RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2012

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123 Geography, Science, and Machines c. 1750-1960
Convenor(s) Jochen F. Mayer (University of Edinburgh)
Luise Fischer (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
Chair(s) Jochen F. Mayer (University of Edinburgh)
Timetable Wednesday 04 July 2012, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Appleton Tower - Room 2.05
Session abstract This session is concerned with the role of machines within the history and geography of scientific knowledge-making c. 1750-1960. Our
proposal is informed by the belief that scholarship within historical
geography and the work on the geography of science has largely neglected the material and technological bases to scientific knowledge-making and to the ordering of the social world more broadly.

Scholarship has been interested in the technology and instruments of
exploration on earth (Driver 2001), and in outer-space (MacDonald
2007). There has been less attention, however, to historical and
sociological work that emphasised the role of material infrastructure
in the organisation of state power and the role of material cultural
practice in the manufacture of scientific knowledge (Shapin and
Schaffer 1985/2011; Callon 2004; Latour 2005; Bennett and Joyce 2010).

This proposal builds on such attempts to bridge the history of technology and the history/geography of science. We explicitly ask about the relationship between 'machines' and practices of knowledge making in the wider social and cultural contexts. We apply a broad understanding of 'machines'. They can be considered a (seemingly) independently functioning structure and a human construction and device. 'Machines' may describe ‘small’ instruments or ‘large’ technologies (mechanical systems, or electronic systems). In the
attempt to avoid material determinism, we are particularly interested
in studies that explore the inclusion of human design and practice into the meaning of 'machines', and that investigate the spatiality of such human-machine relationships. We especially welcome papers that
explore the networks of technologies, institutions, and human
practices that allow a given society to select, store and produce scientific knowledge.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2012@rgs.org
German Enlightenment geographical knowledge making and transport technology
Luise Fischer (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
This paper explores connections between the geography of German Enlightenment geographical knowledge and transport technology involved in the circulation of such knowledge. The paper suggests that the spatiality of geographical knowledge production and its circulation within the eighteenth-century German states was – at least in part – related to the spatiality of transport technology.

From the evidence of German eighteenth-century geography books, periodicals, and correspondence, the paper argues that the nature of eighteenth-century German geographical knowledge, and particularly its making, and circulation may be explained by reference to available transport networks. The paper discusses the role of the ship and the mail coach, and demonstrates their significance for the dissemination of geographical knowledge. The paper finally explores different spatial factors relevant for the presence or absence of such technologies and, in consequence, for the (re)production and circulation of German Enlightenment geography.
Debating and transforming forestry. Calculating future prospects of timber supply in the Baltic and North Sea regions, 1850–1914.
Christian Lotz (Herder-Institute, Germany)
From the mid-19th century onward, industrial growth and an increase in the population in many European countries increased the demand for timber. This paper analyses, on the one hand, how forestry scientists discussed measurements to secure the future timber supply; and, on the other hand, how conditions of forest-economy changed in Northern Europe.

The minutes of international forestry conferences show that the scientific community energetically discussed the future prospects of forestry in Europe. William Schlich (Britain), Peter Lund Simmonds (Denmark), and others warned that an ongoing increase in timber consumption would lead to an exhaustion of European woodland. By contrast, Adolf von Guttenberg (Austria) and others argued that the railway-network would connect spaces throughout Europe and would thereby enable timber-trade between regions of shortage and regions of abundance.

National governments took up the issue and started, from about 1890 onward, to send experts to Northern Europe in order to explore wooded areas and to calculate their scope of timber supply. These calculations were based on a complex technique, including means of classical land surveying as well as machines to measure heights and weights of trees (so called “dendrometers”). The calculations were partly successful as long as they dealt with a small region. But when experts tried to calculate future prospects of timber supply for greater areas and longer time periods, these calculations faced overwhelming complexity. The ongoing extension of the railway network in Northern Europe interfered with the calculations: once a new railway line paved its way through a wooded area that had been economically untouched, the area quickly turned into an object of market speculation. Thus, such a new railway-line not only affected the environment in the respective area, but could also change timber prices other commercial and social parameters of the regions that were linked by railway.
Machine Powers: on the Creation of Facts and Figures in West German Labour Statistics 1950-1973.
Jochen F. Mayer (University of Edinburgh)
From the early twentieth century, official statistics and statistical techniques have become pivotal in describing and acting upon Western economies and the social more broadly. Labour statistics were no exception. Quantified and statistical information on vacancies and placing, occupation, and (un-)employment informed social legislation and helped to shape the understanding of the labour market. This paper explores the making and interpretation of labour statistics in mid-twentieth century West Germany at the interface of state administrative order and statistical expertise and knowledge. Despite widespread use of punch-card equipment and, from the late 1950s, electronic machines in federal statistical offices, labour statistical production continued to rely on the intimate relationship between human manual labour and paperwork (file cards). The frailties of human labour – firmly rooted in the de-centralised organisation of labour offices and the territorialised nature of the statistics – will be shown to have conflicted with the administrative aim to reduce multiple human economic activities into standardised procedures. At the same time, the production of the statistics proved too slow and imprecise to keep up with the complexity of human economic activities across the national territory. The paper argues that labour statistical discourse shifted by the late 1960s, when centralised electronic data processing (based on IBM and Siemens machines) promised both to ‘tame’ human subjectivity and produce more reliable and quicker results based on machine-readable insurance cards. These ‘machine dreams’ at the interface of technological and political discourse not only promoted statistical efforts in technical terms, but also served to justify politically their place in the context of a ‘modern’ state.
Calculating machines, tidal science and First World War anti-aircraft ballistics
Anna Carlsson-Hyslop (Cardiff University / Lancaster University, UK)
During the First World War the mathematician Arthur Doodson (1890-1968), a conscientious objector for religious reasons, was working in one of Karl Pearson’s statistical laboratories at University College London. When the laboratory was turned over to war work, doing ballistics calculations for the Anti-Aircraft Experimental Section of the Munitions Inventions Department, Doodson only very reluctantly took part. However, his use of existing calculating machines and creation of new knowledge technologies to smooth curves and manage large numbers of calculations and human calculators eventually led to him being appointed Director of the Computing Branch when Pearson stepped down. After the war Doodson took his new practices of calculation to Liverpool where they were combined with the Cambridge-style mathematics of Joseph Proudman (1888-1975). Together Doodson and Proudman changed how tidal predictions were calculated, aiming to make these more ‘accurate’, for example by introducing changes to tidal prediction machines.

Doodson not only used calculating machines of different types but also the (then new) machinery of multiple regression statistics. The role of material practices in mathematical work has recently been emphasised by Andrew Warwick (2003). In this presentation I will combine attention to this with debates about the impact of the First World War on science (Andrew Hull 1994, 1999 and David Edgerton 2006) to explore Doodson’s practices of calculation and his use of mathematical machines and technologies to produce both ballistics and tidal knowledge.
The (Bristol) Tide Machines. The role of machines in understanding, monitoring, and predicting the complex tidal rhythms of the earth's oceans for scientific, political and commercial purposes
Owain Jones (University of the West of England)
Tides are fundamental and extraordinarily powerful forces which wash across the earth's oceans, having particularly marked effects in various coastal locations. Their poly-rhythmic flow and ebb - repeatedly inundating and revealing areas of intertidal terrain - has been critical to the evolution of life itself, to hunter-gather, agrarian, trading and industrial (coastal) communities. Tides affect coastal topography, sea navigation and terrestrial journeys, conquest and defence, urban and rural land use. They pose challenges to coastal management, flood protection, resource extraction, landscape/ecology conservation, and provide key ecological, recreational commercial assets through ecosystem services. Although the basics of tidal science developed rapidly after Newton's revelation of the forces of gravity and planetary motion, tides are dauntingly complex in process detail, and in detail of spatio-temporal variation due to interacting factors, such as prevailing atmospheric conditions, and thus, importantly, in terms of prediction. Various machines have been devised and deployed for recording tidal rise and fall as a means of longitudinal study of their multiple rhythms. One of the most famous operated in the port of Bristol (UK) in the mid-late 19th century. Results from this machine, delicate pencil lines plotted on huge rolls of paper, were critical to developing understandings of tides and related phenomena. A model of this machine now sits in storage in Bristol's Science Museum, while other modern tide recording devices
remain at work in the city (as elsewhere). The paper explores how the Bristol tide machines, and other tide recording/tracking devices (such as tide clocks), have been embedded in scientific/commercial networks in pursuit of ever more precise understandings and predictions of tidal
patterns. A series of examples will be drawn upon, illustrating the precise tidal predictions needed in a number of historic and contemporary
engineering/logistical/military/planning processes. The machines struggle to tame the liveliness and unruliness of this, at the broad scale, very predictable, rhythm of nature, monitoring and calibrating it for the purposes of hybrid engineering of the social.