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Ruin/Relic/Replica: Naming and speaking of the remains of industry

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10:00 AM, Wednesday 31 Aug 2022 (20 minutes)
Names have power––and how we name our industrial heritage matters. The words we use to describe what remains both explain what we feel about them, but also telescope what others ought to feel about them (thus we could also speak of ‘naming’ and ‘norming’ in our title). Indeed, for the name to mean something/anything requires social participation (as Edouard Morot-Sir called it, “onomastic participation”). We know from the study of onomastics that place names have historically changed over time, but they do not necessarily follow the same rules as the linguistic changes within a culture, suggesting that they follow a different logic. Similarly, we propose, descriptive words for sites and actions within our own contemporary society evolve differently depending on context. In this study, we consider both how industrial remains have been described in various contexts, also considering who was doing the describing in each of those contexts. Concern for these naming conventions and attitudes has arisen from watching the difference with which European industrial patrimony is comparatively thriving, as compared to American industrial Heritage. The difference comes not, of course, solely from the naming, but the naming dovetails with national, supernatural, and even of the history of industry within the identity of a region, a country, or even continent. Thus to consider the historic context of, for example, the origins of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) vs. the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), as well as the flurry of industrial preservation initiatives from about 1970± (including SIA, among others) as well as other more recent changes, offers light on where we have been and perhaps on where we might go. For some initial observations, consider some North American examples (the context we claim more facility with). The remains of the iron industry in the eastern US has some impressive notable preservation successes (consider: Saugus, Cornwall, and Hopewell), while other mineral extractive industries such as coal (and the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum notwithstanding) are less notable and/or venerated. A comparison of the rhetoric of the Americana and Canadian early oil strikes in Petrolia and Titusville demonstrate national differences in attitude; as well as nationalistic blinders as might be seen in early steam engine memorialization. Or there are cases where ‘clearly’ industrial museum topics are co-opted by non-industrial-heritage fields (the best example being textile museums). And linguistically, notice cultural difference that Europeans can ‘valorize’ industrial heritage while Americans ‘preserve’ it. Some further example from the author’s experience in the UK and Japan will also be covered. We propose that paying attention to such use of the terms of ruin (its root that of a headlong rush/fall/plunge/collapse), relic (physical survivors/vestiges/traces, but often sacred; though also related to derelict, or abandoned), replica (to fold/wind again), and even “re-use” (to bring into active operation again, but typically changed)—and yes, we are merely restricting the terms here for alliterative playfulness— we may begin to reframe industrial heritage to play a more participatory role in our heritage discourse.

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