Thomas C. Cornillie
The third annual conference of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic, and Mobility (T2M) was held in the city of York, England, from the sixth through the ninth of October, 2005. The conference was organized by the Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History—a joint initiative of the University of York and the National Railway Museum. Colin Divall and Martyn Halman supervised the local arrangements in conjunction with the organization’s secretary, Dick van den Brink, from his office in the Netherlands. The medieval city of York, with its narrow streets, nineteenth-century railroad station, and frequent high-speed trains provided an ideal setting in which to experience the intersection of history, technology, and culture and to contemplate their place in human development. Holding the conference at the National Railway Museum immersed the conference in the study of transport history, with participants moving around and through its exhibits between sessions.
Since its establishment at the first conference in Eindhoven in 2003, T2M has worked to create a community focused on furthering the understanding of the historical relationship among transport, traffic, and the mobility of people, material objects, and ideas. The theme of this year’s conference, “Tourism and the History of Transport, Traffic, and Mobility,” was selected with the goal of broadening interest in the field. Reflecting the success of this effort, participants from more than twenty countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America attended and presented papers at York. While many of the seventy papers adhered to the official theme, the program also included a wide variety of presentations addressing the social, cultural, economic, technological, ecological, and political aspects of the history of transportation and traffic.
The conference opened on the evening of 6 October with a reception in the museum’s main hall, at the foot of the entry gates from Euston Station, London’s first railway depot. Following the reception, David Nye delivered an opening address, “Annihilating Surprise: Transportation, Images, and Tourism,” in which he explored the changing social construction of the significance of Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Probing the linkages between personal interpretation and transportation technology, Nye’s address set the tone for much of the discussion that ensued over the subsequent days.
The paper-presentation sessions commenced the next morning, following John Walton’s keynote address, “Travelers, Tourists, and Trippers: Transport Innovation and the Tourist Industry from the Eighteenth Century to the 1970s.” Due to the number of participants, the conference was organized into a series of parallel sessions, with papers grouped by theme. However, a compact disc containing abstracts, curricula vitae, and the papers themselves was distributed to the delegates well in advance, which helped offset the disadvantages of the parallel-session format. Each session also included a generous amount of time for discussion, facilitating the exchange of ideas and maintaining the conference schedule.
Because it was held at the National Railway Museum, railways quickly emerged as an unofficial secondary theme of the conference. A wide variety of papers utilizing a diverse array of analytical techniques provided fresh insights into it. Jörg Schimmelpfennig reexamined the benefits of regional railway monopolies that emerge through consolidation by investigating the economic impact of a particular railway merger that took place in late-nineteenth-century England. Michael Esbester analyzed the significance of tourist guidebooks in constructing the meaning of railway travel, focusing on the ways in which these books equated the technology of the railways with modernity. Michael Sibul discussed the political, economic, and social impact of Korea’s Kangozen Electric Railway, from its construction under Japanese rule through its closure after the Korean War cease-fire. Margaret Ritchie explored the significance of railways for Scottish women working in the herring industry during the first half of the twentieth century: these highly skilled seasonal workers relied on railways to communicate with their families, and through their industrial organizations, they therefore advocated for the continual improvement of the railway system. Susan Major’s paper demonstrated the potential of geographic information systems as a historical tool, using the system in conjunction with a nineteenth-century diary to reconstruct the details of a particular individual’s railway travels.
Many of the presentations considered historiographical trends and the relationship of transport history to other fields. Colin Divall addressed the need to better situate railway history within broader historical debates about the role of consumption in defining twentieth-century citizenship. My own paper pointed toward a new way of understanding the decisions behind (and consequences of) technological change within the U.S. railroad industry. Charles Loft discussed the cultural context of the 1960s restructuring of British Rail, proposing railways as a metaphor to better understand failure and decline in postwar Britain. Robert Lee explored the representative nature of UNESCO World Heritage railway sites, examining the relationship between its World Heritage criteria and other issues specific to railway preservation.
A number of papers examined transport and tourism within the context of colonialism and communism. Tokunbo Ayoola detailed the tensions that accompanied the privatization of Nigeria’s railways within the context of Britain’s emerging post–World War II colonial policies. Vernadette Gonzalez presented a provocative analysis of the connections among colonialism, colonial travel, and modern tourism: on-road travel facilitated the interaction of tourists and indigenous populations and therefore played a critical role in the construction of racial, cultural, and class identities. Stefan Albrecht delved into the tension between the imagined freedom and glamour of air travel and the reality of travel restrictions within socialist Europe. Duncan Light’s paper highlighted the links among Romania’s efforts to attract Western tourists, its economic-development plans, and its quest for self-identity. Karin Taylor discussed state-sponsored youth tourism in socialist Bulgaria, which provided a measure of freedom and a means of escape from conservative social norms.
Several papers looked at more recent themes. Bao Jun Ma and Sid Chu examined the survival of Hong Kong’s tramline and its role as a distinctive urban-design element. Nicholas Crean considered the recent history of “good manners” public-service messages within the larger context of formal and informal social controls in contemporary Japanese society. Using historical and empirical research to present “spatial partnerships” as an analytical concept, Hans-Liudger Dienel discussed tourist destinations that also serve as sources of spatial identity for urban citizens. Abimbola Odumosu investigated the central role of transport in facilitating the development of the durbar festivities in Kano City, Nigeria. Bruce Pietrykowski examined the potential of Detroit’s “People Mover” as a way for tourists to view that city’s industrial ruins within the context of its larger economic and social problems and its urban-redevelopment efforts.
The conference proceedings also provided a pleasant introduction to the area’s history. An evening “ghost walk” provided a unique and entertaining view into York’s past. The awards dinner was preceded by a rousing medley of rail-themed vignettes performed by the National Railway Museum’s own theater troupe. The afternoon of 9 October featured an excursion into the Keighley area of Yorkshire to visit the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, the Vintage Carriages Trust of Ingrow, and the village of Haworth. This provided a firsthand view of the area’s efforts to preserve and reuse elements of its industrial heritage. The tour began with a trip through the Worth Valley, which is home to many factories and mills now undergoing adaptive reuse. The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway has played a major role in creating the romantic image of the Edwardian branch line: it was the setting for the popular British television series, The Railway Children. Today this railway not only functions as a tourist attraction, but also as a link between several small villages and a mainline railway station. The Vintage Carriages Trust has spearheaded the development of documentation and conservation methods for preserving passenger railway rolling stock. Dinner was held in the village of Haworth, which has survived the decline of its woolen mills through the development of a bustling tourism business based on the town’s connection to the Brontë family of literary fame.
Technology and Culture 47.2 (2006) 369-372
History Workshop Journal