Public history

Memories of a Dying Industry: Sense and Identity in a British Paper Mill

Frogmore paper mill is a kind of time machine that allows historians of technology and the senses to study mechanized paper-making as it was done one hundred years ago. Before the introduction of instrumentation and automatic process control paper-making depended profoundly on the embodied skills of the workers. This paper will focus on the sensory knowledge and skills required for monitoring and controlling old machinery. Investigating skills-in-use will help to unravel the close link between sensing and acting to keep a continuous production process stable and running. Paper-makers would shift intuitively between different senses and sensory modes of monitoring and diagnosing sensory tell-tales to balance the production process. The importance of sensory knowledge and embodied skills also shaped paper-makers’ self-perception and professional ethos. The paper will examine the impact of new process control technology on the crucial role of sensory skills for the paper-makers’ individual and collective identities.