In historical research on cycling in France, most attention has been given to the development of bicycles themselves and the industry that built them, mainly in the nineteenth century, or on cycling as a sport. Some historians have studied the bicycle as a social object. But the works dealing with cycling as a means of transport are scarce. The special double session on “Cycling History and Cycling Policies” at the 2012 annual conference of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility in Madrid was an opportunity to exchange findings from various countries.
Dhan Zunino Singh and Mikkel Thelle
As the centerpiece of the eighth T2M yearbook, the following interview about representations of mobility signals a new and exciting focus area for Mobility in History. In future issues we hope to include reviews that grapple more with how mobilities have been imagined and represented in the arts, literature, and film. Moreover, we hope the authors of future reviews will reflect on the ways they approached those representations. Such commentaries would provide valuable methodological insights, and we hope to begin that effort with this interview. We have asked four prominent mobility scholars to consider how they and their peers are currently confronting representations of mobility. This is particularly timely given the growing academic focus on practices, material mediation, and nonrepresentational theories, as well as on bodily reactions, emotions, and feelings that, according to those theories, cannot be represented or symbolized by words or images.
Modern sport was born at the same time as modern mobility. Sport became one of the biggest promotional tools, first through cycle competitions, then car races. First intended for the wealthy, motor sports soon invited the middle classes to enter into a culture of freedom and social advancement which accompanied new forms of mobility. However, the links between sport and mobility are not restricted to motor sport or publicity. Indeed modern sport is a child of modern mobility, and just as the spread of new forms of mobility played a fundamental role in the passage from rural to urban societies, the transport revolution accelerated the decline of the traditional games and made possible the invention of contemporary sport and of global sports culture and space.
Mobility is often mentioned in African history, but rarely is it examined to its full analytical potential. This is unfortunate, in part because in the 1960s the first generation of African historians considered cultures of mobility a means of challenging stereotypes of African backwardness and simplicity. Jan Vansina, for example, used mobility to uncover “complexity” and “efficiency” in African political history—a stated goal of early Africanist historians working to debunk colonial stereotypes—and to challenge the structural-functionalist lens through which colonials and outsiders had understood African identities and social systems. In the following decades, mobility was critical to several aspects of African history—including slavery, women’s history, labor migration, and urbanization. Yet the makings of a recognizable field of African mobility have not emerged until recently.
A major intervention of mobility studies has been to suggest a new framework for the writing of history. Recent studies of diasporic Indian Ocean communities and trans-Pacific labor migration have shown that mobility history can open the door to histories of mobile subjects rather than static nations and, in the process, lead the way toward a transmodal and transnational research agenda. This article considers what the history of mobility has to offer to the modern history of transport and social life in the Japanese archipelago, which has most often been used to tell the story of the development of the modern Japanese nation-state.
Dhan Zunino Singh
The article outlines a possible course for mobility in Latin American history based on the diagnosis made by previous reviews on the field. It claims that although the emergence of new studies have signified a critical approach to transport technologies and greater emphasis on cultural and social practices of mobility, the term needs to be discussed more in theoretical terms to shape a common language among scholars from different perspectives. Moreover, mobility discussions should lead scholars to reconsider Latin America as a subject of analysis by critically revisiting the matter of periphery.
Drawing on published material, gray literature, and personal research, this article explores the implications of growth in mobile phone usage across Africa for patterns of physical mobility, organization of transport services, and the potential for improved transport planning. Emerging intersections between virtual and physical mobility—and broader interactions with wider social, economic, and political contexts—offer fascinating new foci for research in the continent. Social equity issues, including those associated with gender- and age-related mobility, will require careful monitoring and further explication over time, as patterns of phone ownership develop and change.
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?
Argentina is characterized by its large territory and diverse geography. In a book that has defined Argentinian historiography, Halperin Donghi analyzes the national geography in detail and investigates the first ten tumultuous years after the May Revolution of 1810, which defined the political, economic, and social centrality of the Pampas and Littoral regions. Halperin Donghi intertwines geography with politics and economics, providing a vivid image of Argentina’s physical space. Such description challenges readers’ assumptions
about the historical problems arising from mobility, the development of modern transportation systems and their corresponding infrastructure. These topics have been covered in Argentinian historiography but from very different approaches. The historiography of mobility in Argentina reveals diverse analytical perspectives, including economic, cultural, and urban history.
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.