Coordinating the material culture of technology

Posted on November 9, 2009 under history of technology, museums, public history

At SHOT several weeks ago, we had a meeting of the TEMSIG group, the technology museums special interest group.*  A small braintrust of public historians of technology (Allison March, Erik Nystrom, David Unger and I) had an exciting conversation.

We realized that most of us, and the many people interested in, broadly, the material culture of technology don’t often go to SHOT or are not particularly involved in that Society, but we do generally make the rounds of other conferences and associations, such as NCPH, AAM and Museums and the Web, where we talk about our work among people in intersecting, but not exactly the same fields.  We are museum people, scholars, public historians and digital historians and have no particular disciplinary homes–so how can we connect, coordinate and collaborate?

We quickly realized that working only within SHOT was probably not useful for us, and we don’t have any interest in forming a new professional association**–so what’s next?  We’re thinking about an informal coordinating committee with one basic aim being to improve communication with some further goals relating to collections (cooperative loans and exhibits), and an interest in nurturing and developing better tools for digitizing material culture (and the mat cult of technology in particular).

What’s next?  Well, who’s in?  Also, we need to develop a catchy name and a basic timeline of plans and goals.  What do you think?


*I have no idea what the E stands for.  Engineering?  Or is it just for euphony?

**The way that professional organizations are broken is one of my personal hobby horses.

8 Comments on “Coordinating the material culture of technology”

  1. I’m definitely interested in helping out with this. Just let me know what I can do.

    Also, As I understand it, the ‘E’ is from TEchnology and is there to make the acronym (relatively) easy to pronounce.

  2. As someone interested in technologies that sound nice, I certainly hope it stands for Euphony. 🙂

  3. While I’m not sure I qualify for the braintrust, I do have a lingering interest in the history of technology and material culture. In particular I’m curious to learn more about how material culture is fitting into the digital humanities – and how digital collections like the ones I work with – can be used for material culture research.

  4. There are no qualification requirements, Richard, just an interest in material culture. There are two major questions in digital material culture, I think: one is how to digitize material culture collections, including emerging standards (of which there are none, or certainly no interoperable ones); and the second is your question as to how digital collections can be used for material culture research. Both are necessary trajectories! Hopefully we can gather some more info on any projects.

  5. The other idea I’ve been kicking around is an online journal. There is no place for folks to “publish” mat cult of tech items (like the decorative arts folks have). It would be useful to know what kinds of artifacts are in public collections across the world, as well as providing a peer-reviewed place for us to share our artifactual research.

  6. I wonder if an alternative – low effort – way to start out is to create a community of practice that trys to push its work out into existing (and fledgling) places like Digital Humanities Quarterly (or perhaps talking with the editors about a “Digital Material Culture” special issue).

    For those of you at looking at the use of material culture collections online, consider contributing to this upcoming issue of Library Trends:
    CFP: Involving Users in the Co-Construction of Digital Knowledge in Libraries, Archives and Museums

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