CFP: New Materials: Their Social and Cultural Meanings

New Materials: Their Social and Cultural Meanings
Essays must be received by November 1, 2012 for consideration.

We invite historians of science, technology, and medicine; and scholars in science and technology studies, anthropology, the visual arts, cultural studies, and related fields to submit essays for an edited volume on the historical and cultural meanings of new materials. The resulting collection, focused on the creation, testing, and definition of materials in all historical settings, will be published in the Hagley Perspectives on Business and Culture series of the University of Pennsylvania Press and edited by Amy Slaton (Drexel University).

The processes by which materials are developed and deployed provide a powerful lens on industrial cultures. The means by which materials are regularized for production and use—their quality analyzed and controlled, their behaviors predicted—are particularly revelatory of epistemic and cultural commitments. This collection seeks to compile papers on the processes (broadly defined) through which the materials of interest to commerce are distinguished, their nature and value established, and authoritative expertise in industrial settings asserted. Cases from any historical setting or period, and addressing any materials encountered or produced in industrial, scientific, technical, agricultural or medical contexts (whether in “expert” or “lay” hands) are welcome.

The testing of materials poses questions of particular interest for this collection. These include questions of verisimilitude: By what means are synthetic foods,textiles, building materials, skin or bone determined to be sufficiently like “naturally occurring” substances? Or: How is the test of an industrial product or process determined to replicate conditions of use? They also include questions of definition: How does materials testing help delineate one substance from another, to define a discrete object of commercial investment and distribution? An object that can be named, and subject to proprietary handling? Finally, the history of materials testing may reveal where and how a given culture defines that which it believes to be natural or artificial, safe or unsafe, precisely or imprecisely measured, real or imagined; why such binaries emerge; and who attains the authority to draw such distinctions. All of these matters and others will be welcome subjects for proposals.

Essays should not exceed 10,000 words (exclusive of endnotes), and must be received for consideration by November 1, 2012. Interested scholars are urged to contact the editor prior to submission to discuss their planned essays. Please address inquiries to Amy Slaton.

Amy Slaton
Department of History
Drexel University

Image credit: Making the Modern World

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