of human history and all populated areas. There is no limitation as to theoretical or methodological approaches.

Eligible for the Prize are original book-length works in English, French, German, Russian or Spanish in the history of technology: published or unpublished Ph.D. dissertations or other monographs written by scholars in the early stages of their career. If the work is a Ph.D. thesis, it should have been accepted by your university in either 2017 or 2018; the same goes for the year of publication if it is a published work.

This time, the Prize Committee received no less than 28 applications, many of a high standard. As a result, the competition between the candidates was tough this time.

In its selection procedure, the Turriano Prize Committee 2019 took into account the following aspects:

  • whether a dissertation was defended in 2017 or 2018, and whether a book was published in 2017 or 2018
  • whether the candidate was an early scholar, or not
  • whether the study submitted was indeed (mainly) in the field of history
  • whether the study was bringing novel aspects or approaches to the field of history of technology
  • we have given priority to studies on history of technology over contributions to the history of science (or other fields related to technology, for that matter).
  • and, last but not least, we have looked at the quality, novelty, importance and relevance of the study.

Without going into detail about the different selection rounds, after a multi-step procedure, the Turriano ICOHTEC Prize Committee 2019 has unanimously decided to grant the 2019 Turriano Prize to:

Maria Rikitianskaia, European Radiotelegraphy and World War I: A Transnational Perspective, 1912 – 1927. PhD thesis, Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, October 2018.

There certainly were also other very good books in the final round, some of which were granted an‘ Honorablemention’.

Rikitianskaia’s choice to study the development of radiotelegraphy on a global, European and transcontinental scale is extremely bold for a dissertation. Her work stands out not only due to this broad historical perspective, but also for the author’s ability to show that studying an important technical invention contributes also to a deeper understanding of the social and political roles technology has played in the contemporary world. In that respect,the work is exemplary, and the jury members were particularly impressed because Maria Rikitianskaia was one of the two youngest among the entire set of twenty-eight candidates.

European Radiotelegraphy and World War I is a bold, original and innovative study, which is, at the same time, solid, rigorous and well-researched. It deals with the role of radiotelegraphy in the evolution from telegraphy to radio broadcasting, in a truly transnational manner. In an admirable way, the thesis contributes to such diverse fields as media and communication research, war studies and the history of technology. In the context of existing published works, Rikitianskaia’s thesis is particularly successful in showing the importance of the First World War as a period that accelerated cross–border exchange of technology, experts and ideas. Our Committee has been particularly impressed by the broad range of archival and published sources, from many different countries and in many languages. Starting from such a solid and broad empirical basis, the author shows convincingly that radiotelegraphy and radio broadcasting were not national by nature, but were made national in the course of a historical process. This overarching argument, supported by deep insights from the history of technology, transnational theory and science and technology studies, is presented in a very convincing and powerful way. Moreover, the book is very well written, and a pleasure to read.

Honorable mentions

Because of the overall high quality of the works submitted this time the Prize Committee decided to grant an “Honorable Mention” to three other works, one published book, and two dissertations:

Jaroslav Švelch, Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018.)

Pauline Lewis, Wired Ottomans: A Sociotechnical History of the Telegraph and the Modern Ottoman Empire, 1855-1911.PhD thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, December 2018.

and Barbara Berger for her excellent contribution to the field of Industrial Heritage Studies: Der Gasbehälterals Bautypus. Baukonstruktionsgeschichte des 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts. In England entwickelt, in Deutschland optimiert, weltweitverbreitet – gezeigt am Beispiel Italiens. PhD thesis, Technische Universität München, May 2018.

Jaroslav Švelch’sGaming the Iron Curtain is an outstanding book which breaks new ground as an innovative study of Czechoslovakian computer gaming and its interactions with the state and society. The study is coherent, concentrated and well-argued. Methodologically and theoretically Svelch’s book is sophisticated. It is also carefully written and edited. The Committee was fascinated to read about the computer culture in the Communist Bloc, a topic that has until now remained mostly unexplored in existing historiography. The book fills in an important gap in the history of technology, and as a result is an important contribution to our field.

Pauline Lewis’, Wired Ottomans is a highly competent interdisciplinary work on the British companies and the implementation of the telegraph in the Ottoman Empire. It explores the issue from several different angles, so it can be considered to be part of both economic history, business history, political history and the history of science and technology. The thesis is well structured, well documented and well written. The Committee found the research question of how a technical tool of communication such as electrical telegraphy contributed to transform Ottoman society and to further tie the Ottoman Empire to the Great Powers of that time, highly interesting, and the outcomes convincing. The multiplicity of actors who took part in this complex process is put forward in an admirable way, beyond the clichés of national historiographies. The thesis is a very good example of how history of technology increasingly gets relevance for global history and for the history of non-Western regions.

Barbara Berger’s, Der GasbehälteralsBautypusis a delight for anyone interested in industrial heritage. It is thoroughly researched, based on many archival documents and published sources, and well-structured. After providing an overview of the history of technology of gaslighting and gas-production, this dissertation concentrates on the rather unknown construction history of gas factories, and in particular on the construction of gasometers or gasholders. It analyses in depth all the different building types and its constructive part, and traces the diffusion of technologies and prototypes across Britain, Germany and Italy. The book ends with a case study of Italian gasometers, and focuses in particular on the industrial heritage aspects of those that still exist. The book is wonderfully illustrated, both with period pictures and sketches and technical drawing by the author. It brings together previously unknown content and will serve as a reference for many years to come. Overall it is as an encouraging example to follow for any future work in the field of Industrial Heritage Studies.

Members of the Turriano-ICOHTEC Book Prize Committee 2019 were Irina Gouzevitch (Paris), Per Lundin (Gothenburg), Darina Martykánová (Madrid), Klaus Staubermann (Berlin), and Ernst Homburg (Maastricht), chairperson.

Darina Martykánová, on behalf of the Committee