It is striking how much recent scholarship on the mobility history of the United States has come to emphasize moments of relative motionlessness. More concerned with events in the halls of government than on the open road, historians have moved away from the nuts and bolts of transportation systems—the vehicles, the modes, and the infrastructure—to instead investigate how these networks have been shaped by larger political and social forces. Scholars have investigated these influences by highlighting how groups of Americans have codified, contested, or perceived the nation’s transportation system. By centering their studies on actors, rather than the actual systems, mobility scholars have framed their subjects in new ways and linked their subfield to political, legal, and social history.
This year’s Mobility in History is the sixth edition of the T2M Yearbook. With this volume a new editorial team has taken over with plans to carry on the strong tradition created by the preceding teams led by Gijs Mom and Peter Norton. Yearbook Six once again offers a collection of articles reviewing the cutting edge of mobility scholarship across several disciplines and highlighting exciting new directions toward which this vibrant field can move. In addition, this yearbook features two articles, by Dhan Zunino Singh and Christian Kehrt, that represent the first iterations of what are intended to become annual features in future volumes.
What good are mobility scholars? And what does our scholarship—be it rooted in history, geography, sociology, anthropology, or any other discipline—provide the world outside academia? Those are questions I have been pondering for the last year, ever since Gijs Mom and Peter Merriman engaged in a stimulating polemic in the pages of Yearbook Six. Must we move beyond our academic silos, as Mom suggested, and peek (if not step boldly) into interdisciplinary work and even policy? Can the scholar be a planner or policy maker? Can the historian offer insights on the future of mobility? And what of our subjects? Should our gaze be turned to the international? The comparative? Or, as Merriman argued, should we polish well-trod national mobilities in ways that allow new subjects, local particularities, and actors to shine through?
Path-dependent Annexation and Highway Practices in an American Metropolis
How do cities grow? And how do decisions made about mobility and territory impact and structure that growth? Focusing on Houston, Texas after the Second World War, this article looks at how decisions made by city officials helped cement the dual processes of annexation and highway building into the city's growth structure. These strategies, while helping to explain how Houston become a leading metropolitan center during the second half of the twentieth century, also turned into path dependencies that limited Houston's mobility choices and stretched the city's ability to provide services to its citizens. The implementation of these two growth mechanisms shaped the unique development of the city and structured its relationships to the communities around it.
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.