Rolf Peter Sieferle and Helga Breuninger (eds), Transportgeschichte im internationalen Vergleich. Europa-China-Naher Osten (International comparison of transport history: Europe-China-Near East), Der Europäische Sonderweg 12, Breuninger Stiftung, Stuttgart (2004), 302 pp., [euro]20.00.
Comparative international studies on transport history are rare, especially when it comes to overviews. One of these rare specimens is the volume edited by Rolf Peter Sieferle and Helga Breuninger on the history of transport published in the Europäische Sonderweg series. The horizon of the publication is broad. The book presents developments in transport in three different regions and types of society: Europe, China and the Near and Middle East. In each case the development in time of different modes of transport is analysed against the background of the economic development and the development of the rest of the society. Its layout is ambitious and promising.
The book is firmly based on recent insights from transport historians, economic historians and historians of technology and reflects their debates of recent decades. While publications of two decades ago made much of a notion like the 'transport revolution', the writers of this book emphasise continuity in the development of transport systems. In all three cases examples can be found. In his essay on transport in the Islamic world Otfried Weintritt positions himself in the debate on the decline of horse-drawn waggons in the Near and Middle East and North Africa by pointing to the long duration of the replacement of wagons by traffic with camels; hence he disconnects the phenomenon from the Muslim conquest of the eighth and ninth centuries. In the chapter on China, Nanny Kim exposes the long-standing importance of the state in the construction of roads and waterways and the regulation of their use, pointing to their ancient origins. It is telling that in his chapter on early modern developments in Europe Marcus Popplow puts much more emphasis on roads and road traffic than on assumed revolutionary technologies such as canals and railways. On his analysis the European transport sector experienced a substantial upswing in the period 1500- 1800, with a huge increase in road traffic and road construction-not only in the UK but on the Continent as well.
The knowledge built up in transport history, economic history and the history of technology enables the authors to relate transport development to the development of society as a whole and to open the black box of the technologies involved. They discuss improvements in waggon construction, horse gear, road surfaces and shipbuilding, and blend it with discussing of macroeconomic and social developments. …