Perception, reception and representation: Wolfgang Schivelbusch and the cultural history of travel and transport

Revill, George (2011). Perception, reception and representation: Wolfgang Schivelbusch and the cultural history of travel and transport. In: Norton, Peter; Mom, Gijs; Milward, Liz and Flonneau, Mathieu eds. Mobility in History: reviews and reflections. Yearbook of Transport, Travel and Mobility (T2M), 3. Neuchatel, Suisse: Editions Alphil-Presses universitaires suisses, pp. 31–48.

URL: http://www.alphil.com/index.php/mobility-in-histor...

Abstract

It is hard to dispute the assertion that Wolfgang Schibvelbusch's book originally published in 1977 as The Railway Journey: trains and travel in the 19th Century (translated from German by Anselm Hollo) has become a landmark in railway history. It is quoted and referenced widely by social and cultural historians of the nineteenth century and by historians of travel and transport. The culturally informed approach to histories of technology adopted by Schivelbusch has played an important role enabling railway historians to recognise the broader cultural and intellectual contexts in which the railway has been experienced historically. Writing in the late 1970s Schivelbusch raised a series of issues which transformed our understanding of the railway’s place within cultural histories of modernity. This paper argues that The Railway Journey has both enabled and constrained study of the cultural history of railways within transport history. In order to develop this argument, the following two sections examine in turn key themes of ‘panoramic perception’ and ‘the machine ensemble’. The paper then continues with a discussion which reflects on the conceptual basis of Schivelbusch’s approach. It works with the idea of ‘traumatic shock’ to makes some suggestions hinting at a more creative engagement with his work. Overall the paper argues for dialogue rather than deference with this important work in the cultural history of transport.

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