Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Autoist Triumphalism tricks even Trained Professionals

You might have seen the note on Sunday about some informal oral histories-slash-interviews done in the 1950s for KOAC radio by the young Marion County Historical Society.

It's terrific the current instantiation of the historical society is digitizing them and making them more widely available. (Check out the youtube!)

This piece was about an interview in 1955 with Della Bradley Stamps (1884 - 1971) and her childhood recollections of growing up in Woodburn.

The museum's curator says
Stamps' family arrived in the Woodburn area in 1887, where her father...operated a repair shop for cars. It took me the next 10 minutes to realize the cars she was referring to were railcars, not automobiles.
I suspect it didn't actually take a trained historian the full ten minutes to tumble to the different sense of "car." This is likely a bit of folksy and conversational exaggeration.

But it is not unplausible that there was a bit of double-take on the two kinds of "car."

More importantly, the admission trades on the near certainty that the intended audience for the piece, the expected reader, will hear the word "car" multiple times in a discussion of the 1890s and 1900s, and still think of an automobile.

It trades on the narrative of autoist triumphalism.

And instead of this being a lesson in the ways we routinely misread and misinterpret history as it has been rewritten by the winners, it's normalized as comical accident.

This is a nit, not at all an important detail in the context of the story about the radio piece, but it is fairly central to interests here on the blog. It's one of our hobby horses.

We want to dethrone the automobile, and make it but one tool of many in the transportation toolbox, not the all-powerful master tool used to hammer every nail, hammer every screw, and hammer every cut.

This presentist moment of anachronistic interpretation illustrates the thoroughgoing nature of its current dominance.

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