2016 is the sixth year of ICOHTEC's Maurice Daumas (Article) Prize and the second year in which the Daumas Prize is dedicated to the group of young scholars. The committee awarded the prize this year to:
William Rankin, Yale University, for his article "The Geography of Radionavigation and the Politics of Intangible Artifacts," which was published in Technology and Culture, Volume 55, Number 3, July 2014, pp. 622-674.
The author's methodological approach to think about differences and commonalities between artefacts and non-artefacts based on an example from the history of technology was decisive for the members of the committee.
The winning article was one of 23 applications, which came in from 11 different countries. They were published in English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. Elvira Callapez kindly agreed to evaluate the papers written in Spanish and thus was appointed member of the prize committee in December 2015.
The committee evaluated many strong papers covering the cultural history of technology, the history of science and construction history. Some articles link the history of technology to social history, to economic history, to history of medicine and to history of politics. Some of these papers are very interesting and received quite good evaluation results. Several article that deserve mention: Frederik Meiton, "Radiance of Jewish National Home: Technocapitalism, Electrification, and the Making of Modern Palestine," Michael Alfred Kay, "Troublesome telephony: how users and non-users shaped the development of early British exchange telephony," and Eugenie Briot, "Imiter les matières premières naturelles. Les corps odorants de synthèse, voie du luxe et de la démocratisation pour la parfumerie du XIXe siècle".
William Rankin's awarded article is part of his book project on the history of the mapping sciences, territory, and U.S. military globalism in the 20th century. In his paper the author argues that the networks of radio signals for navigation, which were enlarged during World War II, "should be seen no less as part of material culture" than artefacts to generate and measure radio signals (p. 623). Following Rankin "radio waves can sometimes act more like a stable physical artifact than a fleeting communication signal"; thus he suggests "a broad reinterpretation of the importance of radionavigation in the mid-twentieth century" (p. 623). Rankin pursued a two-pronged approach: he investigates the "porous boundary between the tangible and the intangible" (p. 626) or – more common – between material and immaterial artefacts on the one hand and the history of radio navigation as part of material culture on the other hand. In order to do so he takes philosophy - namely "thing theory" - in account.
Concerning the history of navigation Rankin points out, that the major transitions in the development of radio navigation are not linked to the inauguration of the satellite based GPS system in the early 1990s: this was just to renew the existing electromagnetic infrastructure which was fully developed in the 1960s. A system of road-like aviation routes was developed in the United States in the 1920s; this system was based on the metaphor of railway lines in the air and likened to railway technology in some way. The European system of a net of electromagnetic waves was completely different, enabling a pilot or navigation officer to find the position of his plane in any point of earth's surface. The concept was based on systems for navigation on the Sea, linked different countries and became a nearly global system in the post war period. Thus it was a step to technology-based Globalisation.
The author analysed the different ideas of immaterial technology behind these different concepts and technologies of navigation and demonstrated that the solutions were based in different concepts of space as well as on political and geographic conditions. Rankin demonstrates how strategies and geographies of "thingness" can change over time. He makes clear that his findings about material and non-material artefacts can be applied in quite different fields as debates on public health, environment or the role of government.
Rankin's well designed, complex article is most impressive in his successful linking of methodological and subject related contents. In doing so he poses new questions for further research.
Stefan Poser, Dr., Chair
1 July 2016