Ned Somerville

Una breu presentació:

Ned received his doctorate in the history of science from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in 2021. His thesis, ‘The musealization of Barcelona’s industrial past’, looks at the monumentalization of the historic Barcelona textile factory known as the Vapor Vell de Sants in 1984 as a key moment in the development of industrial heritage discourses in Barcelona at the neighborhood, municipal and national (Catalan) levels.  This investigation draws from a historical analysis of the representations of the Vapor Vell at three moments: 1) the founding of the Vapor Vell in 1844 as the textile business, Güell, Ramis i Cia, in the context of Catalan industrialization, 2) the appropriation of the factory as a neighborhood resource in the 1970’s within the context of deindustrialization and the neighborhood movement during Spain’s transition to democracy, and 3) the vindication of the Vapor Vell as a heritage resource and its interpretation as industrial archeology in the context of the first democratic governments and their elaboration of cultural policies for musealizing the city’s industrial past. Methodologies from the fields of urban studies, museum studies, critical heritage studies, local history, history of technology, and discourse analysis are used in order to identify key discourses, constituencies and uses of this industrial past.


‘The Museu de la Vila de Sants i de la Clase Obrera Catalana’.

Not every initiative to musealize Barcelona’s industrial past has flourished. This investigation looks into the story of a museum that was never made, considering the reasons why it wasn’t to be revealing of the cultural politics involved in the industrial heritage movement in Catalonia of the 1980s during the transition to democracy.

At this time, during the transition, the biggest industrial musealization initiative was that of the Association of Industrial Engineers of Catalonia, whose project for a national museum of science and technology was picked up by the Generalitat in 1981. It was also the Generalitat that was partially responsible for ensuring the conservation of the Vapor Vell by beginning a process to have the main building and chimney established as a historic-artistic monument in 1983. Beyond the conservation of the building, however, very little has been done to display the history and significance of this factory within the neighborhood. This is particularly surprising given the amount of research and even exhibitions around this theme which were organized in the context of the neighborhood movement at this time. Many of these ‘alternative exhibitions’ were set up temporarily in the Plaza de Sants, in the exhibition space of the Centre Social de Sants, or through the production of didactic resources and walking tours designed to better acquaint neighbors with the industrial identity of the neighborhood.

It was in the context of this neighborhood-centered, social approach to industrial heritage that an interest in putting the Vapor Vell on display as a monument to this past was first expressed. Volunteers from the Arxiu Historic de Sants, the Grup de Recerca de Arqueologia Industrial de Sants and from the teachers college of Barcelona worked to elaborate a new vision of the past and present of Barcelona through the creation of these artisanal, bottom-up musealizations. Nowadays, most of these expository resources are hidden away in the archives, far from the display cases of museums. Instead, the industrial heritage strategy developed for the Vapor Vell has centered on the architectonic shell of the building, as well as the reproduction of old discourses of the business and the men that owned it— in this case, the Guell family, which is monumentalized in Barcelona through numerous monuments, plazas, and street names. The story of the Museu de la Vila de Sants i de la Clase Obrera Catalana shows that, during the transition to democracy, alternative visions existed for how the city’s industrial heritage might be understood and musealized.

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