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The Crisis of Transport History: A Critique, and a Vista

Gijs Mom

Using Peter Merriman's recent book as a trigger, this review-cum-polemic argues that mobility history is facing a scholarly crisis in the midst of other mobility-related fields that are blossoming. The core of the diagnosis is a lack of debate on a central question that is painfully missing. The article suggests as a remedy the opening up of the field along the paths of transmodality, transdisciplinarity, and especially transnationality. The national bias of much historical scholarship is a hindrance to its future blooming.

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Mao or Merriman? On Pitjantjatjara and Other Mobilities—A Response

Gijs Mom

In his reply to my diatribe about the crisis of transport and mobility history, my friend Peter Merriman casually drops the term “modernist” three times (one time in combination with “desires”), as if to suggest that mine is a backward struggle. He seems to ask: haven’t we now moved into the postmodern condition, beyond the illusions of grand narratives and all-permeating questions, into a meadow of a thousand blooming flowers? Apart from the fact that Mao was more modest than Merriman (Mao used ba¯i, a hundred, not qia¯n, a thousand, my Chinese teacher here in Shanghai explains to me, and he used “blossoming” rather than “blooming,” though the difference between the two escapes me with my limited mastery of English), Peter might be right: I confess I am an antimodernist modernist. Like Deng Xiaoping, for whom this term was coined by the Chinese historian Wang Hui and with whom (for several reasons) I don’t like to be compared, I like to stir things up to keep us awake. I need to ask questions—often with a vengeance. Perhaps the main difference between Peter and I is that I dare to use the word “us.” I feel a member of an association, while Peter might be considered a monad in a network. While I bask in the illusions of a community of scholars, Peter advocate a mild postmodernism, perhaps feeling more at home in a fragmented environment, of which even the mobile practices of the Australian Pitjantjatara form a part. Do we have a case of Gesellschaft versus Gemeinschaft here?

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Editorial

Gijs Mom

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Trending Transfers

A Decade of New Mobility Studies through the Lens of Transmodality, Transnationalism, and Transdisciplinarity

Gijs Mom

Abstract

Looking back on nine years of Transfers, this essay first analyzes the journal's 141 main articles statistically, investigating whether and how much they represented the editorial team's ambition to develop New Mobility Studies guided by transmodality, transnationalism, and transdisciplinarity, in the process decentering the vehicle, the nation, and even history. Together with its hundreds of Editorials, opinionated Ideas in Motion essays and book, film, and art reviews, the journal was able to carve out a clear trend toward a well-established and solid niche within the general mobility studies field. Embedded in a narrative about the personal scholarly development of its first editor in the midst of the CIVID-19 pandemic, the essay shows how Transfers managed to offer its readers a hybrid mix of a scholarly vista on and over the edge of the field and an artistic, curatorial, and filmic and, in general, aesthetic struggle with mobility.

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Editorial

Gijs Mom

This summer a small airplane was suspended between high trees on a lane in a posh neighborhood of Amsterdam. Part of a display of contemporary art, the plane is one of Joost Conijn’s self-built contraptions in which he flew all the way to Africa, regularly reporting on his “performance” in one of the Dutch national newspapers. In Western histories of mobility, voyages to Africa—on foot, by ship, in litters carried by indigenous people, in trains, by car or motorbike, and in planes—symbolized in the popular mind an aggressive colonialism. Such trips demonstrated Western superiority as much as they involved utilitarian journeying or reconnaissance of land to be conquered. Anxious about staying aloft, Conijn mimicked in his adventures the pioneering spirit of colonial exploits while at the same time giving them a postcolonial twist. In his case, the return to Africa was a self-consciously humble venture, one that threw into comic relief assumptions of western superiority and the right to unfettered mobility. At the same time as his low-tech vehicle questioned the rationality of mass tourism in supersize Boeings, it reminded us of an era after the car began to be domesticated, when aviation promised to be the more advanced successor of individual motorized transport.

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“Our City is Ruined. Reason: Road Widening”

A Review Essay on New Mobility Studies, Social Sciences, and History

Gijs Mom

Govind Gopakumar, Installing Automobility: Emerging Politics of Mobility and Streets in Indian Cities (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020)

Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, Streets in Motion: The Making of Infrastructure, Property, and Political Culture in Twentieth-century Calcutta (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022)

Tarini Bedi, Mumbai Taximen: Autobiographies and Automobilities in India (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2022)

Rano Turaeva and Rustamjon Urinboyev (eds.), Labour, Mobility and Informal Practices in Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe: Power, Institutions and Mobile Actors in Transnational Space (London: Routledge, 2021)

Róisín Healy (ed.), Mobility in the Russian, Central and East European Past (London: Routledge, 2019)

Luke Heslop and Galen Murton (eds.), Highways and Hierarchies: Ethnographies of Mobility from the Himalaya to the Indian Ocean (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021)

Joshua Grace, African Motors: Technology, Gender, and the History of Development (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021)

Jun Zhang, Driving toward Modernity: Cars and the Lives of the Middle Class in Contemporary China (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019)

Shawn William Miller, The Street Is Ours: Community, the Car, and the Nature of Public Space in Rio de Janeiro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018)

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Mobility Studies at a Crossroads

Gijs Mom and Pet Norton

With the publication of this yearbook, we celebrate two jubilees: the yearbook itself appears in its fifth edition, enabled by an association just entering its third lustrum. Where do we stand in 2013, as a community of scholars and other persons interested in the study of mobility? How did we, as a community, evolve? What developments did we experience during the past ten years to reach our current standpoint?

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Why Not Now? The Electric Vehicle As a Vehicle of Tomorrow

Christiane Katz and Gijs Mom

Scholarship in the history of the electric vehicle has covered the first wave of enthusiasm in this alternative propulsion system well. On the basis of this scholarship, we find that this wave consisted of three generations: first, before 1905, a pioneering generation of electrified carriages; then a second generation from 1905 to 1920 of vehicles also derived from horse drawn technology but now equipped with a sophisticated lead-acid battery and, most of all, supported by a management system based upon subscriptions for batteries and tires in cents per kilometer; and finally, from the 1920s on, a generation of would-be petrol cars on which the electric propulsion was hidden, as a silent recognition of the victory of the petrol car.

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Editorial

Gijs Mom and Georgine Clarsen

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Editorial

Gijs Mom and Nanny Kim

How topsy-turvy can the world of mobility become? Th e London cab has recently been revived by a Chinese automotive group,1 General Motors had to be rescued by the American taxpayer, and BMW is converting its cars to electricity. In Delhi, after a rape and murder of a woman in a bus, rickshaw pullers introduced “safe for women” rickshaws.2 In Brazil riots against corruption and poverty started in a bus, out of outrage at increased ticket prices.3 In Rio de Janeiro there are three bus accidents per day, in part caused by drivers racing against each other.4 How can we understand the plethora of confusing messages from a world of mobility that seems to spin out of control, more so with every new decade? New Mobility Studies tries to make sense of this turbulence and as editors of Transfers we seek fresh approaches that are not afraid of transgressing boundaries. Th is issue, in which we present scholarship beyond the immediate reach of Western mainstream mobility studies, is an example of such boundary crossing.