History of Science and Technology. Museum Studies

Dear colleagues!

We invite you to take part in the 14th International scientific and practical conference, titled "History of Science and Technology. Museum Studies", which will take place in Moscow, December 15−16th 2020.

2020 conference topic:

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Conference organizers:

  • The Polytechnic Museum
  • National Research University Higher School of Economics
  • Moscow State University Faculty of History
  • S.I. Vavilov Institute for the History of Science and Technology, RAS
  • Scientific and Technological Museum Promotion Association (“AMNIT”)

We welcome historians, sociologists, philosophers, culturologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and museum specialists whose interests include the history of science, methodology, and technology in Russia and the Russian Empire from the second half of the 19th century to present. This year we invite you to discuss problems related to the influence the various challenges of our time (climate change, global epidemics, political and economic crises, war) had on the emergence and disappearance of new technological ideas and chains, how scientific directions, schools, theories, and disciplines formed and fell apart.


1. Technology and Territory: Regional Economies, Strategies and Adaptation Actors in Times of Crises and Radical Transformations in the Russian Empire and the USSR
Section proposed by Moscow State University Centre for Economic History and Higher School of Economics Laboratory for Environmental and Technological History

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It is evident that a historical view of relationships between societies and their territories through the prism of regional economies, natural resource history, and related technologies is necessary. The search for, description, and forecasting of the extraction of natural resources requires various technologies: mapping, drilling, measurement, echo sounding, aerial and satellite photography, and much more. Resources are not only localized and mapped — the possibilities of their extraction are researched, and infrastructure for their exploitation is ensured. Such technological interventions are debated in society, and they are viewed in conjunction with other services of the territory, such as agriculture, recreation, and preservation of biodiversity, as well as the interests of various institutes and actors, including experts.
In this section we would like to discuss the use of technology used in fields of economic activity both related and unrelated to resources (transport, urbanization, trade, production) on different types of territories with a focus on expert knowledge. Expert knowledge, which often surfaces as a result of encounters with new locations, cultures, and transnational interests, are of crucial importance at every stage of resource exploitation. We want to discuss how much expert knowledge and local knowledge and vision clash with each other. How is the creation or adoption of technology of resource usage related to the attempts to gain control over a territory? How did expert knowledge and the use of technology contribute to the creation and change of the image of territories and national or international legal order?
We invite the participants to present case studies and summaries related to any geographical territories in the Russian Empire and the USSR which show changes in the relationship between regional economies and territories and their transformation due to political, economic, social, and ecological crises.

2. The Anthropocene and Climate: Social Studies Perspective
Section proposed by the European University at Saint Petersburg Centre for Science and Technology Studies

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Humankind’s growing influence on our planet and its surroundings has caused us to turn to a new way of viewing the relationships between the Earth, nature, people, and technology. Natural, biological, engineering, social, and human sciences propose their own understanding of how the fine lifeline on the planet is created and supported, how it is regulated and why it gets destroyed. Nature and human science experts hold different opinions on the unification of knowledge from different scientific fields. This section proposes to demonstrate the variety of views on the concept of the Anthropocene and the relationship between humankind and society and the planet presented by Russian social researchers.
We offer to discuss the history and modernity of Earth and Russia sciences; the construction of scientific knowledge of climate in Russian studies; scientific and political controversies around the topic of climate; public understanding of the Anthropocene and climate change; the correlation between Earth science and traditional understanding (eg. native peoples of Russia) of the planet and humankind’s interaction with it; the role of scientific communication in public understanding of climate change; how civic activists react to climate change; the influence of climate change on the concept of social justice.

3. Rail Transport in Russia as a Reflection of Social and Natural Changes.
Section proposed by Pereslavl Narrow-Gauge Railway Museum and The Scientific and Methodological Historical Railway Heritage Educational Centre

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From the second half of the 19th century railways played an integral role in our country. The development of the lines of communication was directly affected by geographical and climate conditions. It was also directly affected by wars and revolutions, periods of economic growth and decline, changes in the political system. Russia developed its own school of transport engineers, economists, and managers; new, unique technical ideas and methods were conceived and implemented. The transport systems themselves had a considerable effect on the changes in the environment, economy, and people’s lifestyles. We offer to discuss the effect of external events on the development of technology and methods by using railway transport as an example.

4. As Far as the Eye can’t See: Medical Statistics in Russia as an Instrument of Control
Section proposed by Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities Centre for Medicine History (Higher School of Economics) and N.A. Semashko National Research Institute of Public Health

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Medical statistics, which shows the level of infections and infection-related deaths, are a primary tool for exercising control over epidemics. With the help of tables, diagrams, and health maps that were supplied with statistics, one can monitor territories, determine their pathogenic status, and take measures to improve the situation. The interest of local authorities and international organizations in accurate data, relevant diagnosis and recording methods influences the context of information represented by digits, the speed and methods of its collection.
The goal of this section is to discuss Russia’s historical experience — its attempts to create and use statistical tools to optimize and predict how medicine as a social branch will develop, while taking into account regionalism and the cultural heterogeneity of our country. Keeping in mind previous and current medical, sanitary, and statistical standards, we plan to view quantitative parameters used for both "upper" and external governmental regulation and "low" and internal social and professional self-development.
We are interested in the constitution of statistics as if they were an optical tool, its distortive quality, the ability to create zones of visibility and invisibility. These qualities allow them to not only control pandemics, but also social fears, as well as justify political decisions. The Coronavirus pandemic proves that this is possible even when the level of trust in statistics is low. We propose to discuss the mechanisms of recording statistics of infectious diseases; international agreements on classification and recording of diseases; quantitative indicators for declaring epidemics and pandemics; the use of digital sickness rate data for administrative decision-making; the crisis of confidence, informational excess of sanitary statistics.

5. Cons(quests) of Coordination: Controlling Soviet Science and Technology in the Age of Late Socialism
Section proposed by Higher School of Economics Moscow and Saint Petersburg campuses

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One of late modernity’s features and global challenges is the rapid complication of reality and the techno-social ways of existing in it, including socialism. The increase in variety, acceleration of processes, change of scope, growth of indecision, and care about consequences in conjunction with the expansion of access to rapidly improving technologies have set into motion the new coordination machines: systematic approach, network or PERT models, project managing, and creation of global databases. We offer to discuss how these machines were designed, actuated, used, how they broke down and were consequently disassembled under a Socialist economy and Soviet methods of managing science and technology from the 1950’s to 1980’s.
Soviet coordination machines strengthened the bureaucratization of scientific research and engineering and made possible a direct political intervention, created new hierarchies and tensions in centralization (parochialism), changed the nature of scientific and technological work, and made labour pointless. How did adaptation to complication go along with their creation during the control of the Soviet coordination machines over science and technology? What was the Soviet techno-social response to the world’s challenges? How (in)effective was this response? What lessons can we learn while describing and analyzing it?

6. Post-War Restoration of Cities after the Second World War: Problems, Approaches, Projects, and Everyday Life
Section proposed by The Polytechnic Museum

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People are not the only victims of wars. Things that define people’s lives — settlements, facilities, scientific and technological infrastructure — are also affected. We want to discuss how Soviet cities, manufacturing facilities, scientific institutes, and design bureaus were restored and rebuilt.
The restoration took place in the middle of the Stalinist period — with all the ideological and practical specifics that characterize it. The subject of our discussion is system solutions — change of approach to town planning, manufacturing and "intelligent" infrastructure, concrete solutions related to city objects, research centres, manufacturing facilities, and universities, as well as people and teams who searched for, made and implemented these solutions — as much as changes in everyday life and society caused by these processes.

7. Evolution of Scientific Research in the USSR: Personal and Collective Strategies for Knowledge Production during Limited Scientist Autonomy
Section proposed by Memorial Society

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The history of the USSR left a considerable mark on the possibility of reproducing "normal science". How did Soviet scientists work in these conditions? Many of them perished during wars and revolutions, many emigrated, and many were shot or sent to the Gulag. Entire scientific fields became targets for ideological campaigns and were practically destroyed, just as it happened to genetics in 1948. At the same time scientists and designers remained an important mobilization resource for the government: without them it would have been impossible to plan and force the realization of industrialization and other development programs. The government continued to finance universities and scientific institutes, created closed design departments ("sharashkas"), as well as invested in the building of science cities ("naukograds") and experimental installations. All this greatly determined the field of possibilities for Soviet scientists and set the boundaries for implementing their research potential.
We offer to view personal behavioural models and biographies of scientists in context of the Soviet government’s motives and actions in relation to science. In which fields of scientific work could the scientists retain their intellectual freedom even under Stalinism? Which knowledge was kept secret; which research had to be and could be conducted underground, semi-officially? How much was the autonomy of science restored in the late Soviet period, when the ideology’s influence on scientist and scientific establishment’s activities began to weaken.
In this section we would like to discuss moral dilemmas that arise from the relationships between scientists and a hegemonic government; inevitable compromises that scientific groups and scientists had to reach; ways of communication between scientists, citation possibilities, contacts with foreign science; adaptation methods that allowed the Soviet society to partially retain the human capital under repressions and limited freedom.

8. Challenges and Answers: Communication Strategies, Practices, and Instruments of Russian Scientific Diaspora
Section proposed by The State Museum of Russian Diaspora

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Our time challenges the scientific society and every scientist to choose new social practices and communicative strategies, often focusing on the problem of personal and professional survival. Should one keep using the traditional approach or follow the progressive route and formulate new agendas? Should one accept the new authority and sign an agreement with the ruling elite or attempt to self-isolate and avoid direct contact? Should one continue buildings one’s career in their native country or a different scientific environment? These questions continue to define the professional careers of scientists, schools and institutions, and entire disciplinary societies — international and/or national.
We would like to discuss how the emergence of new scientific and organizational tools — "Russian scientific diaspora", international joint projects, grant programs, and exchanges — affected the development of scientific thought and scientific establishments in the USSR/Russia and the countries which accepted Russian scientist migrants. Which models of realizing "ours" and "theirs/foreign" scientific potential were offered and chosen by scientists throughout the 20th-21st centuries? Was this practice reflected in private and state museum collections, archives, and exhibitions?

9. Daring Inventors: Evolution of Learning and Survival
Section proposed by The Polytechnic Museum and Moscow State University Geography Faculty

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This section is dedicated to the history of technology and methodology used during the exploration of the Arctic and the Antarctic. During polar expeditions one often finds themselves on the brink of survival. It is no secret that great difficulties follow any work on the North and South poles. Harsh weather conditions, remoteness, and lack of any life-supporting infrastructure were obstacles that polar explorers had to face not only in the late medieval times, when man had just begun to explore the Arctic, but also now, despite humankind’s impressive achievements. Willpower isn’t the only thing that plays a deciding role in saving the expedition members’ lives, the members achieving set goals and successfully carrying out research and work — thorough technical and psychological preparation are just as important. Flexibility and resourcefulness of team members, their ability to come up with new tools, learn new survival tactics and methods helped save not only people, but also scientific research countless times.
We offer to discuss the development of seafaring navigation and locomotion in polar areas; the evolution of techniques and instrumental methods of nature research; the emergence, life, and disappearance of various settlements on the coasts of Arctic and Antarctic seas; "forced" inventions and tools, survival tactics in extreme conditions; innovation and inventiveness of polar researchers.

10. "(De)autonomization of Mobility: Technology, Spaces, and Practices"
Section proposed by the European University at Saint Petersburg Centre for Science and Technology Studies

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The ability to independently choose points of departure/arrival (freedom of movement) and an area of expertize (laissez-faire) is the cornerstone of the European understanding of freedom. A ubiquitous and convincing example of this is the modern system of automobility. Autonomous transport and telecommunication devices (cars, drones, robots) promise even more freedom and independence in the future. But the present challenges researchers to take into account the flip side of autonomization — control, vulnerability, and instability.
We offer speakers to accept this challenge and discuss the interrelations between (de)autonomization, (de)digitalization, and (de)smartization in the areas of transport and telecommunications and the reconfiguration of global and local (im)mobile people, viruses, information, money, goods, and images. How is the (im)possibility of spatial mobility related to the (de)autonomization of individuals, groups, and institutions in modern history? What do global epidemics (COVID-19) and local disasters (tornadoes, earthquakes, blackouts) allow us to understand about (de)autonomization of mobility and spaces? What role does modern technology play in this situation? How is the autonomy of people and things constructed and how is it presented today in the context of unmanned transport?

11. Human Technologies, from Gland Transplants to Human Chipping: Lessons from the History of Science
Section proposed by S.I. Vavilov Institute for the History of Science and Technology, RAS

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In this section we would like to discuss the end results of a century that has passed since the most radical experiments on the human nature were performed. The 1920’s were a time of new methods of artificial fertilization, experiments on embryos, projects for rejuvenation and life-prolonging, attempts at gender reassignment surgery, and many other "human" technologies. During this time scientists and technicians described and gave their own evaluation of biological projects for revolutionizing the human nature. A century later we discover that human development is facing even more complicated challenges. Discussions on posthumanism are taking concrete shape before our very eyes. For some it is the cause of euphoria, for others — a sense of impending doom. The history of science can and must serve as an instrument of reflection and criticism (in the Kantian sense of the word) of previous and contemporary human technologies.


12. History of Museum Collections: Creation and Development
Section proposed by the Polytechnic Museum and Scientific and Technological Museum Promotion Association (“AMNIT”)

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This session celebrates 170 years since the birth of Petr Petrovich Petrov (1850 — 1928), a renowned Russian scientist in the field of chemical technology of fibrous materials, founder of Moscow school of chemical engineers, and one of the founders and first curator of the Moscow Museum of Applied Science (the Polytechnic Museum) collections.

We invite our colleagues who research museum collections to discuss specific goals and methods for researching museum collections, share experience in this field, present their most interesting results of current research.
We offer to discuss the modern practice of creating and completing technological and scientific collections in regional, local, university, and departmental museums; biographies and contribution of museum collectors, curators, and researchers to museum collections; the history and purpose of books and book collections in scientific and technological and university museums; the influence of museum studies on the development of collections; the specifics of the formation of and control over collections in scientific and technological museums in the age of social unrest.


Applications for participation in the conference are accepted until 10.10.2020, inclusively.
Applications sent after the deadline will not be considered.
One author may send one application. The application must include a thesis summary of the presentation no less than 2000 and no more than 4000 characters. The organizing committee has the right to refuse applications that do not meet the requirements. Authors will be notified of the committee’s decision before 25.10.2020г.
Registration free of charge.

Apply here

At the end of the conference a compendium will be released. Thesis summaries included in the programme will be available on the Polytechnic Museum’s website during the conference.

Contact numbers

Organization questions:
Tatiana Aleksandrovna Glushkova
8 916−008−12−05; 8 (495) 730 5438, доб.11−86;

Conference programme director:
Anna Anatolyevna Kotomina
8 916−008−12−41; 8 (495) 730 5438, доб. 12−36.

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