The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century

The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century

The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century

The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century

Synopsis

The impact of constant technological change upon our perception of the world is so pervasive as to have become a commonplace of modern society. But this was not always the case; as Wolfgang Schivelbusch points out in this fascinating study, our adaptation to technological change--the development of our modern, industrialized consciousness--was very much a learned behavior. In The Railway Journey, Schivelbusch examines the origins of this industrialized consciousness by exploring the reaction in the nineteenth century to the first dramatic avatar of technological change, the railroad.

In a highly original and engaging fashion, Schivelbusch discusses the ways in which our perceptions of distance, time, autonomy, speed, and risk were altered by railway travel. As a history of the surprising ways in which technology and culture interact, this book covers a wide range of topics, including the changing perception of landscapes, the death of conversation while traveling, the problematic nature of the railway compartment, the space of glass architecture, the pathology of the railway journey, industrial fatigue and the history of shock, and the railroad and the city.

Belonging to a distinguished European tradition of critical sociology best exemplified by the work of Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin, The Railway Journey is anchored in rich empirical data and full of striking insights about railway travel, the industrial revolution, and technological change. Now updated with a new preface, The Railway Journey is an invaluable resource for readers interested in nineteenth-century culture and technology and the prehistory of modern media and digitalization.

Excerpt

Nothing else in the nineteenth century seemed as vivid and dramatic a sign of modernity as the railroad. Scientists and statesmen joined capitalists in promoting the locomotive as the engine of ‘progress’, a promise of imminent Utopia. By the end of the century their naivete came home to them, especially in the United States where railroad corporations were seen as the epitome of ruthless, irresponsible business power, a grave threat to order and stability, both economic and political. But in fact from its beginnings the railroad was never free of some note of menace, some undercurrent of fear. The popular images of the ‘mechanical horse’ manifest fear in the very act of seeming to bury it in a domesticating metaphor: fear of displacement of familiar nature by a fire-snorting machine with its own internal source of power. Once it appeared, the machine seemed unrelenting in its advancing dominion over the landscape — in the way it ‘lapped the miles’, in Emily Dickinson’s words — and in little over a generation it had introduced a new system of behavior: not only of travel and communication but of thought, of feeling, of expectation. Neither the general fear of the mechanical and the specific frights of accident and injury, nor the social fear of boundless economic power entirely effaced the Utopian promise implicit in the establishment of speed as a new principle of public life. In fact the populations of the industrial world, including the American Populists who aimed their profound hostility toward corporate capitalism at the railroad, accomodated themselves to the sheer physical fact of travel by rail as a normal fact of existence.

Now, as the railroad recedes in importance as a mode of personal travel and of economic distribution, it reappears as an object of study, of historical contemplation. Scholars have weighed its importance in . . .

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