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.
Because it made possible rapid movement and shipping across large distances, joining far-off towns to economic and cultural capitals, many people who lived in the early 19th century regarded the railroad as an instrument of progress. Because anyone with the price of a ticket could board a train, regardless of social class, the railroad was also seen as a democratizing technology.
But, Wolfgang Schivelbusch notes in this vivid history of early rail travel, the promise of progress and democracy was swiftly compromised. The railroads became an agency for the concentration of wealth in a few hands, and they created a class of passive consumers who simply got aboard and waited to arrive at their destinations. The railroads, Schivelbusch writes, changed the 19th-century world for good and ill. They helped rewrite the industrializing world's sense of time, for now precise schedules had to be kept; they reinforced a sense of forward-plunging movement into the future; they even introduced the reality of mass disaster, for railroads were always crashing, sometimes taking hundreds of riders to their deaths.
Delving into urban planning, psychology, architecture, and economics, as well as the history of technology, Schivelbusch paints a revealing portrait of the role of the railroad in shaping the 19th-century mind. --Gregory McNamee