What is in a Name? Transport or Mobility History

Welcome to my new website. This site is designed to support my research into the history of transport in Brisbane. This is very much a work in progress, and indeed it is very much in its infancy. To be honest, the project has not really left the yard!

Of course, several questions emerge just from the title of this site, such as why Brisbane? Beyond simply an interest in the history of the City that I now call my home, I do not yet have a fully formed answer to that question. However, that is something that I hope to explore in due course.

Another question is about the use of the term ‘transport.’ This might seem an odd question given that my research will focus on different modes of transport in Brisbane, how people have conceptualised their interactions with these means of mobility, and how developing transport infrastructure has shaped the City’s growing landscape. However, thinking about the meaning of the word ‘transport’ gets to the centre of what has been a central debate within the field of transport history over the past two decades – mobility versus transport.

In 2015, Gijs Mom, one of the key actors in the debate over transport versus mobility history, reflected:

Since the publication of my article “What Kind of Transport History Did We Get?” in the Journal of Transport History in 2003, in which I made a plea for a shift from transport history to mobility history, more than a decade has passed. Since then, three new journals have reached the light of day (Mobilities, Journal of Tourism History, and Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies), either independently produced or part of an association or network. And yet, the mobility turn of transport history I advocated has not, or has perhaps only partially, materialized.[1]  

In his 2003 article, Mom had advocated for ‘an ‘integrated transport history’, which […] might better be termed ‘mobility history’.’[2] Mom’s position appeared to come in response to the methodological challenges that confronted the field of transport history at this time. In many respects, Mom’s plea for a ‘mobility turn’ was, perhaps, one focused at looking up and outside of the silo of transport history rather than the arguably conservative focus hitherto experienced. Indeed, as John Walton noted in 2006:

Transport history (so labelled) ha[d] until recently been mainly concerned with economic history, the history of technology and the relationship between them, mediated through historical geography and the articulation of nodes and networks.[3]

Mom’s 2015 reflection would suggest that the broadening of transport and mobility history had not yet come to pass. Indeed, he concluded that ‘[a]fter a decade of mobility history, the field clearly need[ed] some new impulses.’[4]  Are things any better in 2020? I shall endeavour to find out.

Nonetheless, the importance of thinking about, and perhaps using, the term mobility in my research is important because it has come to embrace a broader view of the study of transport than that reflected on by Walton in 2006. Indeed, the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic & Mobility views the related fields of transport and mobility as including ‘the interactions between people, material objects, infrastructures, representations, and embodied experiences.’ This is a significant distinction, given that there will undoubtedly be a cultural bent in my research. As such, it is probably worth me considering Mom’s argument and look up and outside of my silo…

[1] Gijs Mom, ‘The Crisis of Transport History: A Critique, and a Vista,’ Mobility in History, 6:1 (2015), p. 7.

[2] Gijs Mom, ‘What Kind of Transport History Did We Get?: Half a Century of JTH and the Future of the Field,’ The Journal of Transport History, 24:2 (2003), p. 132

[3] John Walton, ‘Transport, Travel, Tourism and Mobility: A Cultural Turn?,’ The Journal of Transport History, 27:2 (2006), p. 129.

[4] Mom, ‘The Crisis of Transport History,’ p. 19.

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