Boxes have always supported the significance of the objects they contained, allowing specific activities to arise. In the hands of natural historians and collectors, boxes functioned as a means of organizing their knowledge throughout the eighteenth century. In the late nineteenth century the box became the pharmacist’s laboratory and a device for standardizing and controlling dosage of oral remedies.
In the twentieth century radiotherapy the box was elevated to multifunctional tool working as a memory aid to forgetful patients or as “knowledge packages” that predetermined dosages, included equipment, and ready-made radium applicators.
Late twentieth century biomedical scientists store tissue samples in large-scale biobanks, where samples contained in straws are placed in vials, then the vials in boxes which in turn are stacked up in "elevators". This storage system facilitates retrieval with barcodes indexing each individual sample so that additional variables can be retrieved from a database.
The box embodies the knowledge that goes into the chemical laboratory and its function; it classifies objects into collections of natural history; it meaningfully orders letters in a printer’s composition or painting equipment for the artist’ convenience; it standardizes pharmaceutical dosage forms and allows pharmacists to control the production and consumption of their remedies; in the commercial world it misleads or informs customers; it persuades consumers for the integrity of the product that they enclose; it hides the identity of the object(s) that contains, it shapes professional identities and is essential for mobilizing, transporting, accumulating and circulating materials and the knowledge they produce and embody.
Participants of this conference do understand matter and materiality not as given, solid, continuous and stable but rather as something being done, performed, shaped and embedded in practices. This is why they examine closer how bottles and boxes themselves materialize differently in a set of diverse practices.
In this conference we welcome innovative understandings of the role that boxes and containers have historically played and continue to play in technology, medicine and science. We see the workshop as contributing to an ongoing interest in science and technology studies on the importance of mundane things in scientific practice and technological innovations.