Organized Panel Session
By land, air, and sea: ambivalences and social geographies of transportation technologies, 1880s-1940s.
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the extension and globalization of new forms of transportation and communication technologies, including steam-powered transportation, modern roads and infrastructure, and aviation. These technologies promised to “destroy distance,” but as studies of technology and society have shown, this promise was not always achieved or as straightforward as expected. Physical technologies were also social technologies which changed existing social relationships in uneven ways that users were sometimes aware of and tried manipulate and in other cases did not fully understand. The papers in this panel examine the above-mentioned forms of technologies and consider their various effects in specific social, geographical, and temporal contexts and in relation to the users of these technologies, including state power in India and Myanmar during WWII, China’s central government and various elites between the World Wars, and Qing China’s diplomatic representatives in the late nineteenth century. A shared theme in these papers is how transportation technologies become the means to participate in a new imperial order, to contest forces of centralization, and attempt to incorporate or exclude areas of social and cultural difference into structures of state power. By examining the uses, complications, and resistances to these distance-destroying technologies, the papers illustrate the variety of responses to trends toward global integration in this period and contribute to discussions of the multivalence of technology.