Two quotations, two periods of history. While the lines were written a century apart, their divergent sentiments reflect more than just the passage of time. They also show how, in the space of a century, the very concept of speed has become more complex, mainly because different kinds of speed are available thanks to new technologies in communications and mobility. The juxtaposition of these two quotations show a rupture: it seems that we are slowly shifting from a status where speed was both wish and choice to one where limited movement may be forced upon us by declining fossil fuels and growing pollution.
The Necessity of Slowing Time: Speed as a Bridge between Transport History and Mobility History
On the Course of “Progress”: A Review of Literature on Road Building in Latin America
Michael K. Bess
The building of motor roads in Latin America, as elsewhere, was an activity essential to the history of modernization and state formation in the twentieth century. Governments, private companies, and regional boosters launched construction efforts with the goal of reducing travel times, linking cities and towns together, and stimulating economic development. In the process, these initiatives also changed the way citizens thought about the nation-state. New highways helped give shape to national identity, not only by making more of the countryside traversable, but also by putting citizens and foreigners in greater contact. Likewise, motor tourism identified and reified regional cultural symbols, transforming them into representations of that nation, and packaging them for easy consumption by travelers on weekend getaways.
Ports Matter: Supply Chain Logics and the Sociocultural Context of Infrastructure in Port Studies
Viewed from a distance, a large container port looks like any other. Terminals and stacked containers are marked by a narrowing set of multinational operators and shipping companies. Fences project promises of security and safety that are often enacted by the local hires of global security firms. Perhaps longshoremen are visible locking a container into place aboard a vessel, although the docks of contemporary container terminals are more notable for the seeming lack of men at work. Critical scholars of supply chains are revealing the global logics behind such visible similarities in port economy and governance. While this work responds to the call of John Shaw and James Sidaway to recognize how “[ports] matter beyond being entities in and of themselves,” ports are also shaped by more proximate, sociocultural logics.
This is the eighth issue of Mobility in History. It is also the last issue that will appear as a stand-alone journal. While no new versions of the publication will be created in the existing mold, the publication and the types of work it has published over nearly a decade of production are far from disappearing. Elements of the Yearbook will become an essential part of T2M’s website, providing a key interface between the organization, its members, and the public. Further, with a strong stable of publications in operation, some articles traditionally found in Mobility in History may have landing spots in Transfers and The Journal of Transport History. Finally, back issues of Mobility in History will remain accessible to members in perpetuity, providing a meaningful archive of work.
Revisiting “Driving While Black”: Racialized Automobilities in a Settler Colonial Context
Paul Gilroy observed in 2001 that there were “surprisingly few” discussions of automobiles in histories of African American vernacular cultures, in spite of their “epoch-making impact.” He argued that a “ distinctive history of propertylessness and material deprivation” had led to a disproportionate African American investment in automobiles. This article considers how car culture has also operated as a salve for the “indignities of white supremacy” for Indigenous Australians, though on very different terms.
Rhythm, Disruption, and the Experience of African Roads
Social scientists working in Africa have begun to take an interest in roads and road building. This interest seems to stem from both theoretical and real-world developments: on the one hand, the “material turn” and the recent explosion of interest in infrastructure are drawing scholars’ attention to the “material substrate” that underlies social life; on the other, roads-focused development funding, low-cost Western credit, and the growing role of Chinese investment on the continent have resulted in a proliferation of road-building projects ranging from small rural feeder roads to large megaprojects. This is a moment of rapid change, and focusing on the concrete manifestations of that change offers scholars a rich focal point for understanding the more diffuse effects of a continental trend to make infrastructure the basis of development.
Toward an Anthropology of the Road
The cross-pollination made possible by bringing critical studies of mobility from different disciplines into conversation with one another is a goal of T2M and Mobility in History generally, and this special section on roadways in history and anthropology specifically. Anthropologists and historians of mobility, roads, and automobility have a great deal to share with one another and with our colleagues in other disciplines. As an anthropologist, a representative of a still relatively new discipline in the pages of Mobility in History, I’ve been invited to open this section with a review of how my discipline has approached the subject of roads.
Urban Electric Public Transport in Eastern and Southeastern Europe: Toward a Historical Anthropology of Infrastructural Crises
Crises in urban electric transport infrastructure of Eastern and Southeastern Europe present not only a fruitful subject for historical, ethnographic, and sociological inquiry, but also contribute to two intersecting knowledge fields. First, to the multidisciplinary constellation of studies dedicated to failures of sociotechnical systems that I will refer to as disaster and crisis studies. And second, to social studies of urban transit in the former Socialist Bloc, a subfield within broader mobility and transport studies. In this text I will review the state of both these fields and then proceed to conceptualize the intersections between them, proposing historical anthropology as an integration tool. In the process I will occasionally refer to my fieldwork in Donbas, Ukraine, from 2011 to 2013, and eastern Romania since 2015.
At the Threshold to the New World
Equator Crossings, Sunsets, and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques
This article deals with representations of equator crossings in travel literature. Focusing on the accounts of European travelers to Brazil, it considers descriptions of crossing-the-line ceremonies that were performed on board ships since the sixteenth century and shows that, since the late eighteenth century, writers have increasingly staged crossings of the equator as an individual and private experience. Furthermore, it addresses the relation of travel and knowledge that descriptions of equator crossings establish by referring to distinctive epistemological approaches to the New World and by producing a “liminal knowledge” characteristic of travel narratives. The article draws on travel literature from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, paying special attention to the postromantic description of an equator crossing in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s famous memoir Tristes Tropiques.