09 Spring 2018 The Material Culture of Energy

Oil Rigs Silhouetted Against a Texas Sunrise

As guest editor Frank Trentmann notes in his introduction to this special issue of the Journal, energy is more than a physical phenomenon of watts and carbon. In a world of increasing energy consumption, depleted resources and environmental damage, energy has become a crucial topic of cultural enquiry and political concern too. The articles in Issue 09 emerged from a series of symposia on the Material Culture of Energy held at the Science Museum in 2017—18 and they present perspectives from across disciplines and countries. Articles range from research on lighting design in South America, to the impact of refrigeration on traditional Indian food preparation, and from a comparison of electrification in Canada and Japan to a study of the cultural meanings of the coal fire in post-war Britain. Articles by museum professionals indicate both a shared interest and creative diversity in tackling the challenges of displaying energy. They include a collaboration with a well-known artist in Manchester, the collection of personal stories alongside objects in Edinburgh, presenting visitors with difficult choices in Munich, and employing theatre to engage disadvantaged children in Recklinghausen. A detailed study of a 3D model of electricity demand from the 1950s shows what museum objects can contribute to research. Other articles describe the experience of working within an international research project on social responses to nuclear power and provide a detailed bibliographical essay to support further research in this fascinating field.