CFP: Hazardous Chemicals: Agents of Risk and Change (1800-2000) - Deadline 1 Jul. 2011

Call for papers to be delivered at the workshop

Hazardous Chemicals: Agents of Risk and Change (1800-2000)

Conveners: Deutsches Museum Research Institute; Department of History, Maastricht
University; and Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society
Location: Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany
Date: 27-29 April 2012

The Research Institute of the Deutsches Museum, the Department of History at Maastricht
University and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society are planning a joint
workshop to be held at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, in April 2012 dealing with the history
of hazardous chemicals.

Chemistry is undoubtedly a science with a great social and economic impact. During the
past two centuries millions of new substances have been described, and thousands of them
have become novel industrial products. In several cases the scale of production, together
with by-products and wastes, has led to previously unknown effects on human health and on
the environment. Growing awareness of the impacts of hazardous substances on the economy,
society and the environment has stimulated new scientific insights, discussion of risk
perception, and new legislation. Advances in analysis and detection of chemicals have played a
large role in this respect. Since the 1960s, industrialized countries have adopted a
framework for assessing and regulating toxic chemicals that remains in force today. By this
means attempts have been made, with varying degrees of success, to control individual
pollutants using scientific and technical tools, including risk assessment, toxicological
testing, epidemiological investigations, pollution control devices, trace measurements, and waste
treatment and disposal technologies.

The present workshop will focus on the interaction between (a) the growing presence of
hazardous substances in the economy and the environment, and (b) the cultural, scientific,
regulatory and legal responses by modern society to these hazards. In each paper a
specific chemical, or group of related chemicals, will take centre stage: from the start of its
industrial production, via the proliferation of its uses, and the discovery of its effects
on workers, consumers and/or on the biosphere, to attempts to control its emission and
use, including the development of alternative products. The workshop will focus in particular
on the history of specific chemicals which have had a profound impact on the way in which
ecological and health effects have been perceived. Using a 'biographical approach' it
will trace the entire 'life history' (production, use, problems, risk assessment, management
strategies, and disposal) of those hazardous substances, culminating at the point at which
legislative controls or alternative technical pathways were finally established. The
focus will be on the main period of chemical industrialisation (ca. 1800-2000).

Examples of substances that have had profound effects on ecological thinking and on
legislation, and which would be welcome candidates for analysis using this kind of
'biographical approach,' are:

Arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, nitrates, cyanides, sulphur dioxide, radioactive
substances, DDT and other halocarbons (including dioxins), aniline and aromatic amines, benzene,
azo dyes, vinyl chloride, CO2, PCB's, and CFC's.

Of course, papers on other important cases are also most welcome!

In all cases, we prefer papers having a global or at least an international outlook;
national overviews could certainly also be of great value. However, studies which have a
regional or local focus are unsuitable in the context of this workshop.

Since the approach to this topic is interdisciplinary, chemists, toxicologists,
historians of science and medicine, environmental historians, sociologists and scholars, active in
environmental organisations, etc., are all invited to participate and to contribute a

Papers that satisfy the final reviewing procedure will be published in a volume with the
working title Hazardous chemicals: Agents of risk and change (1800-2000). Papers should
be no longer than 10.000 words. The conference language will be English.

The Rachel Carson Center will cover the travel cost and accommodation expenses for all
participants invited to deliver a paper. The conference will take place in the
Kerschensteiner Kolleg of the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

For the present we would like those interested in participating in the workshop to
forward an abstract of the proposed paper, of approximately 600-800 words, as well as a CV.
Please send these documents to the three organizers of the workshop: Ernst Homburg (, Elisabeth Vaupel ( and Paul Erker ( before 1 July 2011.

Papers will be pre-circulated and should be received no later than 1 February 2012.

Dr. Ernst Homburg
SHT-Professor History of Science and Technology
Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Maastricht
P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, Netherlands
Tel 00-31-43-388 3314/ 3495; Fax 00-31-43-388 4917

private: Parallelweg 9, 6245 JL Eijsden, Netherlands
Tel 00-31-43-409 4462

SHT = Stichting Historie der Techniek:<>
Working Party on History of Chemistry:<>
CAST research master (MPhil):