Steaming Plant or Steam Punk? Researching Industrial Archaeology and Heritage in the 21st Century

Posted on May 22, 2020


This session seeks to build on the discussion of a decade ago about the role of industrial archaeology and industrial heritage research and fieldwork. This lively debate was captured in the 2009 Horning and Palmer edited volume ‘Crossing Paths or Sharing Tracks? Future directions in the archaeological study of post-1550 Britain and Ireland’. There are over 600 independent volunteer-run industrial museums in the UK and nine industrial-themed UK World Heritage Sites, whilst around two-thirds of all developer-funded archaeological work produces post-medieval and industrial period material. Yet how relevant or understood is industrial archaeology and heritage in the second decade of the 21stcentury? This session is seeking papers that discuss and challenge the more traditional and newer approaches to these subjects, rather than having narrower talks on sites that have been recorded or conserved. We would encourage papers that consider the following Issues: Are perceptions of the subject barriers to engagement and participation? Whose archaeology and heritage is it we are recording? Are the terms industrial archaeology and industrial heritage still relevant and helpful? Where do the current trends for urban exploring and steam punk fit into our understanding of industrialisation and industrial heritage tourism? Have archaeologists moved beyond simply recording the data to provide explanations for industrialisation? And does it matter than very few university departments have dedicated undergraduate modules or post-graduate courses dealing with the subject?

Mike Nevell (University of Salford)

Funky Archaeology – The Legacy of Industrial Buildings in the 20th Century.

Understandably, archaeological research and fieldwork on Industrial period sites tends to concentrate on the construction and early uses of such sites. This work allows us to develop an understanding of life, employment, technological advances etc. of the 18th and 19th centuries. But this is not the end of the story, vast numbers of buildings and sites from this period continued in use throughout the 20th century, in fact some are still going strong in the 21st. This paper will consider the legacy of the Industrial period through the buildings that form our last tangible link with that time. Using the Reno nightclub, Hulme as an example, the paper will explore the later uses our Industrial heritage has been put to and what impact that heritage has on current custodians and users.

Sarah Cattell (University of Salford)

How do you Define Heritage in Fast Moving Fields such as Telecommunications?

Telecommunications has had a transformational impact on society. Whether that is through the development of international communications, the evolution of the telephone into the mobile and onwards to the smartphone, or the Internet and its associated world wide web. However, much of the technology that underpins this revolution lies hidden from public view and therefore tends to be taken for granted. It is also an incredibly fast moving field with an industry that is commercially driven and ruthlessly focused on today and tomorrow with little regard to preserving what happened yesterday.

Using examples such as the BT red phonebox and the rapid replacement of mobile networks, the paper considers the challenge for industrial archaeology: by the time an object is considered important and worthy of preservation, it has often already gone and been replaced with something more modern. How do we as archaeologists become far more agile in terms of recognising significance early enough, adopting more aggressive contemporary collecting policies and having the correct policies in place to enforce preservation?

Nigel Linge (University of Salford) and Andy Sutton (BT)

‘What’s in a Name?’ – Concepts, Practice and Prejudice in Industrial Archaeology

For a discipline that has established itself and grown for more than half a century, it is surprising that it is still often hardly understood outside of the academic cocoon. While post-industrial communities are eager to reconnect with their past (in its heritage version or through urban explorers’ photography) regardless of the name its scientific research may have, the name of the discipline helps us bring forward a set of concepts and practices that identify industrial archaeology in the field. But, as experience in Portugal shows, this set of tools isn’t still widespread enough to be known by other areas of archaeology or most archaeologists in the field, damaging the record, regardless of any effects it may have in the affirmation of a name.

Leonor Medeiros (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)

Industrial Archaeology or Railway Anthropology?

This talk shall discuss the application of industrial archaeology to the study of railway artefacts in their broader physical context, and whether ‘railway anthropology’ could be a more suitable term.
Since the first publication of the term by Michael Rix in the journal The Amateur Historian in 1955 Industrial Archaeology has wrangled with its identity as an academic discipline in balancing the responsibilities of understanding human endeavour in industry and as a rallying call for industrial heritage conservation. Often in application to railways industrial archaeology becomes limited by scientific explanation and heritage; the preservation of a locomotive, for example. This risks the loss of the artefact’s cultural significance in its broader physical and socio-historic context. Post-processual archaeology calls for anthropological approaches to artefacts; does the study of railways need a new term – ‘railway anthropology’? Or has the definition of industrial archaeology been misinterpreted as the study and preservation of technology, rather than of the society in which it was created? If so, could anthropological approaches to railway studies be the truest application of industrial archaeology, meaning a new term is not required but that the original methodologies be correctly applied?

Siobhan Osgood (Trinity College Dublin)

The Wider Impact and Relevance of Industrial Archaeology in the Social Sphere

Industrial archaeological research traditionally focuses on the remains associated with industrial processes, however industrialisation touched all areas of life in the 19th century, from the food eaten and clothes worn to the way people travelled, the time and of course how people worked. Furthermore, industrialisation had enormous impacts on the population, urbanisation, housing, and rural and urban landscapes. This paper suggests that whilst the terms industrial archaeology/heritage may still have a role to play, the nature and impact of industrialisation can only be fully achieved by integrating traditional, functional analysis of sites of industry with socially focussed research on the communities involved in and affected by industrialisation. Using examples from riverside central London, this paper demonstrates the ways in which people not directly involved in industrial processes were affected by industrialisation and the dominant ideologies of the day.

Hanna Steyne Chamberlin (University of Manchester)

Belford’s Divergence: or is ‘Industrial Archaeology’ Relevant in an AONB?

Katy Whitaker, (University of Reading)

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