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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

The History and Future of Artificial Light Seminar - The Invention and Development of the Electrical Blackout

14th May 2014, 12:00 to 14:00, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Cosins Hall, Palace Green, David Nye (University of Southern Denmark)

Electrical blackouts were not possible during the first half century of electric lighting, but only appeared once comprehensive grids began to be established, after c. 1930. Many early blackouts were not accidental, but intentional, starting in the build-up to World War II and then during the conflict itself. This presentation will explore the changing experience and the transformation of the meanings of blackouts, primarily using examples from the United States between 1940 and the present time, with special attention to the massive blackouts of 1965 and 1977 and concluding with the new form of the intentional world-wide "green-out" promoted at the end of March every year

From the first use of animal fats for illumination purposes to the large-scale lighting systems of global cities in the twenty-first century, artificial light has had profound effects on human experience, and continues to open a wide range of cultural and economic possibilities while also increasingly determining human behaviour. This seminar series will trace the development of artificial light from medieval times, through the advent of electric lighting, to questions surrounding the future of energy supply and its implications for uses of light which are often taken for granted, and on which advanced economies have come to depend. The series will explore the technical and social aspects of blackouts, the absence of light, which is the iconic concept in the field of (electrical) energy security, and which also formed a major part of social conditions in the great wars of the 20th-Century.

Contact for more information about this event.