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New Directions in the History of Infrastructure, Post & Tele Museum, Copenhagen 26-28 September

October 2, 2014

So after my lovely experience with the media historians in Lund, I put on my ‘infrastructure historian’ hat (sometimes I suspectphoto 2 it is, in fact, a pocket protector) and headed back across the Öresund (as they spell it in Sweden) to Copenhagen.

My trip itself was the ‘European dream’ of mobility.  I left my house Wednesday morning, hopped on my bike, rode to the train station, bleeped in with an electronic pass that is valid on public transport throughout the entire country, and caught a train directly into Schiphol airport.  They checked my luggage for bombs, but no-one asked for my passport, and I even received a text message on my phone, letting me know my gate had changed.  I flew to Copenhagen, where, once I had figured out the three different types of train-ticket vending machines, I was able to type in a reservation code my hosts in Lund had sent me and retrieved my round-trip tickets across the Sound to Lund.  Having left my house in Leiden just after breakfast, I was in Lund around noon – in time for lunch.

My trip back across the Sound the next day was just as smooth. It quickly became apparent that such smooth infrastructures were being designed around people like me.

I was in Copenhagen to attend a conference being organized by the Post & Tele museum there on “New Directions in the History of Infrastructure“.   I was giving a joint keynote with my Paris colleague and dear friend Léonard Laborie.  In fact, it was Léonard who had been asked, but thought it would be a good idea to do this in collaboration.  After all, he felt, many of the insights to be gained had come from collaborative research of the Tensions of Europe network.  Indeed, one of the points we quickly arrived at in planning the talk was that it helps to have an infrastructure to research transnational infrastructures.  This is one of the many reflexivities we chose to explore.

The title of the talk was “The tangled web of Europe and infrastructures: shining futures and dead ends” and Vol annuleethat, unbidden, brought the next reflexivity.  If my trip had felt like living in the shining future, Léonard’s (and our joint keynote) threatened to become a dead end, as an Air France strike – over a plan to introduce a new low-cost variant of the airline.

The conference organizers booked him a new flight instead, and we were on our way after all.


Léonard and I on the boat tour to see the new urban developments taking shape in Copenhagen

The conference was inspiring, with topics ranging from colonial dam projects to pneumatic tubes in hospitals to telegraphic secrecy.  Above all, there were loads of ideas for how to translate the study of infrastructures into other fields, and explore how new insights in both fields can be gained.  Andreas Fickers and I have tried to show how this can be done using media as a lens, (it is also an important theme on the TRE project) but the assembled talks brought in perspectives from critical disability studies, security studies, of course the Cold War, and a number of new perspectives.

Plus we got a great look around the museum ..


A Danish optical telegraph – still used for shore-to-ship communication until the age of wireless


The round Danish mail coach. to be aerodynamic? Discourage passengers? Keep the rain off? Perhaps all of the above…







It was clear there is a lot of interesting work to be done.  Some day we might even lose the pocket protectors.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2014 4:27 pm

    It was great meeting you in Copenhagen Alexander! This is such a nice synopsis of what was a really inspiring few days.

    • October 2, 2014 5:14 pm

      Hi Anna! Lovely to meet you – and to see an entire conference get really excited about pneumatic tubes. Very much hoping our paths will cross again soon. Please give my best to the crew in Maastricht.

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