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Monday, October 7 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
Lightning Talk Round (10/7)

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Lightning Talk Round

Speaker, Titles, and Abstracts

Laura James: Festival of Maintenance: A Celebration of Those who Maintain Different Parts of Our World

A celebration of those who maintain different parts of our world, and how they do it, recognizing the often hidden work done in repair, custodianship, stewardship, tending and caring for the things that matter. The Festival of Maintenance is a non-profit community event, run by volunteers.

Yuan Yi: Female Machine Operators and the Maintenance of the Factory System

Through a case study of Dasheng Cotton Mills, one of the most successful enterprises in Republican China (1912-1949), this paper examines the skill of the allegedly “unskilled” female spinning machine operators, arguing for their significance as the maintainer of the factory system. An archetype of modern industrial workforces, factory workers was once a popular topic among social historians and feminist scholars in the China field, and yet the majority of cotton mill workers have been categorized as “unskilled laborers”, regardless of their work experience. I aim to rectify this neglect in response to a recent call for attention to technology-in-use or, more specifically, the study of maintenance. By focusing on sites where machines were used, repaired, and maintained, we can bring back the often neglected technical experts such as mechanics for a better understanding of the history of technology. However, if we broaden the boundaries of maintenance from the narrowly defined machine work such as lubrication and gear change to any human activities to keep machines and systems properly working, it becomes obvious that the operator’s role as a maintainer was no less important than that of a mechanic. Their primary job was piecing broken threads on the spinning machines, and by doing so they were essentially correcting the inherent imperfection of the machines, which did not come with an automatic mechanism for joining yarn ends. In other words, the spinning machines could never perform their function—to produce long, continuous yarn—without the handwork of experienced operators, which required not only delicate and agile movements but also a technical understanding of the given machines. It was the skill of these workers that maintained the factory system.

Daniel Wilk: Innovations in Maintenance at the Hotel Pennsylvania

This is the centennial year of the Hotel Pennsylvania, once the largest hotel in the world, across Seventh Avenue from Penn Station in New York City. Its hundredth birthday, and no one threw it a party or a parade, not even the hotel itself. The Hotel Pennsylvania is probably the most important hotel of the twentieth century. The great hotels of the nineteenth century, in America and elsewhere, had striven for size, luxury, more hotel “servants” providing an increasingly varied list of services. At the end of that century and into the twentieth, hotelier E. M. Statler brought the service sector into the age of Henry Ford, finding economies of scale that brought down costs and prices, and opened a huge new market in the middle class. Statler found some of his economies of scale in clever design that reduced maintenance labor. Unlike Henry Ford’s assembly line, which squeezed more work out of people at a faster pace, Statler’s innovations tended to create true efficiencies. For plumbers, he developed the Statler plumbing shaft, which ran shafts that encased water and heating pipes straight up and down buildings, stacking bathrooms on top of each other in identical layouts floor by floor, with easy access to the pipes behind the bathroom mirrors. For chambermaids, he designed a line of sheets that had one-inch hems on singles and two-inch hems on doubles, so no labor was lost on un- and re-folding the wrong sheet. In this talk, I will outline Paran Stevens’ innovations in maintenance design, and also talk about my failed attempts to get the Hotel Pennsylvania to celebrate its centennial year with commemorative shower curtains, immersive theater, and The Roots playing Glenn Miller’s hit “Pennsylvania 6-5000” (still the hotel’s phone number) on the Jimmy Fallon show.

Danielle Bovenberg: Keeping Scientific Equipment of Various Ages Running in a Nanotechnology Laboratory

A challenge for equipment technicians working in materials science laboratories is taking care of machines produced in different periods. Nanoscale processing “tools” -- the machines that chipmakers use -- built in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s are expensive and robust, and are therefore still widely in use in academic laboratories today (Sperling, 2013). As a consequence, laboratory management in this field is as much about servicing individual pieces of equipment as managing a portfolio of equipment of different technology generations (Gates, Johnson & McDaniel, 2015). For those who maintain this array of tools, challenges posed by old equipment include equipment vendors that have gone out of business, discontinued product lines, unavailable parts, and a dwindling base of maintenance expertise. This paper examines how equipment engineers at one university Nanofabrication facility overcome these obstacles in order to keep old tools running, so that university and industry researchers can continue using them. The paper is based on an ongoing ethnographic study of the laboratory’s 15-person equipment staff. The paper explores how equipment engineers view the “age” of the machines they service, what challenges they experience, and how they seek to overcome these challenges. The paper discusses engineers’ engagement with the second-hand equipment market, the strategic modification of old tools in order to create as much similarity in servicing needs as possible, the stockpiling of parts and duplicate machines, and the specific instructions engineers give to the users of their equipment to circumvent the vulnerabilities of the various machines. The paper also discusses tensions and challenges that remain, despite these efforts.

​David Kalman: Maintenance in Jewish Thought

This paper is an attempt to open a conversation between historians of technology and religious studies on the topic of maintenance, a concept which is new to the former but has long between central to the latter. In this talk, I intend to speak briefly on two key areas that are worthy of further study. As a historian of Judaism, I will focus on Jewish thought in particular. First, there is maintenance in the realm of theology. In many religious traditions, the notion of God as a powerful creator is a central dogma, one which motivates obedience towards the diety. While the notion of God-as-creator is frequently associated with the divine ability to bring new items into being (“Let there be light,” and so on), many religious traditions contain the idea that God’s creativity is expressed in the upkeep of the world itself. I will outline several instances in which the God-as-maintainer concept is expressed and attempt to determine why the idea is stronger at certain times than at others. Second, I will speak about maintenance as a religious value, one which is central for understanding how religious norms evolve in a changing culture. In Judaism, maintenance is frequently associated with “tradition.” Not infrequently, maintenance has led Judaism to preserve technologies long after they had been replaced, in the process transforming those technologies into religious symbols. Witness, for example, the Torah scroll, which has not been the latest in book technology for almost 2000 years. I will explore several ways in which maintenance leads to religious meaning.

Monday October 7, 2019 2:00pm - 2:30pm EDT