Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology

Network Node: 
Fri., May. 3, 2013, 8:30am - Sat., May. 4, 2013, 10:45pm

Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology
May 3-4, 2013
York University
Theme(s): Material Culture and Scientific/Technological Practices

Website with latest information available here.

Time of Physics, Time of Art
Peter Galison, Harvard University
May 2 2013, 4:30pm
Robert McEwen Auditorium, Schulich building, School of Business

Abstract: In the standard picture of the history of special relativity, Henri Poincaré's and Albert Einstein's reformulation of simultaneity is considered a quasi-philosophical intervention, a move made possible by his dis-connection from the standard physics of the day. Meanwhile, Einstein's engagement at the Patent Office (or Poincare¹s in the Bureau of Longitude) enter the story as lowly day jobs irrelevant to fundamental work on the nature of the world. I have argued, on the contrary, that the all-too material and the most abstract notions of time cross in essential ways. In a collaboration with the artist William Kentridge ("The Refusal of Time") we explored this intersection, pushing on history, physics, and philosophy into a more associative-imaginative register. This talk is an account of this complex of problems at the boundary of art and physics history.


There is a renewed interest in materiality. After the turn to discourse and signs in the late twentieth century, much recent work in the history of science and technology has revived its focus on matter and meaning, and on their fusion in the potent objects we call "things". But materiality is about more than things.  As an historical object; as a story of origins; as a tension with immateriality; as an effect of assemblage and argument; and as a way of thinking about scholarly work, materiality begs for broader treatment.

This conference explores materiality as both historical object and emerging idiom in the history of science and technology. On one hand it seeks to push into new sites for thinking about materiality in our field. When and on what terms does materiality become a concern for historical actors and for scholars? How does the material figure in the history of our subjects? What role do specific, fine-grained material properties play in the wide-scale sweep of the history science and technology? But the conference also seeks to move beyond materiality as research object to explore materialities beyond text — film, sound, objects — as research tools and as modes of scholarly expression. Through paper presentations, hands-on sessions and installations, we bring together a range of scholars and projects interested in thinking about materiality as historical object, intellectual resource, and scholarly expression.

There is no call for papers.

Contact: Eleanor Louson,

Registration is now open for Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology. Please visit the conference website here ( It will be updated with exhibit information in the coming weeks. Spaces are very limited, so register soon if you're planning to attend. The Conference will be preceded by a public lecture by Peter Galison. Please see details of conference and lecture below.

Katharine Anderson (York)
Robert Brain (UBC)
Tina Choi (York)
Kristen Haring (Auburn)
Edward Jones-Imhotep (York)
Carla Nappi (UBC)
Sophia Roosth (Harvard)
Hanna Rose Shell (MIT)
Emily Thompson (Princeton)
John Tresch (Pennsylvania)
William Turkel (Western)

Devon Elliott
Kristen Haring
Michael Longford
Cameron Murray
Robert MacDougall
Alasdair MacMillan
David Pantalony
Isaac Record
Robert Prenovault
Hanna Rose Shell
David Theodore

The conference is made possible by the generous support of the SSHRC Situating Science Cluster, the Institute for Science and Technology Studies, the Faculties of Science and Fine Arts, and the departments of History, Philosophy and Science and Technology Studies/Natural Science.