Thursday, February 27th, 2020 Technologies of Risk Response in Germany and the United States: 1850-1900

Thursday, February 27, 20204:00PM - 6:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place


CSUS Graduate Student Workshop


Technologies of Risk Response in Germany and the United States: 1850-1900

This talk investigates the history of fire services and the technologies they employed to contribute to the scholarship on infrastructure and power, urban liberalism, and risk management. Specifically, Jan illustrates the fire alarm telegraph’s impact on fire preparedness in Germany and the United States. He argues that this technology materialized the values that guided society’s response to risk. This novel technology led to the rapid decline of the profession of tower watchmen and appeared to democratize fire signaling. By providing evidence about the privileged location and use of the telegraph, Jan puts the notion of democratized fire signaling into perspective. Examining documents from city councils and fire departments in Boston, Philadelphia, Berlin, and Frankfurt, he provides evidence that it privileged use by local officials and police forces. In the formerly free city of Frankfurt, for instance, the fire telegraph allowed Prussia to control potential political threats. His study elucidates a larger insight about risk management during the nineteenth century. Entities worth protecting by fire services were usually not the individual but property. Infrastructures like the fire telegraph mainly benefitted the overlapping groups of property owners, industrials, liberals, and the bourgeoisie.

Jan Henning is a PhD student in the history of technology and medicine at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at U of T. His research focuses on the history of emergency services in Europe and North America.
Emergency services, as they developed during the latter half of the nineteenth century, contributed to the idea that risks are an inevitable but controllable part of urban life. The histories of these services illuminate which forms of life and property were deemed worthy of protection. Jan argues that the technologies employed by emergency services materialized the values that guide society’s response to risk.
Prior to coming to U of T, Jan received a BA (history and philosophy) and MA (history) from the Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany), where he won the Aretin Prize for his Master’s thesis Tuberculosis and Race in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century American Culture and Media.

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