Parr nabs Edelstein Prize, latest honour for ‘Sensing Changes’

Joy Parr’s timely and prescient perspective on how humans make sense of the world in the face of rapid change has garnered her the Edelstein Prize, awarded to the top scholarly book on the history of technology published over the last three years.

Parr’s book, Sensing Changes: Technologies, Environments and the Everyday, 1953-2003, explores situations where megaprojects, as well as regulatory and environmental changes, force people to cope with transformations in their work and home environments. The award is handed out by the Society for the History of Technology.

“I’m a fan of the previous winners and a little in awe of joining their company,” says the Western geography professor.

This is the second major award this year for Parr’s book, which also won the Canada Prize in Social Science.

Parr, a Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Risk, says in putting together her book questions arose from people as to the effects of technological and landscape change by new expressways, dams, nuclear plants and wind farms.

“We all rely on our sensing bodies to make sense of our daily life challenges, and to get things done we need to trust our habits and reflexes – habits and reflexes grounded in assumptions of continuity, which in times of change can lead us astray,” Parr says.

“Our bodies are archives of sensory knowledge and laboratories in which to retool our senses and practices in response to changing circumstances,” she adds. “If global environmental changes continue at an unsettling pace, how will we make sense of the cascade of new normals, where the air, land, and water around us are no longer familiar?”

Parr’s book is complemented by The Megaprojects Sites, a website about people living amidst Canadian megaprojects. Putting the websites on the harddrives of the local libraries was a stroke of genius by Jon van der Veen, a Faculty of Information and Media Studies graduate, who was Parr’s principal collaborator and guide on the digital companion of the book.