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SP03: Artificial light and nocturnal landscapes in Berlin and Brandenburg since the 19th century: a cultural and environmental history perspective

Genesis, development and change of artificial lighting systems

The Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS) explored the spread of artificial light within the Berlin-Brandenburg region and the connected "loss of the night" from a cultural, social and environmental history perspective.

Based on qualitative research methods like the analysis of contemporary literature, media and archival sources, subproject 03 aimed to reveal the societal functions of artificial light and, through that, the varied interests of actors which emerged. Among those are economic and social nighttime activities, the production of goods, the security of public spaces, but also artificial light as a sign and instrument of wealth and power. Additionally, the study also assessed the ruptures and ambivalences inherent to the paradigm of artificial light as a symbol of modernity. Case studies included reactions to sudden light failure, protests against artificial light used for advertising in rural and urban areas, images romanticizing the night in opposition to the (illuminated) city and the multiple uses of lighting installations in East and West Berlin.

By means of analyzing and documenting both positive and negative images of nocturnal landscapes, the study aimed to present a well-balanced and spatially differentiated picture of the perceptions and functions of artificial light. As such, it aimed to elucidate historically embedded values and forms of action and to identify potential technical and ideological path-dependencies. The historical research on the social functions, institutional arrangements, perceptions and costs of artificial light were inter-coordinated with SP04 and SP05 which explore these topics for the present time.

Scientist was Dr. Ute Hasenöhrl
Leader of subproject was Dr. Timothy Moss