Volume III, number 3, November 2006
No doubt many of you will look back with satisfaction on our Paris conference: Mathieu Flonneau, Vincent Guigueno and their team did a marvellous job in organizing our association’s largest- ever event (and, according to many, the best in terms of scholarly quality).
With unprecedented levels of sponsorship, the conference offered no less than two dinners: one in the gorgeous Le Train Bleu restaurant and the official conference banquet in the hall of the École des Ponts et Chaussées. I enjoyed the latter very much: very good food, but informal enough to make it into a very nice social gathering. I recollect that I sat at least at eight different tables (and proted from eight different bottles of exquisite wine!). Our EC member Clay McShane volunteered to write an analysis of the Paris event, comparing it with our earlier conferences (to be published in the September 2007 issue of The Journal of Transport History).
One of the very positive results of this year’s conference was the founding of a second Theme Group on Mobility and Technology. Now we not only have an outreach structure towards tourism history (Heike Wolter’s Theme Group on Tourism in Socialist Countries) but also towards historians of technology. These groups (together with other members of the Executive Committee) are also very busy trying to set up a kind of discussion forum in cyberspace, creating the first infrastructure to make our association into something more than an apparatus to organize annual conferences. Clearly our PhD students are starting to make a difference: not only do they constitute one third of our membership, they have also started to fill the radio silence in-between conferences, transforming T2M into a professional tool all year round.
Personally, I like this shift of emphasis towards younger scholars. Up to now, the usual format, in academia as well as in its institutions and organizations, was that senior scholars define the route and junior scholars largely follow their coattails, in what is assumed to be a learning process. This may be a sensible division of labor (and power!) in a well-developed and well-defined field, but with our field in turbulent transformation it prohibits change and acts as a conservative force. Although senior scholars no doubt help shape our future, PhD students are in the luxurious position of being able to dedicate three or four years of research to new approaches and new topics, as our annual conferences testify. They experiment with cross-over studies between cultural analysis and transport history, between tourism and mobility, and between history and transport planning. Theme Groups are therefore much more than a playground for young talent. If properly protected and stimulated by T2M’s policy they could develop into incubators or niches where crucial subfields could emerge. Eventually, such groups could also function as openings to the academic and museum world.
The same is true for the idea of a T2M Summer School: if visiting teachers could be invited to formulate a shortlist of ‘must-reads’ for their sub-disciplines, such a summer school could be a place where, slowly, a canon of basic literature could be formulated. As long as such a canon does not exist, we cannot truly call ourselves a ‘field.’