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A Comparative History of Iron-Making

Dhruv Raina

By Jan af Geijerstam
Jernkontorets Bergshistoriska, Stockholm, 2004, pp. 454, price not stated.


In a post-Fordist world, the study of industrial society surfaces in many incarnations and one of them is industrial heritage research, whose objective is “to shed light on the social, economic and ideological forces behind industrial growth”. We could then pause to ask as to where this differs from the customary history of technology. The distinction lies both in methods and objectives, for it is based on systematic field studies, employing a wide variety of supplementary resources including archival material in order to reconstruct “a physical representation no longer available for direct study”. Consequently, this research closely embarks on the “preservation of the physical memories of industrial society”. The emphasis is on drawings, maps, pictures and photographs; and this book has hundreds of absolutely marvellous pictures of construction works and workers, locations, landscapes, blast furnaces, lime kilns, hearths, maps from the late nineteenth century to our own times. While new fashions would privilege the industrial heritage of the West, the author reckons with the integration of the colonial and industrial history of Asia with industrialism in Europe. The book develops on a doctoral thesis in industrial heritage studies submitted to the department of history of science and technology at the Royal Technical Institute, Stockholm.   One of the features of the new history of technology is its break with both the linear theory of technological evolution and with linear historical narrative; and in its place we have a web of connected histories, intersecting time lines and multiple rhythms of technological development. The book under review commences with a brief but remarkably interesting methodological preamble that seeks to weave together, while simultaneously justifying, the several theoretical frames that are mobilized in the study of the installation of two iron works in India in the second half of the nineteenth century by three Swedish engineers. The preamble naturally raises a set of questions around the standard theoretical frames that normally structure such an investigation, which include modernization/development theory, the centre periphery framework, and the standard technology transfer models. Instead the author chooses to adapt the ideas of socio-technical systems and social carriers of technology proposed by Thomas Hughes and that has been the staple fare in the social construction of technology studies for some time now. This tells us only one side of the story. The question of technology and colonialism has for long been addressed by historians of technology from Daniel ...

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