Beautiful machines/Dead planet

The study of the history and archaeology of industry poses an ontological challenge to the perpetuation of industrialism and its myriad social forms. The recent catastrophic event in Lac Megantic is but one contemporary example of the dangers inherent in this human activity. The persistence of industrial archaeology within archaeological discourse suggests that industrialization was a very particular event, whose unique features have warranted its own discipline of study. Moreover, this line of inquiry offers something very unique, for it speaks quite directly to an affective connection with machines and technological systems and processes. The convergence of industrial zealotry with environmental warning has resulted in the present aporia of representation (as a form of honoring) without theoretical analysis on one hand, and analysis without praxis on the other. The title of this proposed session (intentionally provocative) begs the question: can the industrial sublime be rectified with what remains of a life sustaining planet? Can this study simultaneously honor and critique the accomplishments of industry?


At the heart of the matter is the concept of time. Deference is afforded to theoretical discussions with vast temporal and spatial frameworks, but archaeological investigations of a very particular location and time (easily dismissed as “myopic”) result in epiphanies and insights that have qualities of timelessness and universality that cannot be reached through generalizations. The archaeological record of industry has formed an archive, like the unwinding of a ball of string, that may allow for a possible egress from the labyrinth of the anthropocene.

Session for TAG University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, “Convergence,” May 23-25, 2014.

The goal of this session is to create an open discussion regarding the legacy of industrialization and all of its traces in the contemporary and historical archaeological record. Writers, thinkers, archaeologists, artists, historians are all encouraged to present. Some suggested topics are:

  • Theories of beauty, the seduction of the material, the kinetic, the surface.
  • Labor and wealth.
  • Archaeological evidence of: Luddism, escape, technology as religion, machine worship.
  • The stratigraphy of the archive, the catalogue.
  • Accounts, stories, research findings from excavations of industrial sites.
  • The allure of ruins, urban exploration, situationism, psychogeography.
  • Archaeological evidence and history of re-use, adaptation.
  • The machine/garden utopia/myth

Please send abstracts of 400 words or less by March 7 to:

(Jeff Benjamin, M.S., Industrial Archaeology, Michigan Technological University)