Mobilising and Using Energy, from Antiquity to the Present Time
International conference organised by the RUCHE
(French Network of Environmental Historians)
8-10 September 2016
Call for papers
In a context where the consequences of the global warming are painfully weighing on the most exposed parts of the planet and their populations, where the catastrophe of Fukushima shatters the last hopes for a clean and cheap nuclear energy, where biofuels and shale gases hardly appear as a sustainable solution for the future, and where an umpteenth international climate conference will soon be held in Paris, nobody doubts anymore that energy issues are critical for our societies. On the other hand, the idea that humanities and social sciences might be relevant for such issues is far less consensual. However, the global warming and the necessity of a transition towards renewable, reliable and un-carbonated energy sources raise many problems, and the so called environmental or climatological sciences will not be able to face them without the help of human and social sciences, and not least, of history.
The evolution of humans’ relationship with energy cannot be reduced to the linear account of the technical innovations that enabled to make use of some resource or other or to implement new converters more efficient than those available before. An energy system is always underpinned by structures and political, economic, social choices that must be brought to light. Only then can we understand how, beyond the mobilisation of the energy existing in nature, its conversion and implementation have very complex reasons and effects. Social, environmental, economic, cultural, political and geopolitical aspects are as important, maybe more important, than strictly technical and physical aspects. The mobilisation of energy implies choices, it brings into play financial or diplomatic interests, favours such or such social group, such or such country. It has consequences on the work of those who provide it and those who use it, on the distribution networks, on occupational and environmental health, on landscapes, ways of life, etc.: all these are issues that fall within the competence of social sciences, not of environmental sciences.
Until recently, history sadly showed little interest in energy issues. In France, only a small number of historians of technology or economy have shown some interest in a question seen by many as secondary or uninteresting whereas it is at the heart of any life, of any economy, and a factor of major inequalities too. If historians like Mathieu Arnoux, Alain Beltran, Paul Benoit, Christophe Bouneau, François Caron, Gabrielle Hecht, Serge Paquier, Jean-Pierre Williot or Denis Woronoff paid some attention to wood, electricity or gas, that is to specific sources of energy, a French-speaking literature dealing not with a specific form of energy but to energy in itself is very rare. The question of a possible shortage of wood at the end of the 18th century was taken up, some time ago, mainly from the point of view of the providing of fuel for industry. But most existing works deal with the 20th century and electricity. Les Servitudes de la puissance. Une histoire de l’énergie [Servitudes of power, a history of energy] (1992 and 2013), by the historian of sciences Jean-Paul Deléage (JeanClaude Debeir et Daniel Hémery, co-authors) is an exception. It endeavours to provide a global perspective, but two thirds of the book deal with the period after 1750.
The non-francophone historiography is richer and older — we can mention the reflections by Lewis Mumford in Technics and Civilization (1934)1 or the pioneering book by Alfred Crosby, Children of the Sun, A history of humanity’s unappeasable appetite for energy (1986), but also Vaclav Smil’s work2 . As in the French case, nonetheless, the researches are usually focused on one specific energy source rather than on an analysis of a national energy mix: see for instance John Nef’s classic study The Rise of the British Coal Industry (1932)3 recently discussed by Robert Allen4 , or the History of British coal industry5 for Great Britain; Keren Leenders’s Verdwenen veenen6 for the Netherlands; or Joachim Radkau’s Holz. Wie ein Naturstoff Geschichte schreibt7 for Germany. There’s no need in this call for papers for a thorough bibliography, but there are two works on energy as a whole whose steps we would like this conference to follow: the conference proceedings (in four different languages) Economia e Energia, Secc. XIII-XVIII, edited by Simonetta Cavaciocchi in 2003 and the remarkable synthesis written by Astrid Kander, Paolo Malanima and Paul Warde, Power to the People, Energy in Europe over the last five centuries (2014).
6) A cultural history of energy
The cultural dimension of energy seems to us insufficiently studied. How was energy, its use and its waste, perceived? How does it influence the way we relate to the world? Research in England and Scotland has shown that changes of attitudes not only stem from rational decisions or price evaluation, but also from appearances (some energies are more fashionable than others18) or traditions (the open coal fire in England19). Political cultures can also be analysed through energy choices: in dictatorships, such as Spain under Franco or the USSR, the gigantism of hydroelectric plants and the feats of the nuclear sector are part of the usual promises for a better future needed to gain the support of the masses.
There are naturally more interesting issues to consider than the few we have just presented. It will be clear nonetheless that this conference aims at questioning all the dimensions of energy, whether economic, social, environmental, technical, cultural or political, and we will welcome any proposal as long as it adopts a historical approach.
Proposals of no more than one page, completed with a short presentation of the author, must be sent to Geneviève Massard-Guilbaud and Charles-François Mathis
Deadline for the submission of proposals: 15 October 2015
Proposals will be examined by the scientific committee before the end of the year.
The organisers are at the moment gathering funds for the conference. They hope to be able to pay for the transport and the accommodation of the participants.
ARNOUX Mathieu, histoire médiévale, professeur à l’Université de Paris-Diderot et directeur d’études à l’EHESS, LIED.
BELTRAN Alain, histoire contemporaine, directeur de recherche au CNRS, IRICE.
BOUNEAU Christophe, histoire contemporaine, professeur à l’Université BordeauxMontaigne.
BOUVIER Yves, histoire contemporaine, maître de conférences à l’Université ParisSorbonne.
BECK Corinne, histoire et archéologie médiévales, professeur à l'Université du HainautCambrésis (Valenciennes), directrice du Laboratoire CALHISTE.
DALMASSO Anne, histoire contemporaine, professeur à l’Université Pierre Mendès-France (Grenoble), LAHRHA.
DURAND Aline, histoire et archéologie médiévales, professeure à l’Université du Maine (Le Mans), CREAAH.
FRIOUX Stéphane, histoire contemporaine, maître de conférences à l’Université Lyon 2, LAHRHA.
KNOLL Martin, histoire régionale de l’Europe, professeur à l’Université de Salzbourg.
MASSARD-GUILBAUD Geneviève, histoire contemporaine, directrice d’études à l’EHESS, ancienne présidente de la Société européenne d’histoire de l’environnement (ESEH), CIRED.
MATHIS Charles-François, histoire contemporaine, maître de conférences à l’Université Bordeaux-Montaigne, CEMMC.
MORERA Raphaël, histoire moderne, chargé de recherches au CNRS, CERHIO.
RAINHORN Judith, histoire contemporaine, maître de conférences à l'Université du Hainaut-Cambrésis (Valenciennes), CALHISTE.
ORAM Richard, histoire médiévale, professeur à l’Université de Stirling (UK).
WARDE Paul, histoire moderne et contemporaine, maître de conférences, Université de Cambridge.
Research centres and institutions contacted for a scientific and/or financial support
Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations
CALHISTE (Cultures, Arts, Littératures, Histoire, Imaginaires, Sociétés, Territoires, Environnement) – EA 4343 (Université du Hainaut-Cambrésis)
CEMMC (Centre d’Etudes des Mondes Moderne et Contemporain) – EA 2958 (Université Bordeaux-Montaigne)
CERCEC (Centre d’Etude des mondes russe, caucasien et centre européen) – UMR 8083 (EHESS / CNRS)
CIRED (Centre International de Recherche sur l’Environnement et le Développement) UMR 8568
Comité d’histoire de la Fondation EDF
IRICE (Identités, relations internationales et civilisations de l’Europe) – UMR 8138 (Universités Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne / Paris-Sorbonne / CNRS)
Labex Ecrire une Histoire Nouvelle de l’Europe
LARHRA (Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes) – UMR 5190 (ENS Lyon / Université Lyon 2 / Université Lyon 3 / Université Pierre Mendès France / CNRS)
LIED (Laboratoire interdisciplinaire des énergies de demain) UMR 8236