The pot you are holding in your hands is an enamel (“Emaille”) cup. You have probably already seen cups, plates, bowls or pots of such kind elsewhere. Maybe the touch of the smooth surface or the light weight of the cup in your hand reminds you of your childhood, your own home or that of your grandparents? Or maybe you remember to have seen such home appliances in a 20th-century staffed western kitchen in a museum?
As a cultural technology, the history of porcelain enamel outdates our memories by far. Ancient enamel ceramics found in nowadays Greece and Cyprus date back to around 1400 BC. After having predominantly been used to make colorful and glossy decorations in art works in ancient times, it only found its way into industrial engineering during the 18th and 19th century in Europe. In industrial terms, enamel is a glassy structure consisting of different metal oxides (borax, feldspar, quartz, soda, aluminum) that amalgamates with its metallic substrate under high temperatures (up to 950 degrees Celsius) forming a stable inseparable composite material. This physical-chemical reaction of amalgamation makes your melted cup so durable, robust, and long-lasting (Rossi et al. 2020).
…for Earthly Survival
Apparently, this robust cup is thought to contribute to your survival – as a geographer exploring the world off the trodden paths at best. Typically attached to your backpack with a carabiner (and making a clonking noise with every step you take) your cup is meant to provide comfort in harsh times – at the latest when a hot cup of tea is badly needed.
However, not only is this cup meant to meet your most basic physical needs when roaming around. It is meant to provide food for thought as well. Regardless of where you have your tea, it should sensitize for all the untold stories of the various relationships that you might encounter on your journeys. Borrowing the phrase from Fabrizio Terranova’s documentary “Donna Haraway: Storytelling for Earthly Survival” with and about biologist and feminist philosopher Donna Haraway, the melted pot shall remind you of the varied entanglements this world is made up of. To stay curious, to sharpen one’s awareness for the hidden and to be willed to tell the stories of the entangled (yet unknown) is what this cup – itself an object of amalgamation – calls us upon.
Terranova, F. (2016): Donna Haraway: Storytelling for Earthly Survival. 81 min. Online: https://earthlysurvival.org/ (23.06.2023).
Rossi, S., Russo, F., Compagnoni, A. M. (2020): A brief history of porcelain enamel: from artistic enamel to technical enamelling. Encyclopedia. http://doi.org/10.32545/encyclopedia202007.0019.v1