T2M - International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic, and Mobility
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Theme Group 3 – Transport and Mobility in Pre-Industrial Times

Issues of transportation and mobility before the advent of the railway often appear as the incorporation of “dark ages”: endless coach travel on roads hardly deserving their name, densely packed carts and waggons easily surpassed by any traveller on foot, ill-maintained waterways obstructing any form of decent transportation. Seemingly, only coastal and overseas shipping in these times came somewhat close to modern ideas of transportation. However, such a gloomy picture reflects the arguments of 19th-century railway and canal promoters rather than in-depth historical analysis. A number of studies in recent years have provided a more adequate picture of the evolution of pre-industrial transport systems in Europe and in other cultures like, for example, China. They have proven especially fruitful where they describe the complex interaction of technical with organizational, political and administrative developments, not to forget changing mentalities.

Trojkas in the Russian Countryside 1899 | Painting by Pyotr Nikolayevich Gruzinsky

Trojkas in the Russian Countryside 1899 | Painting by Pyotr Nikolayevich Gruzinsky

The theme group “Transport and mobility in pre-industrial times” has been founded to foster interdisciplinary and intercultural exchange on related issues among T2M members. Possible topics of discussion comprise:

In dealing with such issues, the group pursues two main aims:

The steps envisaged to bring together a network of experts are, firstly, the organisation of relevant sessions at T2M conferences. For the 2009 meeting we will propose a round-table discussion: “What is to be done? Agendas for and examples of innovative research on transportation in pre-industrial times.”

Secondly, we want to set up an internet platform, providing a bibliography on interdisciplinary and intercultural issues of pre-modern transportation, as well as a related mailing-list.

In mid-term perspective, we aim to provide easily accessible synopsis of recent and current studies in the field. In the long run, we would like to develop, together with colleagues specialized in modern and contemporary transport history, categories for an overarching analysis and description of long-term historical change in transportation systems. With these aims, we strongly welcome interested colleagues to join the theme group and/or share their ideas on any of the thematic and organizational issues raised above.


Nanny Kim, a China historian with a special interest in transport technologies in everyday practice, contributes the comparative perspective of Chinese experiences. These include longue durée developments such as the shift from horse power to wind and human power, the privatization of infrastructure projects from the 10th century onwards as well as specific issues of technical or cultural detail, such as the social standing of boatsmen in the late imperial period or technologies of road and river maintenance.
Website www.monieseastasia.uni-tuebingen.de
E-Mail nkim@sino.uni-heidelberg.de

Hans-Ulrich Schiedt, Member of the management of ViaStoria – Center of Transport History, University of Berne and secretary general of the Swiss Association for Economic and Social History works on transport history of the early modern period and the 19th century.
Website www.viastoria.ch/D/Kontakt/Hans-Ulrich_Schiedt.htm
E-Mail hans-ulrich.schiedt@viastoria.ch

Marcus Popplow, independent scholar with a focus on the history of technology, science, and the environment in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, is editor for “land transportation” and “engineering” in the multi-volume “Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit 1450-1850″ and has taught early modern transportation history at Salzburg University.
Website www.marcus-popplow.de
E-Mail marcus.popplow@web.de