Presentations 2017. SLAS (Glasgow) ICHST (Rio do Janeiro) & 4S (Boston).

Solar energy history: Stories worth spread.


Influencia de la ingeniería británica en las tecnologías de la energía solar en Chile (1872-
Nelson Arellano Ph D.

La ingeniería, parafraseando a Daniel Headrick, constituyó una herramienta del imperio británico en su presencia en Sudamérica desde el siglo XIX. Tres ingenieros británicos resultan relevantes para la historia de las tecnologías de la energía solar por sus publicaciones en 1883, 1915 y 1953. A la luz de la Historia de la tecnología resulta pertinente realizar una revisión de la circulación de las ideas técnicas y las relaciones norte-sur que la ingeniería británica sostuvo con el desierto de Atacama.

Con esta aproximación se espera contribuir a comprender el descarte artefactual y la duración intermitente de las tecnologías de la energía solar entre 1872 y 1970 especialmente en la industria del salitre. Archivos en Valparaíso, Santiago de Chile, Brescia, Boston, así como revistas de ciencia e ingeniería, aportan un valioso material para elaborar una narrativa acerca de la memoria de las tecnologías de la energía solar, conocer las reglas del hablar y callar en ingeniería y los valores sociales en las formas del olvido que inciden en el problema de la sustentabilidad.

Siguiendo a George Basalla y David Edgerton no nos centraremos en innovaciones ganadoras perpetuadas por la selección sino en la búsqueda diligente de alternativas viables a estas innovaciones.

Abstract Book



25th International Congress of History of Science and Technology (ICHST), which will be held in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 23 to 29 July 2017, with the general theme “Science, Technology and Medicine between the Global and the Local”.

S-38 – Problems in Introducing New Energy Technology (1 sessions, 4 participants) International Committee for the History of Technology Organizers: 1) Timo Myllyntaus, (University of Turku, Finland), 2) Slawomir Lotysz, (Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland),

Abstract: This session examines challenges in introducing new energy technology at the time when supporting technological infrastructure was not yet developed to promote novel innovations. Drawing their theoretical backgrounds on experienced historians of technology, presenters will elaborate various factors involved in their case studies. The first paper focuses on the application of solar energy to the desalination of water in the 19th-century mining industry in Atacama Desert, USA. The authors weave early solar energy with the contemporary social and cultural history as well as analyze how the interaction of various spheres of human activities affected the introduction of new energy technology. The second paper argues that people tend to use new technologies to reinforce their existing social values and identities. The author’s case study deals with the electrification of Anderson, a city in South Carolina, USA in the early twentieth century. Because this case does not support a textbook version on technologization and modernization, the author ends up describing his story as a counter-history of electrification. The third paper compares the reception of diesel-powered cars in Europe and the USA. Although the technology of diesel engines has been nearly similar on both regions, their stories differ considerably. The author claims that car manufacturers have frequently introduced premature diesel technology to the US markets where technical norms have been stricter than in Europe. This policy has had an impact on the reputation of diesel powered engines in the USA. Keywords: History of Technology – Energy history – Solar technology – Electrification – Diesel engines.

Expected Participants:

  1. D. Travers Scott, USA, Clemson University
  2.  Christopher Neumaier, Germany, Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam.
  3. Antoni Roca-Rosell, Spain, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – Barcelona Tech (UPC)
  4. Nelson Arellano, Chile, Universidad Arturo Prat

Arellano & Roca-Rosell paper:

Solar energy techniques and their intermittent duration (XIX-XX centuries)[1].

[Sub-theme: Moving and removing technology: Territorial movements of technology and technological knowledge]

Nelson Arellano-Escudero.

Antoni Roca-Rosell.

Solar energy played a very important role in the mining industry in XIX century at the Atacama Desert. Nevertheless, the solar techniques used mainly for desalination of water were discarded in earlier XX century, and subsequently completely forgotten. In the 1950s their memory was recovered in the USA, and solar technology has been used again in the Atacama Desert at the industrial scale. At this time, a scientific and engineering world-wide network has been built.

The conception of the evolution of technology has been discussed by George Basalla as a result of the confrontation of continuity and novelty through selection processes, affected by economic, social, and environmental dimensions, techniques, and policies. Gille and Hughes stated that the management of artifacts generates socio-technical systems; Unruh said that a technological momentum tends to lock-in the technical alternatives to generate competition through a lock-in of a techno-institutional complex. Finally, the 7th thesis of David Edgerton states that in the history of technology the preferred option is not always the most economical alternative. Moreover, it is not always the healthiest for human and non-human beings.

In this paper, we would attempt to understand some aspects of the social values and cultural factors involved in the early history of solar energy industry in the Atacama Desert. The work has been based on Chilean, USA, and European archives. The research encourages, in Basalla’s words, the development of a narrative on viable alternatives to winning technologies.

[1] Project HAR2013-44643-R, Spanish Ministry of Economy, Spain. Proyecto Fondecyt Postdoctoral 3160197, Universidad Arturo Prat – Chile.


Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S)


Boston, Massachusetts

Wed. August 30 (11am!) – Sat. September 2, 2017 (5:30pm)

Conference theme: STS (In)Sensibilities

Solar Energy Technologies: Contingency and Trajectory of an Intermittent Duration Neglected. Cross Check of History of the Technology and STS.

In Event: Historical (In)Sensibilities II: STS and the History of the Present and the Absence

Fri, September 1, 11:00am to 12:30pm, Sheraton Boston, 3, Hampton A


STS and history of the technology can develop a fruitful relationship connecting their interdisciplinarities fields, this somehow it was demonstrated with the interaction of STS and history of the environment and their historiography of absence, constructivism, expertise, and boundary-works.

It seems proper not only to join and to mix historiography with social theories, that otherwise remain isolated, but that we need to build a more thick dialogue between social sciences, humanities, and the arts.

An approach to the history of solar technologies was built throughout sources of visual representations of technologies, traditional archives, and eyewitness. All these materias, from several places in the world, compose a body-expedient that demonstrate at the same time that: only the alive people makes History, and that we need research in order to have a more deep knowledge about viable alternatives instead of those technologies perpetuated by the selection.

The problem of the intermittent duration of solar technologies allows us to discuss differents paths in order to understand not only contingency but trajectory and recover the sense of ‘sense’ about our concept of the time to help to explore again sensitivities of techno-somatic-systems.


Working Paper: British Engineers in South America in XIXth c.

Nelson Arellano

Full-text available · Working Paper · May 2017

File name: British engineers in South America XIXc – NAE.pdf

DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.31870.79687


Previous presentations:

Visiting Scholar: “Alternatives in the Shadows: Toward Recovering Lost Memories of Solar Energy Technologies, Collaboration to Sustainability”, Tuesday, 11th of April, Solway Seminar Series, School of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Glasgow, Dumfries, Scotland.

“British engineering influence on solar energy technologies in Chile (1872-1970)”, Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS) Conference, University of Glasgow, 6th & 7th April 2017, Glasgow, Scotland.

“Sustentabilidad y energía solar: una contabilidad extraviada.”, 17 marzo 2017, FAE-Usach, Asociación Chilena de Historia Económica, Santiago de Chile

“La Empresa Nacional de Electricidad S.A. y la utilización de la energía solar en 1973. Rastros de una idea que no llegó a ser Proyecto”, 18-20 de enero de 2017. IV Encuentro Red Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad, CTS-Chile, Valdivia, Chile.

Keynote Speaker: “5 recomendaciones de la historia de la tecnología de la energía solar para los historiadores de la informática en Latinoamérica”, XLII Conferencia Latinoamericana de Informática (CLEI) 2016, invitado por el IV Simposio de Historia de la Informática de América Latina y el Caribe (SHIALC), martes 11 de octubre, Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María (UTFSM).

“Solar energy discarded in XXth century” (ID 221), “Challenges for the history of engineering: Education, professions, circulation, sustainability, power” organized by Dr. Antoni Roca-Rosell and Dr. Ana Cardoso de Matos. Prague conference of the European Society for History of Science that took place in Prague from 22–24 September, 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic.

“Presencia y trashumancia de los ingenieros británicos en la Sudamérica del siglo XIX”, 1er Pre-congreso internacional Sobre integración regional, fronteras y globalización en el continente americano, 2 al 5 de agosto de 2016, Centro de Estudios Urbanos y Regionales (CEUR) Buenos Aires.

“A snapshot of two solar desalination industries in the 19th Century”. Poster session at the annual meeting of American Society for Environmental History (ASEH). Seattle, March 30th-april 2nd, 2016.

“La Ingeniería y el descarte artefactual de la desalación del solar de agua (1872-1907).” del proyecto Postdoctorado Fondecyt 3160197 en el III Encuentro de Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad (CTS Chile) realizado en dependencias de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, 13 al 15 de Enero de 2016.

“El debate de la energía solar para la desalación de agua en 1884: huellas de discursos paralelos”, XXI Jornadas De Historia de Chile (In)Seguridad, Estado Y Transformaciones Sociales. Chillán, 4-6 de Noviembre de 2015.

“The implications of imperial tools on sustainability and evolution of technology in XIXth century: A south American case”. Panel 31: International circulation of engineering teaching models in the 19th and 20th centuries: the creation of European and latin American engineering schools in historical and comparative perspectives. CHAM2015: Knowledge transfer and cultural exchanges Lisboa, Portugal (15 al 17 de Julio de 2015).

Nelson Arellano-Escudero PhD
+56973923780 :: +34684385905
Calle Camila 125B, Cerro La Loma.
Valparaiso, Chile. C.P. 2380454


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