Call for paper: Steering Innovation in Communication Infrastructures (1849-2019)

Congress, Bern, Switzerland, 5–6 February 2020
Homage to the 170 years since the founding of Swiss Post (est. 1849)

Organized by the History and Computing Association,
the Museum of Communication, and the PTT Archives, Bern, Switzerland

–> New Deadline for submission: September 15, 2019

Download the full call for paper in PDF

The Internet of Objects, Artificial Intelligence, Smart Cities, and the 5G mobile communication standard are among the many challenges facing today public and private entities in charge of communication infrastructures. That technological evolution is “disruptive” is, however, nothing new: from the invention of telegraphy and railways to Internet and drones, the communications sector’s established ways of doing had to be repeatedly reinvented.

The interaction between technological innovation and governance of communication infrastructures — the essence of the “guiding star”, as suggested by the title — constitutes the theme of the conference in February 2020. We wish to explore how innovation was steered by postal and telecommunication companies, as well as by other public and private players in the field of communication infrastructures: enterprises, governments, professional and state organizations, the users.

Innovation being inherently unforeseeable, it can be regulated and steered only with difficulty — which didn’t hold companies and governments back from trying to channel technological evolution and make it more compliant with their respective motivations. Thus the question arises where “innovation” is located for the different players on the spectrum ranging from invention and vision to utopia and ideology. The conference intends to shed light on how the steering of innovation in postal and other communication infrastructures functions.

These questions have often been explored in the fields of business history and the history of science and technology. The organizing committee is, however, interested in a multidisciplinary approach, which would reveal the many factors at play in the steering of innovation, such as social, economical, political, cultural, and technological. The committee is furthermore seeking contributions on national case studies — Switzerland, the conference venue, is a most welcome study case —, to be balanced by international and transnational studies.

The conference will also be an opportunity to question the utility of historical analysis to contemporary efforts in steering innovation in communication infrastructure. To this end a round table will be organized, bringing together historians, engineers, managers and politicians.

Manuscript submission
Paper proposals should contain a 500 words-long abstract and a short CV and be submitted until September 15 to info@ahc-ch. Authors will be notified in August about the outcome of the paper selection. Contributions are expected in English, French, German, and Italian. Contributions will be published in the journal “Geschichte und Informatik / Histoire et Informatique