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Tools Teach Publication

Hand Tools in History Series

The Archaeology of Tools

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Phenomenology of Tools

The Phenomenology of Tools

Postscript on the Phenomenology of Tools

The first publication exploring the interrelationship between tools and history, a commentary on human ecology and what we do with our tools, the Phenomenology of Tools, was published in 1982. Written in London and during evenings at the Wellesley College Library in the 1970s, its large mass was consolidated into a tiny un-illustrated book of riffs (poems if you will) about Dasein and the tools he/she wields.

Reissued in 2010 in an expanded and illustrated edition as well as a follow-up to the museum’s 2005 exhibition What Needs to be Retrieved: Marriage of Tools, Art, and History, the purpose of its republication was, in part, to celebrate convivial tools and the wide variety of art created with and about tools. Part of the mission of the illustrated edition of the Phenomenology of Tools was to counter the focus of other museum publications on anthropogenic radioactivity, environmental history, and the unfolding age of biocatastrophe. In this context, the Phenomenology of Tools is a celebration of the pleasures of artisans, craftspersons, and mechanics (machinists, electricians, plumbers, blacksmiths, farmers) in the skilful use of tools, many essential for the continued viability of global consumer society. The celebration of the pleasures of the convivial use of tools to maintain sustainable economies also explores the creative use of tools to make art. The second edition of the Phenomenology of Tools links the pleasures of the use of hand tools by the craftsperson to the creative output of the artist making art with or about tools. This second edition also explores the iconography of tools as components of assemblage art and sculpture as well as the iconography of tools depicted by artists such as Alan Magee. The full text of the 2010 edition of the Phenomenology of Tools, intended, in part, to celebrate what we do with our hand tools, can be found here.

Phenomenology of Biocatastrophe Update

An important observation needs to be made pertaining to the Davistown Museum’s survey of the history of ferrous metallurgy and its publication series Hand Tools in History. The classic period of American tool production ended in the 1930s with the termination of crucible steel production and the beginning of the decline of that most iconic of all American tool companies, the Stanley Tool Company. The history of technology, however, doesn’t suddenly halt with the beginning of the decline of America’s industrial productivity. In fact, it becomes more complex, more controversial, with an increasingly disconcerting impact on our vulnerable round world commons. Other Davistown Museum publications explore the history of human ecology, including our now ancient (1990 – 2000) blog-like commentaries on anthropogenic radioactivity. The archives of the Center for Biological Monitoring, the predecessor of the Davistown Museum are still online. The most recent publication on this subject, issued by the museum’s department of Environmental History, is the Fukushima Daiichi: Nuclear Information Handbook, which incorporates the archives into a layperson’s guide to nuclear accidents including that in Japan.

Visitors to the museum’s Tools Teach website wishing to explore the more controversial issues pertaining to what we do with our tools, the downside of the Phenomenology of Tools, may wish to journey to a much larger panorama of the impact of human ecology on natural ecology, a hotel California of ongoing nightmares, the Phenomenology of Biocatastrophe Publication Series. Now published in three volumes, they are titled: Essays on Biocatastrophe (vol. 1), Biocatastrophe Lexicon: An Epigrammatic Journey through the Tragedy of our Round World Commons (vol. 2), and Biocatastrophe: The Legacy of Human Ecology: Toxins, Health Effects, Links, Appendices, and Bibliographies (vol. 3). All volumes are available on, as are the museum’s publications Phenomenology of Tools and Fukushima Daiichi: Nuclear Information Handbook.

Work on the larger panorama of the phenomenology of tools is now approaching a half century. Originally derived from the experiences of being a volunteer fireman with an interest in hazardous substances (Hazmat), the first topic of interest pertaining to the environmental effects of human activity on the environment was the impact of the supersonic transport (SST) on the earth’s vulnerable ozone layer. The 1970 Earth Day die-in at Logan Airport protesting the SST culminated in its later termination by the United States Senate. Forty two years of research and commentary on chemical fallout, anthropogenic radioactivity, and hormonal disrupting chemicals followed. Inevitably, even the use of the last simple machine in the tool kit of an aging tool picker, the corkscrew, will come to an end. As the election campaign of 2012 unfolds, one can’t help but comment on the current state of affairs in the land of the free as it enters a rapid spiral of decline. The reality of the decimation of our vulnerable Round World commons and its many nonrenewable resources is currently the subject of an elaborate ritual of aversion by both the mass media and the increasingly marginalized intellectual elite. The B-word, biocatastrophe, and its many components, including cataclysmic climate change, remains off limits for both informed debate and as a subject of bipartisan public safety-related mitigation efforts. An obvious practical response to the unfolding age of biocatastrophe would be an expanded study of, and greater restrictions on, the rapidly increasing dissemination of environmental chemicals including plastics and pharmaceuticals in the earth’s environment. An increasingly sectarian and reactionary political landscape, reflecting the increasing social chaos of the age of biocatastrophe, makes effective institutional responses impossible.

Biocatastrophe occurs when a number of interrelated unfortunate events occur simultaneously. It is now the subject of political censorship by groups ranging from the American Tea Party Taliban (Grover Norquist is currently its Banana Republican Pope) to the Occupy (soon to be evacuate?) Wall Street movement and including most mainstream political commentators. Biocatastrophe is, in reality, a naturally occurring ecological event. The result of the relentless imposition of human ecosystems on natural ecosystem, documentation of the unfolding age of biocatastrophe must first and foremost be based on the scientific measurement of its round world (not flat world) dynamics. Historical, sociological, and economic analysis of its evolution and effects can only follow the scientific measurement of its presence. The unfortunate social and political chaos resulting from the impact of human activities upon natural ecosystems may well be the last chapter in the reluctant narration of the phenomenology of biocatastrophe. The eventual fate of global consumer society may have already been determined by the inescapable reality of the world water crisis.

The phenomenon of biocatastrophe, intricately linked with the phenomenology of tools, is now occurring as result of the following historical events, their feedback mechanisms, and their interrelated impact as the simultaneous field of phenomenon:
• Overpopulation
• Cataclysmic climate change
• Chemical fallout
• World water crisis
• Declining natural ecosystem productivity due to deforestation and soil and natural resource depletion
• Advent of viral infections and antibiotic resistant bacteria
• Proliferation of pharmaceutical wastes and genetically modified organisms
• Rapid spread of autism spectrum disorders
• Rapid increase of hidden health costs of a contaminated world water cycle
• Rapid increase in governmental debt in the context of increasing public needs and decreasing public resources
• Rapid expansion of a parasitic shadow banking network and a western market economy casino of collateralized debt obligations
• Increasing social and political chaos in the context of a world food and water crisis, increasing public and private indebtedness, and income equality

These seemingly diverse events have an extraordinary economic, social, and political impact in a finite world commons characterized by growing public needs and declining public resources. The result is ecological, economic, and social chaos in the context of a growing political paralysis and the concurrent inability of a now globalized market economy to support the common good rather than the special interests of a klepto-plutocracy. The inevitability of biocatastrophe as a naturally occurring event in the context of the florescence of petrochemical man poses a question: can the American and global consumer society techno-elite with their innovative digital and sustainable energy technologies wave some magic techno-wand and reverse the world water crisis, solve the world energy crisis, and mitigate cataclysmic climate change and the concomitant destruction of the earth’s vulnerable natural resources?

All three volumes of the Phenomenology of Biocatastrophe may be accessed by visiting the website.