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Summing up

December 20, 2019

As you may have noticed, I’m probably one of the laziest bloggers in the world: in a good year I produce perhaps 4-5 blogposts, sometimes a bit less, sometimes a bit more. Now, seeing that I wrote my last post on this site three months ago, I get the feeling that I need to prove I’m still alive. So here is a brief summary of some of the things I’ve been up to this autumn (and I can tell you it’s still autumn in Stockholm, no winter yet in sight!).

In terms of research, I have had two main foci: on the one hand I have been working on finishing up our exciting project on Swedish resource colonialism, mentioned on this site a couple of times in the past few years. Together with my colleagues Dag Avango (who is now professor of history at Luleå University of Technology), Hanna Vikström (currently a post-doc at Umeå University) David Nilsson and Karl Bruno, I’m wrapping up several years of research in an English-language monograph. It will be completed, as far as the writing is concerned, by June 2020. In relation to this project I also spent some of the autumn working on shorter essays and articles on the history of natural resources from different perspectives, including a review essay piece on the historical dynamics of resource frontiers, through which I really felt I learnt a lot. It will soon be published in the German NTM journal. Another piece focuses on resource extraction in twentieth-century history as part of a larger, multi-author book project on the cultural history of technology, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2022.

On the other hand, our big ERC project on the history of nuclear energy, NUCLEARWATERS, continues to gain momentum and it has been one of my greatest pleasures this autumn to see how my three PhD students – Alicia Gutting, Achim Klüppelberg and Siegfried Evens – who work in the project have all made remarkable progress. They have done impressive archival research in Germany, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Estonia and Russia, while also developing new surprising ideas of a more theoretical nature. I am being helped in advising the three student-researchers by my brilliant senior colleagues Kati Lindström and Anna Storm. Anna was recently appointed professor of technology and social change at Linköping University, but will stay in our project throughout its life-time. In January I will be welcoming an additional senior researcher in the project, Roman Khandozhko from Russia, who has earlier been working in another big nuclear history project at Tübingen in Germany. If you are interested in my own work in NUCLEARWATERS, you can take a look at this video that was recorded while I presented some of my finds in Helsinki a few weeks ago. NUCLEARWATERS also has its own website and blog, which by now lives its own life.

Since 2018 I am also running a research project called Cold War Coasts. Like NUCLEARWATERS, it has (since a few months) its own website and blog. In January 2020 I will be publishing a first outcome – or rather a kind of bi-product – of this project, in the form of a thin book in Swedish language, called “Döden på stranden“. In the book I sketch how numerous seashores have been places of fear not only during the Cold War era, but throughout human history. I will come back to the book once it has been published early next year. During 2019 we established a promising cooperation with Tallinn University for carrying out the Estonian case study in Cold War Coasts. During 2020 we will start our real work on the case studies.

I have not done much teaching this autumn. But on those occasions when I did teach, it struck me how valuable and necessary it is for a scholar – at least when you can choose relatively freely what to teach. The teaching world in my department is really upside-down: we are not, like many others, struggling with heavy teaching loads, but, on the contrary, eagerly looking out for new teaching opportunities. The reason is that we do not have any programme of our own, but merely run a few courses that are mostly elective or voluntary. Nobody in our department has a teaching load of more than, say, 20%, which might sound like paradise for anyone who dreams of doing more research and less teaching. But the backside of the coin is that what we do, which is mainly research, can only be sustained through continued success in raising external research grants. So far that has worked fairly well, but who knows for how long?

In relation to teaching, another nice part of my academic life this autumn has been a new cooperation with the Liber publishing house in Sweden and two secondary school teachers at Anna Whitlocks gymnasium in Stockholm, Mimmi von Plato and Henrik Wiberg. I am cooperating here with my KTH colleagues Nina Wormbs and Cecilia Åsberg. The idea, which is now materializing, is to place the historical, social, political and cultural perspectives centre-stage in Swedish secondary schools’ technology programme. So from next year, technology students in our country will be basing their learning on quite a different coursebook than what has been available so far!

A final autumn highlight that I must mention was my trip to Italy in October. I went there primarily for the SHOT annual meeting in Milan, but I also took the opportunity to explore the Po Valley’s nuclear geography and history. Then, I took the train down to Rome to interview Felice Vinci, a former nuclear engineer who, following Italy’s nuclear phase-out in the aftermath of Chernobyl, turned to the Greek classics and launched the theory that the Iliad and the Odyssey are, in fact, set in the Baltic Sea. Read my NUCLEARWATERS blogpost on this, and, if you can read Swedish, check out my newspaper essay on Vinci’s Baltic theory, published back in 2008!

From → Energy

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