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Facing a Toxic Object

Nuclear Waste Management and its Challenges for Nature-Culture-Relationships

Christiane Schürkmann

Abstract

Over the past decades, industrial societies have produced a range of substances whose effects humans increasingly identify as toxic—a prominent example is radioactive waste and the question of its disposal. This fabricated “object of modernity” not only calls for the knowledge of the natural sciences, it also affects society at large in its immense challenge of figuring out how to dispose of this material and altogether “detoxify” society from its hazardous activity. The contribution develops a heuristic perspective on toxic objects, exemplified by analyzing documents with a focus on how different societal actors in Germany problematize high-level radioactive waste (HLW) in the context of finding a repository site. The perspective on toxic objects aims to strengthen a more nuanced view of “modern” relationships between human action and material activity with regard to hazardous socio-chemical fabrications as a consequence of an objectified nature.

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Nikolaos Mavropoulos

Abstract

In the wake of Italy's unification, the country's expansionist designs were aimed, as expected, toward the opposite shore of the Mediterranean. The barrage of developments that took place in this strategic area would shape the country's future alliances and colonial policies. The fear of French aggression on the coast of North Africa drove officials in Rome to the camp of the Central Powers, a diplomatic move of great importance for Europe's evolution prior to World War I. The disturbance of the Mediterranean balance of power, when France occupied Tunisia and Britain held Cyprus and Egypt, the inability to find a colony in proximity to Italy, and a series of diplomatic defeats led Roman officials to look to the Red Sea and to provoke war with the Ethiopian Empire.

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Humans “in the Loop”?

Human-Centrism, Posthumanism, and AI

Nandita Biswas Mellamphy

Abstract

More and more scholarly attention is being paid to the challenges of governing artificial intelligence and emergent technologies. Most of the focus remains on questions of how to preserve the human-centeredness of increasingly advancing machine-driven technologies. I problematize discourses of “human-centered AI” that prioritize human control over nonhuman intelligences as a solution for the challenges posed by emergent technologies like artificial intelligence. Posthumanism provides a compelling theoretical basis for this line of questioning and for reimagining alternative ethical constructs. I outline and consider three distinct scenarios in which (a) humans are at the center of command and control, (b) humans and nonhumans share control, (c) human oversight is completely removed. I suggest that more attention could be given to critical and speculative ways of reimagining the concepts of “human,” “nonhuman,” and human/nonhuman relations.

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Introduction

Posthuman? Nature and Culture in Renegotiation

Kornelia Engert and Christiane Schürkmann

Abstract

The contributions in this special issue focus on different phenomena and conceptual approaches dealing with “the Posthuman” as a discourse of renegotiating nature-culture-relationships that has emerged over the past decades. The selected articles from fields of sociology, political science, and social anthropology demonstrate how to work with and discuss posthumanistic and post-anthropocentric perspectives, but also how to irritate and criticize universal assumptions of particular posthuman approaches empirically and theoretically. The introduction aims to position the particular contributions in a field of tension between de- and re-centering human beings and human agency.

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Introduction

Cultural Heritages and Their Transmission

Elizabeth C. Macknight

This Spring 2021 issue of Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques is about cultural heritages and their transmission, focusing on the period from the middle of the eighteenth century to the present. An important stimulus for the creation of the issue was the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) in 2018. There were four main themes for the EYCH: protection, engagement, sustainability, and innovation. National coordinators and local organizers of events and initiatives across the continent adopted the unifying slogan “Our Heritage. Where the past meets the future.” The articles brought together here serve as an invitation to readers to continue reflecting on subjects and questions that were at the heart of planning for and supporting public participation in EYCH 2018. The European Year of Cultural Heritage provided myriad opportunities to discover the roles played by individuals and groups in the preservation and valorization of natural sites and landscapes, public monuments, cultural institutions, artifacts, digital resources, and intangible cultural heritage. It highlighted educational initiatives to raise awareness of multiple, diverse cultural heritages within communities and to promote intercultural dialogue. It pushed governments and nongovernmental organizations to address matters of financial investment, legal accountability, partnership management, and the shaping of policies on conservation and ownership rights. It challenged professional historians as well as archivists, librarians, archeologists, conservators, and curators to think hard about widening access and about ways of integrating local, national, and international perspectives when communicating with audiences about surviving traces of the past.

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Franziska von Verschuer

Abstract

Since the mid-twentieth century global modernization of agriculture, seed banking has become a core technoscientific strategy to counteract agrobiodiversity loss and ensure future food security. This article develops a post-anthropocentric reading of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as a nodal point of global ex situ conservation efforts. Based on qualitative expert interviews, I explore the rationality of crisis and salvation that underlies these efforts and discuss its roots in an anthropocentric relation to nature as a resource. By arguing that the latter produces the crises that conservation measures intend to counteract, I show how the Seed Vault conserves this resource-orientation. I then illustrate a concurrent unruliness of more-than-human worldly becoming the embracing of which, I argue, is a way for conservationism to cultivate different, non-crisic futures.

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Manufacturing Labor Discipline

Apprenticeship, Asymmetrical Knowledge, and Large-Scale Production in Britain and France, 1750–1820

Leonard N. Rosenband

Abstract

Josiah Wedgwood, the Montgolfier family, and Samuel Bentham were leading producers during the early industrial era. A pottery manufacturer, a family of papermakers, and the Inspector-General of Britain's Naval Works, they all occupied the highest perch in their fields. This article considers the efforts by these eminent figures to control the exercise and reproduction of skill in their shops. It examines their attempts to build internal labor markets and blend carefully trained, home-grown hands with novel systems of work discipline and fresh technologies. In doing so, this article assesses the success and limits of the entrepreneurial trio's designs in the coming of mechanized production.

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Eloise Grey

Abstract

This article takes a history of emotions approach to Scottish illegitimacy in the context of imperial sojourning in the early nineteenth century. Using the archives of a lower-gentry family from Northeast Scotland, it examines the ways in which emotional regimes of the East India Company and Aberdeenshire gentry intersected with the sexual and domestic lives of native Indian women, Scottish farm servant women, and young Scottish bachelors in India. Children of these relationships, White and mixed-race, were the focus of these emotional regimes. The article shows that emotional regimes connected to illegitimacy are a way of looking at the Scottish history of empire.

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Politics, Patronage, and Diplomacy

A New Perspective on C. K. J. Bunsen (1791–1860)

Lorraine Macknight

Abstract

When a hymnbook is placed outside its more expected hymnological environment and put in a wider contextual framework, particularly a political one with significant diplomatic aspects, a better appreciation is gained of the hymnbook and the circumstances of its compilation. Critically, the complexity and progressive transparency of hymn transmission from one country to another is also revealed. This article focuses on Prussian diplomat Christian Karl Josias von Bunsen and his Gesang-und Gebetbuchs (1833). A primary source for several translators, notably Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878), the hymnbook directly affected the movement of many hymns from Germany to England, Scotland, and Australia.

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Tim Ingold

Abstract

This article asks what part prehistory could play in establishing a posthumanist settlement, alternative to the humanism of the Enlightenment. We begin by showing how Enlightenment thinking split the concept of the human in two, into species and condition, establishing a point of origin where the history of civilization rises from its baseline in evolution. Drawing on the thinking of the thirteenth-century mystic, Ramon Llull, we present an alternative vision of human becoming according to which life carries on through a process of continuous birth, wherein even death and burial hold the promise of renewal. In prehistory, this vision is exemplified in the work of André Leroi-Gourhan, in his exploration of the relation between voice and hand, and of graphism as a precursor to writing. We conclude that the idea of graphism holds the key to a prehistory that not so much precedes as subtends the historic.