Call for Abstracts for SHOT Open Session: Maintaining Natures

Nicole Welk-Joerger's picture

An open session call for abstracts for the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), in Philadelphia, PA, October 26 - 29, 2017.

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Open Session Title: Maintaining Natures


Nicole Welk-Joerger, University of Pennsylvania (

Alice Clifton, Georgia Institute of Technology (

Scholars in the history of technology have been pushing the boundaries of the discipline through interests in organic non-human actors, and through narrative shifts away from “new” or innovative systems toward “old” or sustained ones.  The Maintainers, for example, held their first conference in the spring of 2016 to challenge notions of innovation and invention in the field, building on critiques by David Edgerton and Ruth Schwartz Cowan.  The SHOT special interest group, Envirotech, has been studying the interrelationships between “nature” and “technology” as seen in works such as Richard White’s The Organic Machine (1995), and Edmund Russell’s work on the question: “Are animals technologies?”           

            We propose a session that combines the interests of this conference and special interest group to explore the intersections held between technology and nature using the “maintenance” frame.  To build off the Maintainer’s conceptual starting point, we seek papers describing historical moments when efforts were dedicated to sustaining not only our human-built worlds, but the worlds we have built with our non-human companion-species, environmental infrastructures, and/or ecological systems.  Maintaining Natures aims to expand the notion of “maintenance”—using material and/or rhetorical instances of the term—through envirotechnical analyses or examples.  It also aims to reflect on the goals of Envirotech, perhaps revealing the relationship held between technology and nature as one primarily about “maintenance.”


We seek abstracts that will be in conversation with both subjects and that aim to address some of the following:

--Differences between “maintaining” natural systems and human-built technical systems

--The separation or integration of nature and technology in maintenance labor or rhetoric

--Animals as technology, and the notion of “maintaining animals”

--Connections or challenges to maintenance as environmental “stewardship”

--The role of experts, engineers, and laborers in “maintaining” ecological systems

-- The ways in which human interactions with other species and the non-human environment can be thought of in terms of “maintenance” or "innovation"

Those interested in contributing to this session should contact the organizers with a 100 – 200 word abstract proposal.  The SHOT deadline for all proposals is March 31st, 2017, but we ask for abstract proposals by Friday, March 17th