Many T2M members will be familiar with Laurent Tissot, whether from his work on tourism and mobility history, or from having met him at our annual conference. A Professor at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in addition to all of the usual tasks that go with the job, this year he is one of the organizers of the Lucerne conference. Here we find out a bit more about him …
How did you get into academia?
Partly by chance, partly through luck, but also because I took some risks at a certain time in my life and grasped opportunities. I didn’t have a career plan and I very much acted according to circumstances.
What are you reading at the moment?
I like reading very much. Five or six books are usually on my desk which I try to read … simultaneously, without counting the Ph.D and Master’s texts … I’m interested in a very wide range of books: novels, general studies, political and economic texts, philosophy, travel books from France, Germany, England, America, Italy and sometimes . Swiss authors! I know it is too much (this is what my wife said) but I must say that I hate not to finish a book.
How has the history of tourism developed, and what are you working on now?
When I began working on tourism in an historical perspective 20 years ago, there were few people looking at this subject, whereas sociologists, economists, geographers and anthropologists had already been very active in this field for some decades. From then on, the interest grew very rapidly in the historical departments. An international association was created; a new journal has recently appeared (Journal of Tourism History) and lot of very good works have been done, particularly in relation with the question of tourist transport and mobility, tourism representation, tourist management, economics, the social and environmental impact of tourism, etc. Now, my interest focuses on accommodation and hotel history, which is not well-documented so far. It is a central point in the development of tourism history. This aspect has much impact on transport and mobility: the construction of hotels, pensions, inns allowing visitors and tourists to investigate new spots, new towns and new attractions.
How has the geography and political structure of Switzerland had an impact on people’s mobility?
Transport is an essential factor in the construction of Switzerland. In some way, it is part of its identity. Its entire history, from the 13th century until now, focused on one core question: how to integrate all these different cantons marked by different cultures, languages, religions in a single vision of the country? To be sure that this vision is shared by all members an efficient transport system was needed, first with a pre-revolutionary road system, then with railway network and in the 20th century with the modern roads. But for these three periods, it was a very complex process due to geographical and economical reasons. Mountains and hills induced higher costs; each canton, with the increasingly important help of the federal state, had to find financial resources and technical means to achieve the completion of the network.
How are preparations for Lucerne going?
I must say that it was not very easy at the beginning, which coincided with the financial crisis. The organising committee may have been too optimistic about how to attract sponsors. Now, the situation is better. The local and cantonal authorities of Lucerne show great interest in hosting the conference and the Swiss Transport Museum is very enthusiastic about it. The Museum is doing a great job and will be able to offer splendid new rooms which are part of the extension of the Museum to the conference. With the support of the Swiss National Research Fund and other institutions, the conference has now much better financial perspectives.
From a scientific point of view, the program is almost completed. Just under 100 papers have been accepted. A supplementary session has to be added to integrate this number, and at least four parallel sessions will take place at the same time. For the organisers, this large number is a big challenge.
The Museum has also planned an exciting excursion along the Saint Gothard line. We will travel in old coaches and will stop in different historic places. We will also visit the building sites of the new tunnel. The past, present and future of the Gothard will be explored.
What do you think are T2M’s strengths and weaknesses?
It is a good but difficult question. T2M was created at a time when some researchers had the impression that transport history needed to be refreshed from a historiographic and methodological point of view. They wanted to investigate new approaches and test new methods based particularly on interdisciplinary dimensions. In this sense, T2M was a very appropriate tool to achieve this scientific goal. The best way to be listened to by colleagues and institutions is to create international platforms able to diffuse new ideas in the scientific academic world and able to attract new young researchers as well. An international conference was the first step, the creation of a website was a second one.
T2M also began at a time when History, considered as an academic field, was characterized (and it is still the case not only for History but, in a broad sense, for the social sciences) by an extreme specialization. Every field and sub-field wanted its own association, its own journal, its own conferences, its own institutes and so on. There were no reasons why the same thing was not to be done for researchers particularly interested in transport, traffic and mobility topics. This polarization of the fields was partly due to the competition which became harder and harder in the academic world. I’m not sure it is a good trend, but we (at least the senior researchers) have to be aware of the necessity to offer young researchers and future academics the best conditions to complete their curricula. In that sense, T2M offers very good opportunities. But this specialisation also makes the diffusion extremely problematic considering the huge amount of scientific and specialized production. If the annual conference gives a good visibility to international research, the question of dissemination of results remains pending. The Journal of Transport History is still the main source of diffusion but its periodicity (two issues per year) is too small to be really efficient. With no doubts, T2M must reinforce this aspect and think about the best ways to facilitate access to an international audience. The Yearbook is a good thing in this direction, particularly if we consider the questions related to the ‘state of the art’ in this field. But more attention must be paid to the website, which must also be considered as a means of diffusion, particularly in relation to the papers presented at the conferences. All the papers can’t be published in the JTH, but they give, for many of them, very interesting pieces of information on different aspects of transport, mobility and traffic. In that sense, it would be appropriate after the conference to put the CD of papers on the website in order to facilitate the access of this valuable information. Precautions must of course be taken in order to choose good papers to be put on-line and keep the website at a high scientific level.
But T2M must be aware of the limits of the ‘scientific market’ and the constraints linked to it. The pressure put on the young researchers to achieve excellent results coming from an increasing amount of published papers by all means in the top journals has also perverse effects not only on the quality of papers, but also on the ‘human dimension’ of the scientific world. T2M must remain a place where academics and professionals meet in a friendly context, debating without ‘arrière-pensée’ about important questions.