2017 is the seventh year of ICOHTEC’s Maurice Daumas (Article) Prize and the third year in which the Daumas Prize is dedicated to the group of young scholars. The committee awarded the prize this year to:
Gemma Cirac Claveras, Post-doctorat au Laboratoire Techniques, Territoires et Sociétés, France, for her paper: “Factories of Satellite Data Remote Sensing and Physical Earth Sciences in France”. In: ICON. Journal of the International Committee of the History of Technology, 21 (2015): 24–50 (get the full version of the winning paper!)
The convincing authors approach to describe the handling of satellite data as an industrial process was decisive for the committee.
We received 15 applications, 11 in English, 3 in French, and in 1 German from following countries:
United States: 2
Great Britain: 1
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. Two articles deserve to be mentioned: Stève Bernardin, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Laboratoire Techniques, Territoires, Sociétés (LATTS, UMR 8134) and Adjunct Professor at the Université Paris-Est (Department of Social Sciences and School of Engineering) sent in: “Taking the Problem to the People”. Traffic Safety from Public Relations to Political Theory, 1937–1954. In: Technology and Culture, Special Issue: (Auto)Mobility, Accidents, and Danger, No. 56 (2015), pp. 420-439. Gerardo Con Diaz, Assistant Professor, Science and Technology Studies, University of California, Davis, submitted: The Text in the Machine: American Copyright Law and the many Natures of Software, 1974-1978. In: Technology and Culture, 57 (2016), pp. 753-779.
Gemma Cirac’s winning article is linked to her current research project Sentinels of planet Earth. On the production, diffusion and utilisation of Earth observation satellite data, knowledge and information at theLaboratoire Techniques, Territoires et Sociétés in Marne-la-Vallée, France. In her paper she analyses the organisation of storage, preparation and distribution of the enormous amount of data generated by satellites. Her example is the French program POLDER, which was set up in the 1980s and carried out in the 2000s. She argues that data processing in this quantity led to an industrial process: the data are no more generated by the users, but by special institutions which were completely independent from the later users. Large scale storing and preparing of these data for different purposes was done in another step by other institutions which had to build up facilities for these tasks.
Whereas collecting satellite data was focused on the space within the first 20 years of space aviation, observing earth became more important in the 1980s. Investigation of earth shifted from (only) optical analysis based on photos, to data analysis based on measurement of polarised light. Since this approach was new when POLDER was developed, the responsible institutions were interested in the distribution of data, “rooted in overriding desire to demonstrate utility and to ensure the creation of a community of scientists that would in the future not only use the data but also solicit the launch of satellites” (p. 26). A system of preparing data for and allocating to different themes was inaugurated. Data from the satellite, which carried POLDER, were sent to Japan’s space agency. They were shipped on discs to Europe and delivered to CERN. Whereas the original data were only available for the hosting institution, CERN, the prepared data were given to other scientists for free in order to promote usage of satellite data for earth sciences. In fact POLDER contributed to the shift from optical analysis to data analysis in physical earth sciences. Especially knowledge on electromagnetic theory, radiation transfer and spectral signatures was necessary for the new approach. Scientists from physics laboratories were needed now. Thus handling and usage of satellite data required not only to build up processing lines based on structures from industry but it also meant a tremendous change in research.
Cirac embeddes her research on the development in France in an international context and discussed aims of NASA as well as of the Japanese space agency. This approach is one reason for the positive evaluation of her paper by the Daumas Prize Committee. The second and decisive reason is her idea to compare the handling of satellite data to the process of industrial production. As a result the author wrote a very interesting paper on an unusual subject and posed new questions for further research.
Stefan Poser, Dr., Chair
Helmut-Schmidt-Universität Hamburg, Germany Maria Elvira Callapez, Prof.
CIUHCT, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal Hermione Giffard, Dr.
University of Utrecht, The Netherlands Eike-Christian Heine, Dr.
Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany Laurent Heyberger, Dr.
Université de technologie de Belfort-Montbéliard (UTBM), France Liliia Zemnukhova, PhD Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SI RAN), St. Petersburg, Russia