The following two abstracts below are favored examples in format and approach, by the programme committee and other members. They were accepted in previous meetings of ICOHTEC and are presented below at the consent of their authors.
Explaining computers and automation to large lay audiences: the Netherlands 1945-1970
This paper reports on research that aims to understand how complicated new technologies with purportedly transforming consequences for society, such as computers and nuclear power, were explained to the lay public during the first two post-WWII decades. In terms of the conference theme, this is an instance of science communication, which involves a transformation of knowledge to suit a wide range of non-specialists, and dissemination of this transformed knowledge. While ‘computers in the Netherlands’ is the case presented, the more general aim of the presentation is to discuss with other scholars similar studies carried out elsewhere, and explore possibilities of international comparisons. Because these technologies spread internationally, the ways they were understood and represented need to be understood in a transnational framework.
The paper will discuss the source base, theory and methods I have been using, as well as my first results. The source base consists of popular publications appearing regularly during the whole period, esp popular illustrated magazines and comic strips. The methods employed are a longitudinal quantitative analysis of the occurrence of these themes during this period, and a structuralistic content analysis, drawing from literary studies, which aims to identify the main patterns of narrative and counter-narrative, in which knowledge about computers was packaged. Among the findings are the occurrence of two waves of increased attention, the mid-fifties and the late sixties, each focusing on very different concerns, and an surprising overlap in the framing of the theme between these popular publications and debates among intellectuals.
Hermann Aron’s (1845-1913) path from physics to electrical invention and industry
This talk describes how and why a young theoretical physicist with academic aspirations in Wilhelmian Germany made the uncommon move from the lecture rooms to the establishment of his own company based on his invention, and how his scientific background contributed to his invention.
Hermann Aron submitted a dissertation on elasticity, a subject as far as can be from technology in 1873. Three years later he wrote a habilitation still in mathematical physics, but now in relation to telegraphy. Subsequently he studied the theory of electrical technology, and in 1883 moved to practice. He invented an electricity-meter based on a pendulum clock for the infant electric utilities. This meter, based on basic scientific principles and probably inspired by a known educational exercise, was highly esteemed by experts and very popular. Aron founded a company for its manufacture, which by 1909 employed more than a thousand employees in four countries. Aron utilized his scientific knowledge in a crucial patent for measuring three-phase current based on electric theory, which gave his company a monopoly in the field.
Based on Aron’s publications, recollections on him and archival sources, I suggest that Aron’s path and his great success in technology are explained in part by his low prospects (further reduced by his Jewishness) in the highly competitive field of physics in comparison with the options opened by the new electric technology, by the enthusiasm for the electric technology especially in the vibrant community of Berlin and by his wide range of interests. His initial success drew Aron further to the world of industry, almost against his wish.