Blogpost: The 8th Tensions of Europe, Athens 2017

Blog-post by Julia Erol, Germany/ Norway

This year I attended the Tensions of Europe for the first time. I came to Athens because I was interested in the research that could be combined under the work theme: across borders“. Clearly, this short blog post is not meant to fully summarize the conference, but describe some personal observations. At the 8th ToE, I observed and participated in a variety of events devoted to making (historical) research related to cross disciplinary topics more diverse, and inclusive.

Welcoming is the word that describes the atmosphere of the conference, its organizers, and its hosts best. The broad social programme contained the welcome reception, guided lunch tours through downtown Athens, and the National Archaeological Museum, and last but not least the conference banquet.

Engaging were the opening remarks by Aristotle Tympas, Stathis Araposthatis, and Nina Wormbs. In her opening statement, Wormbs described the history, and the character of the network. Having no memberships, and no other formalized structure the ToE network is managed by enthusiasm“, supposed to be a platform for cooperation, and conversation. Following her advice, we kept the conversation(s) going“, during the conference.

Parallel Session 1D:

Travelling Technologies

One of the first conference blocks I visited was the Travelling Technologies session. A variety of issues from International Standards in road freight standard business (1900-2000)“ (Jørgen Burchardt/ Denmark), Food Technologies and Technological  Transfers (ca. 1910-1940)“ (Elitsa Stoilova/ Bulgaria) with regards to Bulgarian Yoghurt, and A look at British colonial engineering expertise through the case of Cyprus (1898-1962)“ (Serkan Karas/ Greece// Michael Stavroula/ Cyprus) was represented. The developments of international transport- and food standards, and the implications of those deployments for present times were addressed by the presentations.

Parallel Session 2C: There to stay: Articulating the tension between volatility and entrenchment in border regimes infrastructures

A rather current development, the refugee-crisis, was the matter of debate of the second conference block. The crisis being present in media-, and political debates over the last year(s), five researchers came to present their scientific perspective on the matter. Annalisa Pelizza (Netherlands) articulated “the tension between volatility and entrenchment in border regimes infrastructure“. Melania Antonakaki (Germany) and Bernd Kasparek (Germany) asked “Europeanisation on whose terms? What remains of the hotspot approach after the Summer of Migration“. Silvan Pollozek (Germany) described in “Reform & Support. Interventions on infrastructures of border and migration management“ the activities and organization of Frontex. Mariangela Veikou (Netherlands) presented “Thoughts on post crisis developments in Greece and Europe”. Vasilis Galis (Denmark) and Jane Summerton (Sweden) delt with “Digital routes. Borders, infrastructures and migratory practices in navigating migratory paths in contemporary Europe“, pointing out the ethical difficulties researching-, and presenting topics related to refugees.

Parallel Session 3C: Sustainable Urban Mobility

It was exciting to attend session 3C on Sustainable Urban Mobility. Rather unusual research agendas were presented by a workgroup consisting of Dutch and Danish researchers. Frank Schipper (Netherlands), Martin Emanuel (Sweden), and Ruth Oldenziel (Netherlands) presented their work on the “History in Sustainable Urban Mobility”, the single researcher Patrick Bek (Netherlands) talked about „Transport Poverty, Governance, and Cycling“, Henk-Jan Dekker (Netherlands)  presented his work on  „Building a nation of cyclists. The Swedish-Dutch workgroup gave an insight into their latest work, published as: „Cycling Cities: The European Experience“ of 14 European cities. The presentation did not just underline the success of sustainable mobility, but pointed out it´s critical sides. The economic notion of cycling dividing people into groups, as well as bicycles as not sustainable were mentioned. Patrik Bek and Henk-Jan Deker presented their Ph.D.s emphasizing the meaning of cycling for different (social) groups and the political implications of cycling policies.

Parallel session 4: Stations, Labs and Satellites: Real and Imagined Infrastructures in Outer Space

The conference continued on Saturday morning with history from “outer space“. Alexander C. T. Geppert (USA/ China) focused on “Space Stations and Colonization Scenarios through the 1970`s“, Tilman Siebenreich (Germany) lectured about “Thinking Trans-globally: Spacelab and Europe´s Future in Outer Space, 1973-1987“ enriching his presentation with an (almost) extraterrestrial audio file. The audience of both presentations profited from the richly illustrated PowerPoints, not just guiding through the presentations, but giving an impression (among others) of the historical ideas of living on space bases, and planning spacelabs.

Parallel session 5B: Communication across borders: Visions, threats and political conflict around transnational communication infrastructures in twentieth century European history

The presenters in the session, focused on historical aspects of communication. Jakob Ward (Great Britain) spoke about “The Single World System: Submarine Cables and Satellites from the Cold War to the Information Age”. He unfolded the interrelations of technological race and political implications. Christian Heinrich-Frank (Germany) and Lenard Larborie (France) accentuated the meaning of their scientific union. Having met on an earlier ToE, discovering that they were working on related topics, they decided to cooperate. The collaboration is a success story of the network that cannot be emphasized enough. The presentation “Communication without Borders? Transnational Cooperation between European PTTs during WWII” concluded that European post war regimes post build on “before-during-afterwar” structures. Structures erected under German lead and thus “hidden” in the post war era. Sanne Ågard Jensen (Denmark) lectured about “Borders in peace, borders in war: The Telex-Gentex networks of Cold War Europe”. Using a richly illustrated PowerPoint she explained the importance of the telex-technology, especially with regards to the extension of the communication network of NATO. Andreas Marklund (Denmark) closed the session talking about “Trawling the Wires: Mass Surveillance of Transnational Telephony in Denmark around WWII”. Marklund underlined the significance of working with original sources. Giving an example from his work, he talked about a telephone protocol listing different calls that had been ticked off with a pencil. Revealing the inspection of the document by a person, the protocol may also reveal a surveillance technique.

Parallel session 6B: Infrastructural technologies in peripheral European contexts

The different notions of infrastructure were evident in the last session block on Saturday. Aliki Vaxevangolou (Greece) presented her work on “The Social Reception of Electrical Technology in Interwar Greece”, Duygu Aysal Cin (Turkey) explained the “Transnational Circulation of Knowledge and Skills around Ottoman Electrification (1910-1914)”. Cin highlighted the influence and dominance of multinational companies in the process of electrification in the Ottoman Empire. She underlined the lack of local competitors in the process of technization. Alexia Sofia Papazafeiropoulou (Greece), Frank Schipper (Netherlands), and Kostas Vattes (Greece) were “Gazing at the West. The transnational orientations of Balkan mobility infrastructure during 1950-1960”, Julia Erol (Germany) displayed a poster on “Beyond Borders. The significance of Norwegian hydroelectricity”.

It was interesting to see so many different studies united under one theme at the Tensions of Europe. I hope that the network will stay successful and make history a more diverse and equitable discipline.



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