The Glasgow-Calcutta Connection by Peter W. Slater

However sparingly, historians and pundits have attempted to measure Scotland’s contribution to the British Empire. This area of scholarship is becoming productive but much remains to be done. Three important texts confront the question of the Scottish contribution. A.D. Gibb’s Scottish Empire (1937), Michael Fry’s The Scottish Empire (2001) and Tom Devine’s To the Ends of the Earth (2012) address the question from a wide perspective, suggesting that further research into the specificities of Scotland’s contribution is needed.[1] But, as Gibb and Devine stress, even the thought of Scotland’s involvement has something odd about it. As Gibb argued in 1937, the idea of a Scottish Empire ‘evokes no memories’, it ‘calls up no mental images’ and ‘stirs no pulse’.[2] According to Devine, the same phenomenon still prevails in the twenty-first century. Devine highlights what he calls ‘the post-imperial silence’ surrounding the imperial history of Scotland, describing it as a ‘national collective amnesia’.[3] Evidence of this public sentiment occurred during the Independence Referendum campaign in 2014. In the week prior to the vote, the Labour Party travelled by rail from Euston to Glasgow Central to attend a No campaign rally at the famous Royal Concert Hall steps on Buchanan Street. As the politicians marched up the hill they were followed by two activists in a rickshaw playing the Star Wars theme tune, ‘The Imperial March’, from their sound system, while shouting repeatedly through their megaphone ‘people of Glasgow, bow down to your imperial masters, welcome your imperial overlords’.[4] This gesture reveals that, for some, Scotland sees itself as a colonised nation and not a nation of colonisers.

Complicated though the question of the Scottish contribution is, the urban landscape that surrounded this protest has inscribed within it traces of Scotland’s imperial contribution. Just before arriving at Glasgow Central Station, the travelling Labour politicians would have glided past Jamaica Street. On their march up the hill they would have passed near West Nile Street, where Finlay, Muir & Co., the Glasgow-born global textile and tea traders, had their headquarters from 1870 to 1909.[5] Or they may have glimpsed a frieze set in the pediment of the City Chambers at George’s Square depicting Queen Victoria accepting gifts from the four corners of her empire.[6] Scotland’s contribution, then, is evidenced by the morphology of the city as it exists now; even if, as Devine argues, it is ‘subsumed, concealed and forgotten within a British melange’.[7] It is the purpose of this essay to uncover some of the details of the Scottish contribution by tracking the political, material and financial relations between Glasgow and Calcutta (and Scotland and India) as they intensified in the second half of the nineteenth century. By tracing these connections we can see how the physical morphology of each city, and its actions and operations, became dependent on its connection with the other. This essay will plot the material, industrial, environmental and economic connections and dependencies between Glasgow and Calcutta and conclude that, though it is important to map these connections and through it the Scottish contribution, it is also problematic to argue, as Michael Fry does, that there was a distinct and different Scottish Empire.[8]

If Scots were already ‘a global people’, then the British Empire intensified their migratory inclinations.[9] Aspirational Scots were attracted by the lure of economic opportunities, imperial careers and the social mobility on offer. [10] According to Fry, ‘India became a magnet for mobile Scots’.[11] When it came to empire-building, swathes of Scots jumped at the chance. The Scottish effort at home was incredibly significant too. An important book entitled Workshop of the British Empire (1977) details the history of the connection between the Clyde Valley and imperial industrial schemes abroad.[12] Historians have since argued that Scotland’s contribution was ‘disproportionate’ in comparison to other empire-building nations.[13] The causality of the movement of both Scotland’s internal population and the global Scottish diaspora was deeply involved with empire. India in particular attracted a continuous stream of emigrants as its raw material resources and growing markets began to be tapped. Glaswegian merchants made ‘spectacular gains’ from the Indian subcontinent.[14] The attraction to areas such as Bengal was perhaps partially a product of the persistence of the press in advertising the opportunities for wealth gathering activities in India. An article in the Glasgow Herald in 1872 offered India as the new America, either to those Scots keen to leave the country and chance their arm by crafting and exploiting trade relations abroad or those who may have had spare capital with which to invest.[15]

Glasgow’s connection to Calcutta extends at least back to the eighteenth century and the heyday of the East India Company.[16] But a watershed moment for a new phase in the relationship between the two cities came with a publication dated 20th April 1853, written by a Scottish statesman, the then Governor-General of the Government of India, Lord Dalhousie. In his Minute address Dalhousie sets out detailed plans to install a railway network throughout India. The empire, he argues, should undertake an industrial and civil engineering project on a monumental scale by implementing railways and with it a fluid industrial economy deep into the Indian landscape.[17] His motivations are clear. The installation of railways would improve the social, commercial, and military advantages already gained by the empire from and in British India.[18] Constructing railways, it was argued, would increase the subcontinent’s commercial potential, assist the military in imposing British rule but also gratuitously aid Indians by drawing the country closer to the civilised modernity that Britain itself claimed to be enjoying.

Dalhousie was a ‘committed technological moderniser’ and saw what he thought was the great good in an Indian railway network.[19] Advantages ‘beyond all present calculations’ would be generated by the ‘great engines of social improvement’.[20] The railways would define his imperial project. Rather than pursuing empire on religious grounds, like his predecessor Alexander Duff, Dalhousie’s technocratic mission was fundamentally secular. He envisaged that the empire would impose a capitalist and industrial economy upon India with the railways as the organisational and operational prime mover. ‘They will lead,’ he wrote, ‘to similar progress in social improvement that has marked the introduction of improved communication in the Western World’.[21] The installation of an Indian railway network would enable the British to ‘propagate … civilisation in the most peaceful and harmless ways’.[22] In Dalhousie’s vision railways were synonymous with civilisation. The plan epitomised the industrial function of the British Empire. It was based on the mechanization of trade and the increased commodity and labour flows on the international market which would at once benefit the empire and civilise the world. Railways meant more than the trains and the tracks. They were intended to reconfigure networks of association, define a new economy and redraw the physical, economic and cultural settings of India.

Central to Dalhousie’s plan was the need for private investment. The East Indian Railway Company would need capital to execute the project. The vast majority of the finance for the Indian railways came from Britain; or, more accurately, were reserved for British investors.[23] This catalysed a wave of exportation of homeland capital for foreign investment.[24] Commentators such as Blackwood’s Magazine warned of a ‘great stream of capital flowing out to foreign countries’.[25] In order to encourage investment from wary investors the Government of India, led by Dalhousie, would stamp a 5% guarantee on all ventures.[26] This was the crucial factor in the creation of the Indian railway network and Indian industrialism more broadly as it hailed ‘the transfer of capitalism, modernity and technology into the Indian landscape.’[27] Dalhousie’s plan was closely stuck to. As John Hurd shows, the maps showing the intended installation of tracks and the actual installation of tracks were very similar.[28] Dalhousie’s ‘light-ray’ pattern around urban industrial centres was adopted with the intention to carry flows of products, people and ideas internally and internationally. Dalhousie’s secular plan for the industrial conversion of India had materialised. It was upon this stage that the trade relations between Glasgow and Calcutta began to intensify. The experiences of Scottish traders abroad and the international circulation of colonial products that flowed among them could only have occurred in the form it did because of Dalhousie’s grand plan.

The Clyde shipping industry was already operating between Glasgow and Calcutta by the time Dalhousie’s strategy started to materialise. As Devine notes, because of Glasgow’s shipping heritage ‘the Scottish heavy industry was strongly biased towards export markets’.[29] The Indian railway network, then, in effect, connected onto the shipping trade and further established the flow of products and machinery between Scotland and India. For example, Glasgow merchants George Smith & Co. provided freight ship services for textiles companies such as Finlay, Muir & Co. and John Lean & Sons Ltd in order to facilitate the importation of Indian cotton and the exportation of Scottish manufactured textiles between the two cities.[30] The letter-books and product records for John Lean & Sons Ltd, housed in the University of Glasgow Scottish Business Archives, tell the story of a long lasting but sometimes difficult exchange of colonial products between Glasgow and Calcutta. Using a ship named the ‘City of Calcutta’, built by Charles Connell & Co. Ltd of Scotstoun, Glasgow, John Lean exported products such as ‘Lappet Dhooties’, ‘cambrics’ and ‘Indian mulls’ for wholesale at the ‘Calcutta Bazaar’.[31]

The epistolary exchanges between John Lean and his Calcutta agents are very formulaic, each one a strict template. Products are itemized, assigned value and their marketability minutely recorded.[32] Even in this dry form they are revealing. The letters show what Bernard Cohn calls the ‘enumerative modality’ of colonial trade.[33] John Lean’s agents in Calcutta use the dialogue to share commercial intelligence and market knowledge. They update the Scottish firm on matters important to trade; such as environmental conditions that affect the supply chain, like monsoons.[34] They also monitor the behaviour of rival companies. The letters describe a price war between John Lean & Sons and a Manchester firm called A & W & Co. over the sale of dhotis, a loin cloths worn by Hindu males, which developed during the mid-1880s.[35] The competitive environment of the Calcutta Bazaar is a constant theme in the letters. John Lean’s agents reported on the 2nd August 1884 that ‘the scale of this firm’s [A & W & Co.] import is now of grave importance, & we are watching closely what is passing at the Custom House’.[36] In their very form the letters presuppose a vast network of mechanised and institutionalised industrial processes between Glasgow and Calcutta. The web of connections and movements between people and products, linked by steam ship and locomotive engine, networking Glasgow and Calcutta, was part of an increasingly global colonial-industrial ensemble. Tracking these products, analysing the experiences of the businesses who manufactured them and being alive to their meanings allow us to open the specificities of the history of empire.

One particularly telling product was manufactured by a structural engineering and ironworks firm called A & J Main & Co. Ltd, based in Possilpark, Glasgow. In 1873 they opened up an office on Dalhousie Square, Calcutta.[37] In fact, they became well established in India, going on to present their products at the Calcutta International Exhibition ten years later in 1883.[38] They made and sold wire fencing designed to protect railway lines.[39] But they also advertised for sale a patented iron plough amazingly named ‘The Empire Cultivator’.[40] In doing so, A & J Main were executing a popular advertising strategy. A dominant trend in late-nineteenth century marketing was to advertise a product in a manner which ties imperial connotations to its meaning. A glance through the first thirty four pages of the Official Catalogue of the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition will reveal many companies exploiting imperial rhetoric of progress and the feeling of material superiority to sell their products.[41] The Glasgow oil manufacturer MacArthur & Jackson confidently listed their ‘Imperial Prize Medals’ in order to promote their product; the first medal was awarded in Calcutta in 1883.[42] A study of imperial rhetoric and the colonial sales-pitch in Victorian advertising, often most exaggerated around imperial exhibitions held in the second half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, would help to explain how empire was experienced in the domestic sphere. The marriage of the idea of empire with a rural and labourious implement like a plough reveals the extent to which empire penetrated both the imagination and the landscape, even to the very soil, of the domestic setting. This product naturalises the idea of the cultivation of empire by relating it to daily labours and habits. It advertises the notions that empire is labour, it is industry and it is local. No longer is every man’s house his castle, but every man’s farm is his empire.

This example illustrates the material and conceptual interconnectedness of homeland and host-land. It tells of a web of continuities, a network of industrial and material culture between Glasgow and Calcutta. These products, their production and their movement, are the material consequences of Dalhousie’s vision. The connection of the shipping industry to the railway network, combined with the ‘information revolution of the 1870s’, caused by the spread of the electric telegraph, created the streams through which these products moved.[43] The impact this industrial network, especially the railways, had on India is well represented in contemporary scholarship.[44] As Ian J. Kerr notes, ‘railways were at the organizational and technological centre of many of the inter-related economic, political, social and ecological transformations that produced modern India’.[45] The impact of Dalhousie’s vision on India, then, is established. An area less well represented, however, is the impact it had on Scotland. Kerr goes on to argue that ‘the urban areas of colonial India in particular came to exhibit a socio-physical morphology shaped by the location of the railways’.[46] If we fully appreciate the extension of the web of industrial and material networks in operation between Scotland and India, then we can add to Kerr’s argument by examining how the socio-morphology of Glasgow was redrawn by its trade links with India. A railway history, it has been argued, ‘must always give appropriate consideration to the evolving railway technologies at the level of artefact’.[47] The history of the connections of these two cities, and the processes by which they evolved and were spatially redrawn, can be read in the primary artefact of the railway: the steam engine or locomotive.

Locomotive manufacture in Scotland got off to a slow start in comparison to England.[48] The unpublished memoirs of Walter Montgomorie Neilson, one of the original partners of Nielson, Reid & Co., notes the hostility and prejudice he encountered from his English peers when he decided in 1844 to focus solely on the production of locomotives.[49]  In the second half of the century this all changed. Glasgow became a forerunner in the production of locomotive steam engines, which is largely down to Nielson. In Glasgow: Locomotive Builder to the World (1987), Mark O’Neill labels Neilson ‘Glasgow’s railway pioneer’ and tracks the development of his firm from their steam engine factory in Finnieston to the huge locomotive factory in Springburn, where they eventually merged as the dominant shareholder with German run and Scottish based locomotive manufacturer Dubs & Co., and their old Manchester rivals Sharp, Stewart & Co. Ltd, to become the North British Locomotive Company Ltd, the most productive locomotive builder in Europe by 1903 with over 8,000 employees.[50] The growth of this firm is at once linked to the urban development of Glasgow and the growing network of connections established by the colonial-industrial ensemble. In the history of Glasgow’s urban landscape, its shape or morphology inevitably reflects the operation of the city’s industry; while at the same time, the city’s industry inevitably reflects and is directly linked to the wider networks involved in the production and movement of products abroad to places like India. Neilson’s first order from the East Indian Railway Company came in 1859.[51] From then on the business relied heavily on its export trade.[52] India became the company’s most prolific customer: ‘Of the 16,000 locomotives built by the Neilson & Co., Dubs & Co., and Stewart, Sharp & Co. up to 1903, India had purchased 3,500’.[53] Industrial trade in locomotives and other products created a strong link between Scotland and India: ‘by 1909 Indian Railways had 7024 locomotives, of which half had been made in Scotland’.[54]

A history of the Scottish contribution would have to include how the physical, social and demographic settings of the country changed to meet the demand of new markets in the subcontinent. Not only does the empire require British people to emigrate to the colonies, taking with them certain industrial and material cultures, customs and attitudes. Empire also demands that the internal population of the homeland reconfigure itself to meet the industrial and bureaucratic needs abroad. Railway towns that emerged in India with the installation of the railway network, such as Kanchrapara just north of Calcutta, are materially connected to the factories, foundries and industrial sites that lined the Clyde and that constituted Glasgow in the second half of the nineteenth century. If railway infrastructure in India is, as Laura Bear argues, ‘an objectification of imperial industrial capitalism’, then so too are the industrial centres of Scotland that fed it.[55] The traces of Glasgow’s imperial history that litter its urban landscape today, traces that are admittedly continuously receding, tell the story of an historical association with India and Calcutta.

The associations between Glasgow and Calcutta were also recorded by the press throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Commercial and cultural connections between the two cities were much talked about in the Glasgow Herald. A dominant theme was the comparison between India and America. The old myths about the New World were recycled and applied to the economic and financial opportunities in India. In 1882 an article appeared entitled ‘Sir James Bain on the Resources of India’.[56] It documents an address made by Sir James Bain, a former Lord Provost of Glasgow, to the Chamber of Commerce, on ‘the immense natural resources’ of India. Bain is recorded as saying the following:

India is the great and valuable country of the East. With all degrees and variations of climate, capable of growing all kinds of crops; with great rivers, a large extent of rich alluvial soil, equal in quality to any in America, and requiring no fertilisers.[57]

These sentiments summarise a prevailing association between Scotland and India cultivated in the press. India’s productive potential defined it as an exploitable component of the larger colonial-industrial network. In this rendition, India’s climate and its ‘numerous and industrious population, able and willing to live at a very small cost’ are seen to do the hard work themselves.[58] Bain goes on to addresses another dominant theme in the representation of India in the Glasgow press. He states that ‘India requires only the judicious application of capital to railways’ to enable it to develop its potential industrial resources.[59] India was defined by its material potential, but it also offered wealthy Scots an investment project.

Whether it is the material melee of the Calcutta Bazaar or the conceptual realm of the colonial financial sector, India was represented for Scots as a field of aspiration and the gathering of wealth. On the very first page of the Official Guide to the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition the investment firm Standard Life Assurance Company had a full page advertisement offering ‘Whole World Assurance’ from its ‘Branches and Agencies throughout the World.[60] It depicts an image of Atlas with the earth on his back; the same figure still exists as a stone sculpture on top of the firm’s old headquarters on Hope Street, Glasgow. The company handled private colonial investments. The advert confidently cites in bold capital-letters ‘INDIA, CANADA, WEST INDIES: CAPE COLONY, CHINA, AUSTRALIA’.[61] In fact, the company became an important financial service that constituted the Scottish foreign financial market. As J. H. Treble notes, ‘in 1880, the company had only £0.5 million in overseas railway and government bonds. … By 1910 this had risen to £7.5 million, which represented well over half of the total assets held by Standard Life.’[62]

The 5% guarantee on dividends to all investors in the East Indian Railway network devised by Dalhousie ignited what Devine calls an ‘investment bonanza’ that accelerated towards the end of the century.[63] Devine notices ‘a new economic dynamo’ in Victorian Scotland as ‘the new craze for overseas lending’ took hold.[64] Not only did the wealthy elites and industrialists of Scotland venture their capital abroad, but new investors from the middle-classes took to financial institutions like Standard Life Assurance.[65] The company’s advert in the Official Guide to the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition is surrounded by adverts for personal and household products like cooking stoves and lavatory stands.[66] Colonial investment sat among domestic wares, suggesting that the fruits of the colonies were open to all. The ‘modestly prosperous’ among the estimated 400,000 people who attended the opening ceremony of Glasgow’s new City Chambers in 1888 could have associated the grand pediment frieze, and those gifts carried to Queen Victoria from the frontiers of her empire, with the yield of their investment in the colonies.[67] This image could symbolise the increasingly busy material and financial traffic between Scotland and India and between Glasgow and Calcutta in the second half of the nineteenth century. The original plan for the pediment intended to depict Victoria on her throne ‘with the Clyde at her feet sending her manufactures and her arts to all the world’.[68] The decision to change the pediment frieze represents a shift in the Scottish imperial attitude. With the investment bonanza of the late nineteenth century the workshop of the British Empire also becomes the repository of its capital yield.

This essay has attempted to analyse the Scottish contribution to empire in the second half of the nineteenth century by tracking some of the political, material and financial strands connecting Glasgow and Calcutta. But it has done so not to assert the existence of a Scottish Empire distinct from British imperial practice but in an attempt to explain the changing physical, cultural and demographic shape of Scotland in the Victorian period. A. D. Gibb titled his book Scottish Empire (1937) rather than ‘The Scottish Empire’ because, he says, it would be ‘a condensed assertion of something which I do not myself believe to exist’.[69] Sixty four years later, and well aware of Gibb’s text, Michael Fry does call his book The Scottish Empire (2001) implying that he is arguing for the recognition of a history of a separate Scottish Empire. His laudatory tone throughout the text confirms this. Yet to posit this is to misinterpret the complex layers of nationality woven through the Scottish contribution. The Scottish Empire as a historiographical organising principle forgets or misreads the nature of the interdependencies between homeland nationalities and the foreign connections. Dalhousie, for example, was a Scottish Statesman but also an Oxford graduate. Henry Dubs the locomotive industrialist that established long lasting connections between engineers in Glasgow and Bengal was born to a farming family in Guntersblum near Darmstadt, Germany. The competition already detailed between manufacturing firms in Glasgow and Manchester is affirmation that Scottish and English interests and operations were intimately intertwined. Indeed Devine argues that the Scottish contribution was ‘the means by which the Scots asserted their equal partnership with England’.[70] Far from establishing a separate and distinct Scottish Empire with a unique attitude and agenda, the Scottish contribution and the British Empire more broadly tended to complicate or haze the notion of distinguished and identifiable national contributions. Tracking the political, material and financial networks that existed between Glasgow and Calcutta in the Victorian period, I hope, provides proof of this.


Books, Chapters, Articles and Journals

Anon., ‘Scottish Capital Abroad’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, CXXXVI (1854).

Aguiar, Marian. Tracking Modernity: India’s Railway and the Culture of Mobility (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2011).

Arnold, Edwin, The Marquis of Dalhousie’s Administration of British India (London: Saunders, Otley, & Co., 1862.

Bear, Laura, Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy, and the Intimate Historical Self (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2007).

Cohn, Bernard, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Dalhousie, Lord, Minute on Railways in India, 1853 (quoted in  John Hurd and Ian j Karr, India’s Railway History: A Research Handbook (Boston: Brill, 2012).

Devine, T.M., To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010, (London: Penguin Books, 2012).

Fry, Michael, ‘Introduction’ The Scottish Empire (Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press, 2001).

Gibb, A.D., Scottish Empire, (London: Alexander MacLehose & Co, 1937).

Ghandi, M.K., ‘The Condition of India: Railways’, eds. Ian J. Kerr Railways in Modern India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) pp. 77-79.

Glasgow International Exhibition 1888: The Official Guide, International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art (Glasgow, Scotland: 1888), University of Glasgow Special Collections Sp. Coll. Bh11-b.5.

Goldsmith, Raymond, The Financial Development of India 1860-1977 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).

Hamilton, Douglas, ‘Scotland and the Eighteenth-Century Empire’ The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Hurd, John and Ian J. Kerr, Ian J., India’s Railway History: A Research Handbook (Boston: Brill, 2012).

Hurd, John, ‘Railways’, Railways in Modern India eds. Ian J. Kerr (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

‘India vs. American Wheat’ Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) Friday, November 3. 1872; Issue 263.

Johnson, Alan, Out of Bounds: Anglo-Indian Literature and Geography of Displacement (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011).

Kerr, Ian J., ‘Introduction’, eds. Ian J. Kerr Railways in Modern India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

‘Letter from Gladstone, Wyllie & Co. to John Lean & Sons Ltd – received 31st July 1884’, University of Glasgow Archives Services, GB 0248 UGD 2/11/26.

Mackenzie, Ray, Public Sculpture of Glasgow (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002).

MacPherson, M.J., ‘Investment in Indian Railways, 1845-1875’, Economic Review (December, 1955).

Marx, Karl, ‘The Future Results of the British Rule in India’, eds. Ian J. Kerr Railways in Modern India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) pp. 62-67.

McLaren, Martha, British India & British Scotland, 1780-1830: Career Building, Empire Building, and a Scottish School of Thought on India Governance (Ohio: The University of Arkon Press, 2001).

Moss, Michael and Hume, John R., Workshop of the British Empire: Engineering and Shipbuilding (Edinburgh: Heinemann Publishers, 1977).

Mukherjee, Mukul, ‘Railways and Their Impact on Bengal’s Economy, 1870-1920’, eds. Ian J. Kerr Railways in Modern India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) pp. 62-67.

Nicolson, Murdoch and O’Neill, Mark, Glasgow: Locomotive Builder to the World (Edinburgh: Polygon Books, 1987).

Reid, Walter Montgomorie, ‘Dates and Notes of the Principal Occurrences of My Life’ (undated), University of Glasgow Archives Services, GB 0248 UGD 010/5/1.

Sarkar, Smritikumar, Technology and Rural Change, 1830-1980 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

‘Sir James Bain on the Resources of India’, Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) Friday, November 3, 1882; Issue 263.

Thompson, Andrew, ‘Empire and the British State’, British Empire: Themes and Perspectives eds. Sarah Stockwell (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2008).

Thorner, Daniel, ‘The Pattern of Railway Development in India’, eds. Ian J. Kerr Railways in Modern India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) pp. 80-96.

Treble, J. H., ‘The Pattern of Investment of the Standard Life Assurance Company 1875-1914’, Business History Vol. 22 (1980).


University of Glasgow Archives Services, accessed 17.49 on 20/03/2015:

University of Glasgow Archives Services, accessed 17.59 on 20/03/2015:

‘1930 Industrial Britain: A. and J. Main and Co’ Grace’s Guide: British Industrial History accessed 22/03/2015 at 18:29 –

[1] A.D. Gibb, Scottish Empire, (London: Alexander MacLehose & Co, 1937) p. 4, Michael Fry, ‘Introduction’ The Scottish Empire (Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press, 2001) passim, T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010, (London: Penguin Books, 2012) p. xiv.

[2] A.D. Gibb, Scottish Empire, p. 4.

[3] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 259.

[4] Accessed 20/03/2015 at 11.16am

[5] University of Glasgow Archives Services, accessed 17.59 on 20/03/2015:

[6] Ray Mackenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002) p. 152.

[7] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. xvi.

[8] Michael Fry, The Scottish Empire, passim.

[9] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. xiii.

[10] Ibid. p. xiii.

[11] Michael Fry, The Scottish Empire, p. 321.

[12] Michael Moss and John R. Hume, Workshop of the British Empire: Engineering and Shipbuilding (Edinburgh: Heinemann Publishers, 1977) passim

[13] Andrew Thompson, ‘Empire and the British State’, p. 51

[14] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 6

[15] ‘India vs. American Wheat’, Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) Friday, November 3. 1872; Issue 263.

[16] Douglas Hamilton, ‘Scotland and the Eighteenth-Century Empire’ The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) p. 423.

[17] Lord Dalhousie, Minute on Railways in India, 1853 (quoted in  John Hurd and Ian j Karr, India’s Railway History: A Research Handbook (Boston: Brill, 2012) p. 108.

[18] Ibid. p. 109.

[19] John Hurd and Ian J. Kerr, India’s Railway History: A Research Handbook (Boston: Brill, 2012) p. 108.

[20] Lord Dalhousie, Minute on Railways in India, 1853, p. 108.

[21] Ibid. p. 178.

[22] Ibid. p. 177.

[23] Ian J. Kerr, ‘Introduction’, Railways in Modern India, p. 41.

[24] John Hurd and Ian J. Kerr, India’s Railway History: A Research Handbook, p. 136.

[25] Anon., ‘Scottish Capital Abroad’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, CXXXVI (1854) p. 468.

[26] W.J MacPherson, ‘Investment in Indian Railways, 1845-1875’, Economic History Review (December 1955) p. 178.

[27] Laura Bear, Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy, and the Intimate Historical Self (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2007) p. 3.

[28] John Hurd, ‘Railways’, Railways in Modern Indi, p. 154.

[29] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 260.

[30] University of Glasgow Archives Services, accessed 17.59 on 20/03/2015:

[31] ‘Letter from Gladstone, Wyllie & Co. to John Lean & Sons Ltd – received 31st July 1884’, University of Glasgow Archives Services, GB 0248 UGD 2/11/26.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996) p. 14.

[34] ‘Letter from Gladstone, Wyllie & Co. to John Lean & Sons Ltd – received 31st July 1884’, University of Glasgow Archives Services, GB 0248 UGD 2/11/26.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] ‘1930 Industrial Britain: A. and J. Main and Co’ Grace’s Guide: British Industrial History accessed 22/03/2015 at 18:29 –

[38] ‘The Calcutta International Exhibition (From a Corresponent)’, Glasgow Herald, (Glasgow, Scotland) Saturday, January 12, 1884; Issue 11.

[39] ‘1930 Industrial Britain: A. and J. Main and Co’ Grace’s Guide: British Industrial History accessed 22/03/2015 at 18:29 –

[40] ‘A & J Main & Co’, Grace’s Guide to Britihs Industrial History – accessed 17.41 21/03/2015

[41] Glasgow International Exhibition 1888: The Official Guide, International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art (Glasgow, Scotland: 1888), University of Glasgow Special Collections Sp Coll Bh11-b.5 p. 1-34

[42] Ibid. p. 6

[43] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 181

[44] John Hurd and Ian J. Kerr, India’s Railway History, passim.

[45] Ian J. Kerr, ‘Introduction’, Railways in Modern India, p. 3.

[46] Ibid. p. 16.

[47] Ibid. p. 22.

[48] Michael Moss and John R. Hume, Workshop of the British Empire: Engineering and Shipbuilding (Edinburgh: Heinemann Publishers, 1977) p. 42.

[49] Walter Montgomorie Reid, ‘Dates and Notes of the Principal Occurrences of My Life’ (undated), University of Glasgow Archives Services, GB 0248 UGD 010/5/1 .

[50] Murdoch Nicolson and Mark O’Niell, Glasgow: Locomotive Builder to the World (Edinburgh: Polygon Books, 1987) p. 4

[51] Murdoch Nicolson and Mark O’Niell, Glasgow: Locomotive Builder to the World, p. 5.

[52] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 65.

[53] Michael Moss and John R. Hume, Workshop of the British Empire, p. 46.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Laura Bear, Lines of the Nation, p. 41.

[56] ‘Sir James Bain on the Resources of India’, Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) Friday, November 3, 1882; Issue 263.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Glasgow International Exhibition 1888: The Official Guide, International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art (Glasgow, Scotland: 1888), University of Glasgow Special Collections Sp Coll Bh11-b.5 p. 1.

[61] Ibid.

[62] J. H. Treble, ‘The Pattern of Investment of the Standard Life Assurance Company 1875-1914’, Business History Vol. 22 (1980) p. 170-88.

[63] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 234.

[64] Ibid., p.233.

[65] Ibid. p.234.

[66] Glasgow International Exhibition 1888: The Official Guide, International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art (Glasgow, Scotland: 1888), University of Glasgow Special Collections Sp Coll Bh11-b.5 p. 1-34.

[67] Ray Mackenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow, p. 149-151 .

[68] William Young, quoted in ibid., p. 156.

[69] A.D. Gibb, Scottish Empire, p. vii.

[70] T.M. Devine, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 262.


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Auto-Loam Street by Peter W. Slater

Two way system of impressions and embossings:
Buildings imprinting their being on bodies.
Bodies imprinting their being on buildings.

History in the street and on the walls, down the drains and
Dereliction is as lively as regeneration.

Faking ruin. Ha!

The wallpaper only masks the blood stains.
Ready to be found and recorded. Classified by the police and then the press.
Or the press and then the police. Tracings traced.
A network of pressing.
The history of the press.
The pressing of history.

Footprints during the cold snap.
Black oily chewing gum patterned like plastic brick.
Doing us a favour and never often thanked

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Art and Time Travel By Sam Lewis Christie

I urge you to take a look at Rene Burri’s photographs of Le Corbusier’s,

built in Marseilles between 1947 and 1952. Look at the building but also

look at what’s around it, the cars, the people. Try to feel

the scene, deep map it, try to hear it if you can. Does it all seem to work

together or do you, like me, see a collection of different eras hanging

awkwardly together, locked in the photographs through force of

circumstance; varying stages of modernity’s maturation process?

Surely in design terms the building requires that old wartime hand cranked

Citroens should be replaced with the truly futurist lines and aspirations of

the 21st Century eco car? Wouldn’t the post ironic, Mobius Strip tripping

fashions of today work better with the beton brut? Forget the Ash

saplings, what we need here is an interesting array of strange grasses,

some of which should be black. Music wise John Coltrane might fit,

perhaps Blue Train from an open window, but that was recorded in 1957

and a pre plastic sax Ornette Coleman was just getting to grips with the

‘harmolodic method’ in 1952. While Edith Piaf’s Mon Legionnaire is of the

time (and place) it doesn’t work with the building. For this scene I think it’s

Aphex Twin.

Design, fashion, landscape and architecture don’t go together in early

pictures of Cite Radieuse and it is, of course, the building that throws the

whole thing out of whack. Created to meet the needs of a post war

Marseille, Cite Radieuse was part of Le Corbusier’s wider principle of

Unite d’Habitation. This was a radical re-think of city design and

architecture, taking the basic ‘machines for living in’ philosophical view on

architecture and modernity and making the extrapolation literally concrete.

Subsequent buildlngs have often failed to match Cite in qualitative terms

and this unique structure remains a benchmark for Brutalist ideas and is,

thankfully, very much alive and kicking; by now the photographs have

caught up.

What I wonder is why do different art forms appear to progress at different

rates? And I suppose that by rates I mean that some appear more

‘modern’ than others. Architecture has always seemed to stride

confidently into the ‘next thing’, it easily defines a new stage (at least until

the ghastly post modern 90′s) and moves, like the blocks it uses in its

realisation, cleanly from one level to the next. I would accept that

architecture has been, throughout history, touched by influences from the

past, but these seem strident and bold, “my latest work is influenced by

the Aztecs,” or “I cantilevered that in order to recall the Parthenon.”

However, brutalism, while clearly having very vague classical influences,

seems quite perfectly new.

Music flutters around, it has many more great practitioners of course and

many more genres within which to accommodate them, but it develops

and progresses in fits and starts. The truly new happens rarely, a little

glimmer: Stockhausen, Aphex Twin, Efterklang, Esbjorn Svensson, all

quickly swamped by a baseload of mediocrity. Fashion shocks from

Gaultier are moderated by Matelan, motor car design is weighed down by

the petrol it sucks on.

Perhaps the reason that some forms of art move in this way depends on

the extent the air they occupy is rarified. Maybe, at its best, architecture is

a high art form protected from the diluting forces of criticism. When a

building is commissioned and planning permission granted the debate

ends. It is at this point that all control is handed to one or two people;

great buildings are built outside democracy. Once that building exists we

live with it, we fit around it evolving at a different rate. Eventually buildings

are surrounded by the things and make the sounds that were originally

envisioned; the building waits for us to grow up.

At the staggering Royal National Theatre on the Southbank (which is my

favourite building, designed by Denys Lasdun and opened in 1976, hated

by many, including Prince Charles) they’re putting on Jean Racine’s

Phedre (1677). Meanwhile outside among the maze of twists and turns,

angular obstacles and cantilevered chins, tabbing and leaping free

runners finish the scene perfectly.

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Social Control in Bricks and Mortar: “Governmentality” in French and British Postwar Housing Estates By Stephen Basdeo

In the early part of the twentieth century attempts had been made to provide sanitary, mass housing for the residents of inner cities. This is evident by the construction of the Quarry Hill Flats in Leeds in the United Kingdom in 1938. These projects were usually planned and undertaken by local corporations. However, after 1945 the national governments of both the UK and France embarked upon large-scale building projects to provide a decent standard of living for their populations. Two examples of these post war mass social housing projects are the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield, and Les Minguettes in Lyons. The theoretical framework through which the aims, failures and successes of the above estates shall be analysed is Foucault’s notion of ‘governmentality’. The term was coined in 1978 and refers to ‘the governance of a mentality (a collectively held view that is communicated through a variety of discourses) by way of “techniques of power” – calculated tactics that guide everyday citizen-subjects to act in accordance with societal norms’ (Ettlinger, 2011, p.538). Hollow acknowledges that it is often difficult to define a rigid Foucauldian methodology. Yet his research shows that Foucault’s insights into ‘disciplinary practices, surveillance techniques and forms of conduct have the potential to shed new light’ upon the study of urban architecture and planning (Hollow, 2010, p.120). In effect, social control can be expressed in architecture. With particular reference to Park Hill Estate and Les Minguettes, this paper discusses the ways that social housing in the 1950s and 1960s was designed to regulate the lives of their inhabitants.

Contexts, Causes and Explanations.

In 1945 the Labour Party swept to victory in the General Election in Britain. Amongst the party’s promises of the introduction of a full welfare state, and a commitment to full employment, was the promise that the government would build new homes for the British people. Their 1945 manifesto promised:

[The Labour Party] will proceed with a housing programme with the maximum practical speed until every family in this island has a good standard of accommodation. That may well mean the centralising and pooling of building materials and components by the State…and housing ought to be dealt with in relation to good town planning – pleasant surroundings, attractive lay-out, efficient utility services, including the necessary transport facilities (Labour Party Manifesto, 1945).

This meant that central government after 1945 was prepared to encroach upon areas of administration and civic governance that had previously been the prerogative of local corporations. With the growth of the welfare state and other public services, the centralisation of power from local authorities to central government has continued until today. Whereas city officials in the Victorian era enjoyed the freedom to raise rates, and allocate the spending of public money as they saw fit, today’s officials do not enjoy such power. Nowadays they ‘might wait anxiously for a ministerial Rover and spend the day shuffling a Parliamentary Under-Secretary-of-State around city “no-go areas” in the hope of obtaining some beneficence from Whitehall Departments’ (Hunt, 2004, p.489).

The model of local government in France is slightly different to that in the United Kingdom. France has traditionally been a centralised state. In 1944 government at all levels in France was in a parlous state following the collapse of the Vichy Regime in that same year. The interim provisional government, through the Ordonnance du 21 avril 1944, dissolved the municipal councils that had been established under the Vichy regime and called for new elections to determine the leadership of local authorities (Maury, 2007). However, the French central government left little scope for municipal self-government in contrast to the British case. As Smith observes, ‘only partial forms of authority have been transferred to a regional level…in many cases [this] means that “government” is an excessively generous term with which to describe what many regional authorities actually represent and do’ (Smith, 2000, p.5). In effect, local governments in France assume more of an administrative role, implementing the dictates of the central government rather than governing themselves.

Despite the fact that many large-scale social housing projects are often considered to be failed projects, any discussion of social housing must consider the reasons why governments of the day embarked upon mass housing programmes. The housing which had sprung up in the inner city districts in the middle of the Industrial Revolution had begun to decay. Nineteenth-century working-class housing, being generally cheaply built by private entrepreneurs, was often insanitary and overcrowded. The ‘slums’ of Leeds, in the words of one Victorian commentator, were a sign of ‘individualism [run] riot in the building of property’ (Foster, 1897, p.7). Likewise, Paris had had problems with slum housing since the nineteenth century. The French government began large-scale slum clearances in the twentieth century with the passage of the Debré Act of 1964 (Rihs and Daniel, 2014). During the blitz in World War Two, a total of two million homes across Britain had been damaged or destroyed, and in London alone 1.5 million people had been made homeless (Faulkner, 2011). Along with the ravages of war and urban decay, as well as the promises of a post war welfare state, Power has listed some of the main reasons why governments in both countries after 1945 embarked upon mass social housing projects:

  • The ravages of the Second World War, leaving many homeless…
  • The decay of private urban housing built in the Industrial Revolution and the difficulty of upgrading and modernising it without displacing significant numbers of residents;
  • The desire for modernity;
  • The belief in corporate, technocratic solutions in the post war economic boom…
  • A post war belief in ‘welfare’ solutions (Power, 1997, p.35).

However, despite the aims of the Labour Party to provide affordable housing for all within an existing free market system, the large-scale implementation of social housing may have done more harm to the residents than good, laying the seeds of its future decline. Cole and Furbey explain that ‘instead of integrating council tenants into society, the [Labour] party…helped to exclude them by identifying them as poor and unable to provide for themselves in the market place’ (Cole and Furbey, 1994, p.69). Thus the people who were allocated housing in the new post war high-rise blocks were arguably in the process of being separated from normal mainstream society.


Looking to the Future: Modernism and Brutalism

The society envisioned by the early architects of social housing was a modern one. The man who propagated such a vision in the 1920s was Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris (1887-1965), known more familiarly as Le Corbusier. He personified ‘the bold, nearly mystical rationality of a generation that was eager to accept the scientific spirit of the twentieth century on its own terms and throw off all pre-existing ties – political, cultural, conceptual – with what it considered to be an exhausted, outmoded past’ (LeGates and Stout, 2011, p.336). Le Corbusier’s vision of life in a modern, contemporary city was one which was functional. Houses were to be designed according to specific parameters. Homes were envisaged as ‘machines for living’ (Ibid). Le Corbusier, in his work The City of Tomorrow and its Planning (1929) argued that the nineteenth-century industrial city was a dying entity because it was disordered, and a standard had to be introduced into people’s daily lives in order to supposedly prevent the collapse of society. Le Corbusier became almost messianic in his tone, speaking of modernist architecture as the ‘salvation’ of society:

The city of to-day is a dying thing because it is not geometrical. To build in the open would be to replace our present haphazard arrangements, which are all we have to-day, by a uniform layout. Unless we do this there is no salvation. The result of a true geometrical lay-out is repetition. The result of repetition is a standard, the perfect form (Le Corbusier, 1929, p.343 original emphasis).

Buildings, rigidly ordered according to mathematical rules, then, would result in a perfect standard of life for the inhabitants of new ‘modern’ cities. Some of Le Corbusier’s ideas were subsequently taken up by the ‘New Brutalism’ movement. The term nybrutalism was Swedish in origin, originally coined by the architect Hans Asplund, and his ideas surrounding the construction of modern buildings were taken up subsequently by the French architect Rayner Banham, and named beton brut (Meades, 2014). The architects that brought this movement to Britain; Oliver Cox and Graeme Shankland, and Alison and Peter Smithson, paid no regard to architecture from the past. High Victorian architecture, for example, was deemed to be a ‘monstrosity’. Historic buildings were demolished to make room for modernist buildings. Houses made of bricks were something which, in the opinion of these architects, belonged to the past. Concrete signified modernity to these men (Forty, 2012, p.14). It was only later, through the efforts of people such as John Betjeman, that the reputation of Victorian and Georgian architecture in Britain was restored (Ibid). Amongst the intended regulation of people’s lives in modernist and brutalist architecture, it seemed that there was no place for sentimentality about the past.

The Cases of Park Hill, Sheffield & Les Minguettes, Lyons

(“Streets in the Sky”: Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. Source: Municipal Dreams, 2013)

The Park Hill Estate in Sheffield, United Kingdom, was perceived to be a pioneering work in its day. Drawing upon the brutalist designs of Alison and Peter Smithson, the designers of the estate ‘shunned nostalgic cosiness and brought architecture down to its main essentials’ (Hollow, 2010, pp. 117-118). The local press praised the project, with the new flats providing ‘nearly 1,000 homes of privacy and quiet, for the widest range of families, with lifts, street-like decks inside the buildings, shops, garages and public houses’ (Sheffield Telegraph, 16th March, 1955). Other amenities included a futuristic waste disposal system for each of the flats and a school.  The amenities listed above, and the design of the housing estate, was intended to foster a sense of community among the inhabitants of the new modern housing blocks. This was the reasoning behind designing the so-called ‘streets in the sky’ (pictured above). The architects of the scheme, Lynn and Smith, admired the sense of community that nineteenth-century slum housing was alleged to have fostered, and they attempted to preserve a sense of community in the new flats which modernist architecture was often assumed to negate (Sheffield Libraries and Archives, 2010, p.16). For this reason, families who were neighbours prior to the construction of the flats were housed next to, or near to, the same families in the Park Hill Flats. The architects reasoned further that ‘being covered from the weather and free from vehicular traffic, [the streets in the sky would] form ideal places for daily social intercourse – for the conversation of adults and for small children’s play’ (Sheffield Libraries and Archives, 2010, p.18). Thus it was the dream of the architects to bring a nineteenth-century idea of community into a modernist world. The best of the nineteenth-century idea of ‘community’ would be retained, but transplanted into a functional, modernist setting.

The environment created for the tenants of the Park Hill Estate would not only provide services for its tenants, and opportunities for social interaction, but would also control and stimulate their behaviour in this respect. J.L. Womersley wrote in his report to Sheffield City Council that certain ‘elements integrated into the structure…will undoubtedly have an important psychological effect on the inhabitants’ (Womersly, 1955 cited in Sheffield Libraries and Archives, 2010, p.19). Hollow expands on this and says that ‘the logic behind the “deck” system was to retain, but institutionalise elements of the slum…it was a technique of power designed not to impose a set of regulations upon the tenants but, rather, one designed to encourage them to perform in certain ways’ (Hollow, 2010, p.126). The amenities provided on the estate, such as an advanced waste disposal system, schools, shops, and public houses, along with the idea of ‘community’ built into the architecture, was supposed to stimulate the tenants into becoming civilised members of society. To help the tenants in this respect, the city council even employed a sociologist who lived on the estate to help inspire the tenants to weld themselves into productive citizens (Heathcote, 2012, p.31). Thus the idea behind the construction of the Park Hill Estate was that the tenants would become citizens adapted to society (Hollow, 2010, p.126).

(Les Minguettes, Lyons. Source: Minguettes-City)

Les Minguettes is a banlieue on the outskirts of the city of Lyons in France. A banlieue is a place ‘outside the city proper [with]…economic and social problems’ (Austin, 2009, p.82). The high-rise housing blocks in Lyons were commissioned in 1959, and were completed in 1973. Inside sixty three tower blocks were contained 9,500 flats (Power, 1997, p.148). The architects of the scheme, Eugene Badouin, had worked on another social housing project in Paris called La Muette. In that project he applied the principles of the CIAM Athens Charter (devised by Le Corbusier) to his mass housing project, and favoured modernist steel frames and exposed concrete in his designs (Sherwood, 2002). The dwellings designed by Badouin in Lyons would provide citizens with high quality, sanitary and affordable housing. Badouin’s designed favoured uniformity; housing blocks were ordered, and rational, in keeping with the principles of the Athens Charter. In addition, the social housing project provided four community centres, churches, schools and shops. Everything was provided for citizens to become adapted to society in their new dwelling places. As Silvrestein and Tetreault write:

Urban planners sought to de-concentrate white urban poverty from city centres, providing…physical and social mobility literally to the greener pastures of the suburbs, and resulting in the emergence of a lower middle class…[the] projects were constructed as utopian modernist experiments in social life, centralizing housing, commerce, education, and recreation in the immediate proximity to the factories in which residents were assumed to work (Silvrestein and Tetreault, 2006).

However, while urban white working class families were allocated housing in the new tower blocks, the French government also housed in these blocks a number of ethnic minorities, mostly French-Algerians. This policy was not the result of a utopian dream of integrating white French people with their African counterparts. Instead the government adopted this approach so that it could police certain sections of the population whom it viewed as a potential threat. As Silvrestein and Tetreault explain further: ‘[the social housing blocks] provid[ed] for the re-housing of North African immigrant workers and their families from the large shantytowns which had become effective organizational sites for the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN)’ (Ibid). Thus the social housing project in Lyons was designed, not only to encourage the French working classes in social advancement, but also to keep a watch on parts of the population who were not trusted.

How successful, then, were these projects? In the British case, the large-scale implementation of council high rises contained the seeds of their future decline. Many council high rise flats were demolished during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Quarry Hill Flats in Leeds were demolished in 1978 owing to both structural and social problems, and Birkenhead council houses were demolished for the same reasons in 1979 (Ravetz, 2001, p.187). Stilltoe writes about the decline of the Park Hill Estate. By the late 1970s, he claims, it became a place where people no longer desired to live, and was perceived to be suffering from high rates of crime and drug abuse as the pre-war communities which had originally been housed there had died out (Stilltoe, 2014). Recently, however, the commercial organisation Urban Splash is making an attempt to regenerate the Park Hill Estate. Its website explains that: ‘[it is] working to bring love, life and pride back to this iconic project and make it a genuinely vibrant and sustainable community for the 21st Century’ (Urban Splash, 2011). The regeneration efforts include colourising the façade, and ‘softening’ it brutalist tone (Ibid). Whilst aesthetically the efforts made by the city council and the organisation in this effect can be applauded, it is clear that Park Hill, once fully ‘regenerated’, will be a commercial venture. For example, an ‘apartment’ at Park Hill will cost a potential renter approximately £725 per calendar month, with an upfront deposit of £825 (Ibid). This would probably be out of the reach of families on low incomes; the very families who were originally supposed to be housed in these flats during the post war years. Despite the fact that Park Hill was originally designed to house working-class citizens then, the conversion of Park Hill into a commercial venture indicates that the original intention of the project has failed.

Les Minguettes has also suffered its share of problems. By 1977 there were growing signs of trouble and tension. There were 700 empty units in the estates, and with rioting in 1982 Les Minguettes established a ‘national reputation’ as ‘a social and housing disaster area’ (Power, 1997, p.167). To all intents and purposes, the banlieues in more deprived areas of France have become a place cut off from mainstream French society. Contemporary cultural representations of life in the banlieues portray the areas as being overrun with crime. Austin focuses upon the film La Haine (1995) and discusses its portrayal of life in the suburbs of Paris:

The suburbs are outside the city proper, and the economic and social problems associated with these places seem endemic to their location on that ‘circular purgatory’ looking in at the urban ‘paradise’ (often Paris) at the center. It is ‘out there’ that the cars burn, that the riots recur, that police stations, schools, and libraries are destroyed and degraded (Austin, 2009, p.82).

Soumahoro goes further and states that, with their high degree of immigrant residents, ‘the media accounts of youth-police confrontations over the last ten years or so provide a concrete illustration of “colonial theatre”, a locked theatre stage, where the actors are trapped by inescapable oppression’ (Soumahoro, 2008, p.45). The residents of French social housing have become, by and large, ‘confined to an immutable “other” status, regarded as not belonging within the national boundaries of France’ (Ibid). It can thus justifiably be said that social housing in France has been as a failure, inasmuch as it has not seemingly fulfilled its goal of integrating the poorer parts of the French population with mainstream French society.


In conclusion, post war governments in Britain and France supported the construction of mass social housing projects. Building upon the architectural influences of Le Corbusier, these modernist constructions had as their guiding principle regulation of their inhabitants’ lives. Placing people in sanitary, spacious and pleasant surroundings, and facilitating daily social interactions between them, would, it was hoped, transform the working-class tenants into better citizens. This “governmentality” was built into the design and the fabric of the buildings. In the French case, these buildings were even seen as facilitating the effective policing of some allegedly ‘suspect’ members of society. In the end, however, the aims of these projects failed. In the UK huge blocks of social housing has been demolished, as in the case of Quarry Hill in Leeds, whilst the flats of Park Hill have now undergone regeneration into commercial ‘apartments’. In France, the banlieues on the outskirts of the city have become places which are believed to be overrun by crime, unemployment and deprivation, with the inhabitants of those places comprising an internal ‘other’ within the French nation. The model of social housing implemented by Britain and France has ultimately been a failed experiment.

Leeds Trinity University, Leeds, West Yorkshire


Austin, J. (2009). ‘Destroying the banlieue: Reconfigurations of Suburban Space in French Film’. Yale French Studies, No. 115. New Spaces for French and Francophone Cinema, pp.80-92.

Cole, I. & Furbey, R. (1994). The State of Welfare: The Eclipse of Council Housing. London: Routledge.

Ettlinger, N. (2011). ‘Governmentality as Epistemology’. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101(3) pp.537-560.

Faulkner, N. (2011). ‘Blitz WW2 – The Battle of London’. Military History Monthly, Jan. 22nd. [Internet] [Accessed: 26th May 2014].

Forty, A. (2012), Concrete and Culture: A Material Culture. London: Reakton.

Foster, D.B. (1897). Leeds Slumdom. Leeds: C. Halliday.

Heathcote, E. (2012). ‘Park Hill: Urban Optimism Then and Now’. Modernism, Summer Edition pp.30-34.

Hollow, M. (2010). ‘Governmentality on the Park Hill Estate: The Rationality of Public Housing’. Urban History 37(01) pp.117-135.

Hunt, T. (2004). Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City. London: Phoenix.

Labour Party Manifesto (1945). [Internet Resource] [Accessed: 25th May 2014].

Le Corbusier (1929). ‘The City of Tomorrow and its Planning’. In LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. eds. (2011). The City Reader, 5th Edition. London: Routledge.

LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. (2011). ‘Le Corbusier: Editors’ Introduction’. In LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. eds (2011). The City Reader, 5th Edition. London: Routledge.

Maury, J.P. (2007). ‘Digitheque MJP: Comité français de la Libération nationale, 1944’ [Internet] [Accessed: 25th May 2014].

Meades, J. (2014). ‘The incredible hulks: Jonathan Meades’ A-Z of brutalism’. The Guardian, 13th February [Internet] [Accessed: 28th May 2014].

Minguettes-City (2013). [Blog] Saturday 6th November 2013 [Internet] [Accessed: 30/05/2014].

Municipal Dreams (2013). ‘The Park Hill Estate, Sheffield: “Streets in the sky”’. Tuesday 16th April [Internet] [Accessed: 28th May 2014].

Power, A. (1997). Estates on the Edge: The Social Consequences of Housing in Northern Europe. London: MacMillan.

Ravetz, A. (2001). Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experiment. New York: Routledge.

Rihs, S. & Daniel, K. (2014). ‘The Evolution of Slum Clearance Policies in Paris and London’. UN-Habitat [Internet] [Accessed: 26th May 2014].

Sheffield Telegraph (1955). ‘City’s “Super” Flats of the Future’. 16th March (Sheffield Archives: CA655/15).

Sheffield Libraries and Archives (2010). Sources for the Study of Park Hill and Hyde Park Flats. Sheffield: Sheffield City Council.

Sherwood, R. (2002). ‘La Muette’. [Internet] [Accessed: 30/05/2014].

Silvrestein, P.A. and Tetreault, C. (2006). ‘Postcolonial Urban Apartheid’. Riots in France [Internet] [Accessed: 30/05/2014].

Smith, A. (2005). ‘Regional Government in France’. In Smith, A. & Heywood, P. eds. (2005). Regional Government in France and Spain. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Soumahoro, M. (2008). ‘On the Test of the French Republic as Taken (and Failed)’. Transition, No. 98 pp.42-66.

Stilltoe, D. (2014). ‘The utopian estate that’s been left to die’. The Guardian 5th March [Internet] [Accessed: 25th May 2014].

Urban Splash (2011). ‘Park Hill’ [Internet] [Accessed: 02/06/2014].

Stephen Basdeo is a PhD Researcher at Leeds Trinity University in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He is currently researching Victorian literary representations of Robin Hood, and his main research interest is in Georgian and Edwardian literature. A secondary interest of his lies in the realm of urban history, c.1800 – present. Profile:

Twitter: @sbasdeo1

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The Forerunners in the Analysis of 19th Century Exploration

David Livingstone extensive works remain a key element to the consideration of how our relationship with space, exploration, and empire changed over the course of the nineteenth-century. The two links below are the culmination of a large and dedicated research team working tirelessly to provide everyone with free open access to Livingstone’s diaries, letters, and manuscripts. Hats off…

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The Ghost in the Machine Ensemble: Generating the Industrial Supernatural in Mugby Junction (1866)

Critical commentary has tended to focus on the domestic setting as the location of haunting. The haunted house is a stock figure in nineteenth century literature. As Steven Conner notes, ‘ghost stories which multiplied from the 1850s onward most frequently take place in the bounded space of the home.’[1] But surprisingly, the representation of haunting in the railway network has gone relatively unremarked. Even though, as the illustrated periodical Once a Week remarked in 1862, ‘Ruined castles have given place to railway stations … and ghosts in armour are as much out of fashion as mail-coaches.’[2] The association between ghosts and trains has a rich history. Many thought that there was something supernatural about the performance of a steam engine. The Victorian invention of the fairground Ghost Train is a suggestive legacy of this. It can be read as a symbolic reminder of how Victorian society reacted to the rapid expansion of the railway. Mugby Junction can be read in a similar sort of way. The text was published in December 1866 as a special Christmas collection of short stories by the magazine All the Year Round. The first story in the collection sold 250,000 copies in its first week.[3] In the same month that the collection was published a parody named ‘Jugby Junction’ was concocted by Fun magazine.[4] The railway stories about Mugby Junction, then, seem to have struck a nerve in the 1860s. This kind of popularity authenticates the text as an exemplary marker through which to ask specific questions about ghostliness in the representation of the railway network in the Victorian period.

As Michael Freeman acknowledges, commentary on how the expansion of the railway network affected individuals that experienced it is varied and ambivalent.[5] However, as suggested by the legacy of the Ghost Train, there was an urge in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to use ghostly or spectral images to represent the railway. From the 1840s onwards, the representation of the railway network has been coloured and coded with metaphors of the supernatural. The stories in Mugby Junction deal with hauntings, apparitions, spectres, spirits, forces, and liminal and demonic spaces in and around the railway network. The railway network in the collection is inscribed with what Julian Wolfreys might call ‘the spectral nature of all modern technologies’ (57). By analysing Mugby Junction alongside nineteenth-century discourse on railways and ghostliness this essay will trace the genealogy of the associations between ghosts and trains, and explore the wider questions that modernity asks about the proximity of the mechanical and the supernatural.

Mugby Junction is a fictional railway station that serves as a platform from which the central character – the gentleman from Nowhere – explores the tracks that radiate outward. We can read the collection of stories as a fictional representation of the ‘machine ensemble’. Wolfgang Schivelbusch invented this term to describe the institutionalisation of the railway network as one great machine that sculpted and reconfigured the physical environment of Victorian Britain. [6] The components of this machine ensemble include the tracks, the stations, the tunnels, the engines, the carriages, the signalling and communication systems, the army of employees, the freight, the trade, and the passengers. In Mugby Junction, this ensemble is loaded with ghostly metaphors. The representation of the machine ensemble in Mugby Junction is marked by the experience of a complex shift of agency that occurred as the Victorian period became a technoculture. This shift is characterised as supernatural. The physical environment of Mugby Junction, its connecting apparatus, and the characters we encounter are figured as spectral. In the techno-mystical domain of Mugby Junction, the experience of the supernatural, rather than being quashed by the development of technology, science and industry, is generated by it.

The first story in the series is called ‘Barbox Brothers’, written by Charles Dickens. A gentleman from Nowhere alights at Mugby Junction. The description of the environment of the station is deliberately distorted and phantasmagorical; it is a ‘place replete with shadowy shapes’,[7] a demonic space of exchange in which trains flit past with ‘ironed-barred cages full of cattle’, their eyes ‘frozen with terror’. It is left unclear whether the terrified cattle refer to live stock or human passengers, which is suggestive of the shifting agencies involved in the railway network. Passengers become cattle in the machine ensemble. A train has a predetermined track and timetable, giving a sense of the passivity of the traveller. The passengers, being enclosed in compartments like cattle, are disassociated from the energies that convey them, giving the impression that the machines convey themselves and that the passengers are merely freight; as much the agents of their conveyance as cattle are theirs. Just the year before Mugby Junction was published John Ruskin hit upon the same connection between this shift of agency and the sense of supernatural automation when he saw a locomotive ‘take its breathe at a railway station … [with] more than fleshly power’.[8] Trains were represented as conscious and beastly things with life-force and influence of their own. The station at Mugby is invested with the same life-force: it ‘started suddenly, trembled violently, and opened its gas eyes’[9] as a parliamentary train flies past.[10]A parliamentary train, commonly known as a ghost train, originally ran as a statutorily imposed low-cost service intended to allow cheap travel. However, it quickly became used as a contrivance that ran only to keep stations and tracks open; a ghost train that acted as a force that motivated the ‘dead’ station to wake up.

We are told that another ‘Mysterious goods train’ drifts past the station ‘covered with palls and gliding on like a vast funeral’.[11] This image of a funeral train stacked with coffins has an historical basis. In 1854 a private organisation called the London Necropolis Company was created to remove dead bodies from central London to a mass graveyard in the suburbs. The cholera epidemic of 1848-9, combined with a lack of space to bury a growing population in the 1850s, led to the construction of the first funeral line.[12] Chamber’s Journal published an article documenting a trip on the funeral train in 1855.[13] According to the article, the family of the dead would buy a ‘coffin ticket’ and the train would carry its ‘solemn burden’ out of Waterloo station to a mass city of the dead in Woking.[14] The associations between ghosts and trains must have been potent here. Like the cattle-passengers, the funeral train has the potential to act as a visual symbol of the agency of the machine ensemble and as a vivid figuration of the passive status of the passenger. The funeral train shows that the machine ensemble handles the dead and impotent in exactly the same manner as it handles the living and mobile. The image of Mugby with the funeral train passing through it carries the Ruskinian idea that passengers become parcelised or dead objects in the industrial process, carried as freight by the phantom or otherworldly energy of the machine ensemble.

The world that the junction inhabits has a disorientating mechanical topography. It is a leaky, liminal space full of perplexity and miscommunication. ‘Mugby Junction was a Junction of many branches, invisible and visible.’[15] Its ‘threads of railway’[16] dart around the station as if woven by iron-spinning spiders. [17] Cognition of the pattern of the structure of the railway system is lost to the eye.[18] The disorientation was such that ‘there was no beginning, middle or end to bewilderment’. [19]  The stories take place in a technological landscape full of combinations between bodies and machines. The idea of the android became a poignant point of discussion in the Victorian period. Thomas Carlyle famously grumbled that ‘Men are grown mechanical in head and heart, as well as in hand’.[20] The idea that humans were becoming prosthetic to machines in a mesmeric relationship circulated in the nineteenth century. Harriet Martineau saw technological development as an intensification of the invisible energies that combine people and machines.[21] The mechanical components of the machine ensemble take on characteristics of life, and the humans that inhabit the machine ensemble are described as mechanical. As Tamara Ketabgian notes in her 2011 study, The Lives of Machines, ‘humans and machines are compulsively coupled and uncoupled, dissected, and rejoined, to form diverse narratives of a “border war” between the animate and the inanimate, the organic and mechanical’.[22]

Throughout Mugby Junction this fastening of bodies and machines marks the description of the characters. The gentleman from Nowhere encounters a lighting technician at the station called Lamps, named and defined by his relation to the machine ensemble. ‘He had a peculiarly shining transparent complexion, probably occasioned by constant oleaginous application’, he is so oily that he could mistake himself ‘for one of his charges’.[23] Lamps is given a mechanical appearance. As the gentleman from Nowhere studies the railway lines at the junction his forehead wrinkles ‘as if the railway lines were getting themselves photographed on that sensitive plate’.[24] The image impresses the structure of the tracks onto his face. This combination or synchronisation of people and machines appears again in ‘The Signalman’, another contribution from Dickens. The mechanical routine of the signalman’s life ‘shaped itself into that form, and he had grown used to it’.[25] The text focuses on the interplay between bodies, discipline, and machines. It represents the machine ensemble as assuming some kind mystical control over the bodies and routines of the characters. Rather than machines being obedient to the rational society that uses them, the characters are at the whim of their techno-mystical domain. As Ralph Harrington notes in an article for The Pathologies of Travel, ‘no other technological system required large numbers of ordinary people to surrender themselves to fast-moving machines driven by incomprehensibly powerful and barely controllable energies’.[26] The mechanical aesthetic in Mugby Junction is a metaphor for the complex shifts of agencies involved in mass engagement with the railway network.

Fears about railway safety were widespread in the period surrounding the publication of Mugby Junction. An 1868 article in All the Year Round entitled ‘Railway Thoughts’ echoed deep-seated anxieties about the vulnerability of railway users: ‘Very few know what degree of safety is ensured by the principle of running upon rails. There may be none at all. We take the railway upon blind trust’.[27] In Andrew Halliday’s contribution to Mugby Junction – ‘The Engine-Driver’ – we are given a testimony by an engine-driver about the dangers involved in his job. He seems to confirm the veracity of this blind trust. The gentleman from Nowhere assumes a protean position in relation to each tale. He is himself a spectral figure that morphs from character to narrator to hauntingly absent force driving the text in his ‘careful study of the junction’.[28] As narrator/reporter in ‘The Engine-Driver’ he asks his interviewee how many deaths he has caused: ‘Altogether? Well. Altogether, since 1841 I’ve killed seven men and boys … and I don’t count passengers’.[29] The nonchalance of this statement would have toyed with the sense of vulnerability in the railway going audience. It is evident from Mugby Junction that train travel became a pathological question in the nineteenth century. The engine-driver talks in detail about the dangers and fatalities that surround him. Playing on the industrial neuroses of a mid-Victorian readership he proclaims that ‘many accidents take place that never get into the papers’.[30] The engine-driver represents the machine ensemble’s death-drive (a term that tellingly uses mechanical language to articulate the condition of the psyche).

Death on the railway was a very real fear in the period. The 1864 murder of Thomas Briggs would have been fresh in the mind of the audience. According to the Saturday Review, the murder caused ‘a frenzy of the public mind about the dangers of railway travel’.[31]  In addition to this, an accident on the Metropolitan Railway occurred in the same month of the publication of Mugby Junction. A man and a woman were killed as the train they were on passed under a bridge. According to a newspaper report ‘his body was cut across and his bowels were protruding’ and ‘her head was all but severed from her body’.[32] The lurid detail of the article, like the incitement of fear in the short story and the murder of Thomas Briggs, would have exacerbated anxiety around rail travel by acting as a reminder to the passengers that they were subject to danger outside of their control. The engine-driver’s assertion that he does not count passenger fatalities in his death toll as his responsibility implies that either the passengers are disposable, or that even he, as the person supposed to have control over the machine, does not have agency over what happens. This is echoed in ‘Railway Thoughts’. The article implies that fear is caused by a sense that no one person is in control: ‘I wonder if there is anyone who has full knowledge of all the ways and habits of a train’.[33] Industrialism is marked by a dispersal of agency that created various cognitive blind spots for the parcelised passenger. This is what is meant by taking the railway upon blind trust. Even in its supposedly rational form, engagement with industrial technology entails a relationship with the unknown. It is this unknown combined with the mortal fear involved in the operation of the railway network that generated associations between ghosts and machines.

In Halliday’s contribution to Mugby Junction, fear is intensified by the implication that the engine-driver, the voice of the story, is a spectre. His testimony wavers between images of life and death. His visage is ‘scarred and seamed, as if he had been operated on’ which hints at his being in an accident that embossed the pattern of a railway track onto his face. We hear that he has been an engine driver for twenty five years[34] and that ‘engine-drivers, as a body, are the healthiest fellows alive; but they don’t live long.’[35] ‘He reveals that an engine-driver’s wife cannot stop worrying, ‘for we never know, when we go out, if we’ll ever come home again’.[36] He reveals that he never thinks of his own life because ‘you go in for staking that’ when you begin.[37] And it is no good, he admits, for ‘engine drivers to know too much, or to feel too much’.[38] If we are convinced that the engine-driver is actually the ghost of the engine-driver, then the idea of who has control over the machine becomes vague and hard to pin down. We are back to the idea of trains ‘conveying themselves’.[39] A sense of human powerlessness in the machine ensemble is represented by the ghost in, or in this case on, the machine. He gives the impression that he is a ghost operating a machine that he does not fully understand. The pathological worries that surrounded railway travel combined with the experience of mechanical agency appear to generate a sense of the supernatural. Something in the nature of machines conjures up images of spectrality. This kind of representation of the machine ensemble complicates the empirical idea that we have absolute control over machinery and that the machines are obedient to our rational will. As the engine driver comments on the cognition of his passengers, ‘I dare say they think the train goes along of itself’.[40]

The sense of the supernatural is immediately apparent in the fourth story of the collection. In ‘The Signalman’, the gentleman from Nowhere, now assuming the role of the narrator, comes across a deep cutting in the land at the bottom of which is the opening of a railway tunnel: ‘So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot that it had a deadly smell … as if I had left the natural world’.[41] In this otherworldly spot, the narrator finds a ‘troubled’ signalman.[42] The signalman explains that he is being haunted by apparitions that show themselves at the mouth of the tunnel and mysterious signals emanating from his telegraph machine. The conversation between the signalman and the gentleman from Nowhere turns out to be a dialogue between rational empiricism and supernaturalism. The gentleman struggles to believe the veracity of the signalman’s story. He suspects that he is mad. He tries to explain the supernatural incidents rationally:

I showed him that this figure must be a deception of his sense of sight, and how that figures, originating in disease of the delicate nerves that minister to the function of the eye, were known to have often troubled patients.[43]

This medico-rational retort to the supernatural was certainly circulating in the nineteenth century. In 1824, Samuel Hibbert argued that apparitions are nothing more than ‘recollected images in the mind, which have been rendered more vivid than actual impressions as a result of some physiological change in the body’.[44] The gentleman from Nowhere, like Hibbert, looks for what we would now call a scientific explanation for apparitional phenomena. He tries to trace the signalman’s illusions in ‘the natural course of physical things’.[45] However, the ghosts that haunt the signalman are not so easily exorcised by empirico-rationalism.

Despite the rational resistance from the gentleman, the signalman maintains that he sees portentous apparitions at the mouth of the tunnel. He maintains that his telegraphic machine seems to have a paranormal life of its own, that the bell rings without human influence. The apparition and the strange behaviour of the telegraphic machine turn out to have some foundation.  On the gentleman’s final visit to the spot he discovers that the signalman is dead, mowed down by an engine driven by a driver making the same gestures as the apparition that haunted him. The signalman, as it turns out, was warned about his impending death. Only he could not interpret the signals. As the signalman explains,

‘If I telegraph “danger”, on either side of me, or on both, I can give no reason for it … I should get into trouble and do no good. They would think I was mad. This is the way it would work – Message: “Danger! Take care!” Answer: “What danger? Where?” Message: “Don’t know. But for God’s sake take care!”[46]

The telegraphic operation functions on the basis of reason, but the apparitions that visit the signalman lie outside the bounds of rationality. The signals they omit are distorted and unclear. Rationality cannot account for what the signals mean. The rational view of the machine ensemble cannot account for or react to supernatural activity, even though it seems to be generated by it.

It was an error in the function of the signalling system that caused a train Dickens was travelling on in 1865 to derail on a viaduct.[47] The accident became known as the Staplehurst Disaster. [48] Jill Matus reads this event as the origin of ‘The Signalman’, arguing that the story is a re-enactment of Dickens’ trauma and that the narrative ‘is shaped by and expressive of the logic of trauma’.[49] Without getting too biographical, parallels can certainly be drawn between the accident and the story. The potential for the signalling system to throw up miscommunications beyond the control of those on duty is central to both. The ‘Unknown languages in the air’[50] relate to the seemingly autonomous system of codes that circulates around railway technology. In ‘The Signalman’ these unknown languages and their propensity to fail are coded as ghostly. As Louise Henson notes, the apparitions that appear to the signalman ‘represent a strange mockery of his own industrial function’.[51]  Again, human components of the machine ensemble become the prostheses of their machines as the machine assumes what appears to be a cogent life of its own. The machine ensemble has the potential to give the impression of irrational ghostly control, despite being thought of as practical, rational, and empirical. As unlikely as it sounds, technology and magic have an intimate relationship. As John Potts argues ‘enchantment – in the form of belief in the supernatural – flourished even in highly technologised cultures’.[52] In fact, if we take Mugby Junction as evidence, supernaturalism not only flourishes but is generated by technologised cultures.

Mugby Junction is a text about Victorian engagement with modernity and develops themes that gather intensity and pervasiveness towards the fin de siècle and into the twentieth century. By historicising Mugby Junction we can trace the nature of the reaction to the proliferation of the railway network in mid-Victorian Britain. The collection of stories crystallise a will to represent the operation of the machine ensemble as ghostly. By presenting images and tropes that illustrate the experience of a complex shift of agency felt by those who engaged with industrial transport, the text reveals the associations between ghosts and trains in the nineteenth century. The idea of the ghost performs complex work in the representation of all cultures, but in a technoculture it can be read as a symptom of the impact industrialism has on the power/knowledge relationships that circulate as people and machines become intimately involved. The regimentation of movement and the potential for malfunction and miscommunication inherent in the machine ensemble was experienced as a shift of agency in the mid-Victorian imagination. This shift generated the idea of the ghost in the machine ensemble.

Peter William Slater


Books and Chapters:

Carlyle, Thomas, ‘The Sign of the Times’ (1829) first published in Edinburgh Review. Or Critical Journal Vol. 15

Carte, Ian, Railways and Culture in Britain: The Epitome of Modernity (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2001)

Clare, John M., London’s Necropolis: A Guide to Brookwood Cemetery (Gloucestershire: Sutton Press Limited, 2004) p. 1-25

Connor, Steven, ‘Afterword’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

Crook, J. Mordaunt, ‘Ruskin and the Railway’ from The Impact of the Railway on Society in Britain ed. A.K.B. Evans and J.V. Gough (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2003)

Daly, Nicolas, Literature, Technology and Modernity, 1860-2000 (Cambridge, CUP 2004)

Freeman, Michael, Railway and the Victorian Imagination (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999)

Freeman, Michael, ‘The Railway Age: An Introduction’ from The Railway: Art in the Age of Steam ed. Ian Kennedy and Julian Treuherz (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008)

Gilbert, Geoffrey, ‘The Origins of Modernism in the Haunted Properties of Literature’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

Harrington, Ralph, ‘The Railway Journey and the Neuroses of Modernity´ from Pathologies of Travel ed. Richard Wrigley and George Revill (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi Publishing, 2000)

Hay, Simon, the History of the Modern British Ghost Story (New York: Houndsmill Publishing, 2011)

Henson, Louise, ‘Investigations and Fictions: Charles Dickens and Ghosts’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

Hibbert, Samuel, Sketches of the Philosphy of Apparitions; or an attempt to trace such illusions to their physical causes (London: Whittaker, 1824)

Ketabgian, Tamara, The Lives of Machines (Michigan: Michigan University Press, 2011)

Lynch, Eve M., ‘Spectral Politics: the Victorian Ghost Story and the Domestic Servant’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

MacFarlane, Robert, “Foreword” to Mugby Junction (London: Herspeus, 2005 originally published 1866) p. viii

Martineau, Harriet, and Atkinson, Henry George, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development (London: John Chapman, 1851)

Noakes, Richard, ‘Spiritualism, Science and the Supernatural in mid-Victorian Britain’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

Potts, John, ‘The Idea of the Ghost’ from Technologies of Magic ed. John Potts and Edward Sheer (Sydney: Power Publications, 2006)

Ruskin, John, “The Cestus of Aglaia” from The Works of John Ruskin Vol. XIX, ed. E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn (London: Library Editions, 1903)

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986 originally published in 1977)

Simmons, Jack, The Victorian Railway (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2009 originally published 1995)

Spurr, David Anton, Architecture and Modern Literature (Michigan: Michigan University Press, 2012)

Wolfreys, Julian, Victorian Hauntings: Spectrality, Gothic, the Uncanny and Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave Publishing: 2002)


Field, B.K., ‘Charles Dickens’s Railway Accident’ from Strand Magazine July 1906; Vol. 32, 187: MLA International Bibliography p. 37

‘Jugby Junction: a Christmas Number’ from Fun magazine, December 29 1866: 4, British Periodicals p. 167

‘The Latest Thing in Ghosts’ from Once a Week, Vol. 6 Issue 134, January 18 1862, British Periodicals p. 100

‘The London Necropolis’ from Chamber’s Journal, January 1855, 97, British Periodicals p. 297-300

‘Mugby Junction from The Examiner December 8, 1866; 3071; British Periodicals p. 774

‘Mugby Junction’ from The London Review December 8 1866; Vol. 13 Issue 336; British Periodicals p. 639

‘Mugby Junction’ from The Saturday Review December 15 1866; Vol. 22, Issue 581; British Periodicals p. 739

‘Railway Thoughts’, from All the Year Round, January 4 1868; Vol. 19, Issue 454, British Periodicals p. 82

‘Road and Rail’ from The Saturday Review June 22 1872; Vol. 33, Issue 869; MLA International Bibliography p. 794

The Saturday Review, July 16th 1864

Newspaper Articles:

‘Fearful Accident on the Metropolitan Railway’, The Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, Thursday December 20 1866 Issue 24171

Journal Articles:

Bailey, Peter, ‘Adventures in Space: Victorian Railway Erotics, or Taking Alienation For a Ride’ from Journal of Victorian Culture January 15 2010, Vol. 9, Issue 1; pp. 1-21

Esbester, Mike, ‘Nineteenth-Century Timetables and the History of Reading’ from Book History Penn State University Press, Vol. 12, 2009, pp. 156-185

Matus, Jill L., ‘Trauma, Memory, and Railway Disaster: The Dickensian Connection’ in Victorian Studies Vol. 43, No. 3 (Spring, 2001) pp. 413-436

Pope, Norris, ‘Dickens’s ‘The Signalman’ and Information Problems in the Railway Age’ in Technology and Culture, Vol. 42 No. 3, July 2001, pp. 436-461

Smith, Matthew Wilson, ‘Victorian Railway Accident and the Melodramatic Imagination’ from Modern Drama University of Toronto PressVol. 55, Number 4, Winter 2012, pp. 497-522

Stahl, Damel, ‘The Source and Significance of the Revenant in Dickens’s “The Signal-Man” from Dickens Studies Newsletter December 1 1980; Vol. 11, Issue 4; ProQuest pp. 98-101

Wagner, Tamara S. ‘Dickens’s “gentleman from Nowhere”: Reversing Technological Gothic in the Linkages of Mugby Junction’ from Dickens Quarterly Louisville: March 2011; Vol. 28, Issue 1; pp. 52-66

[1] Steven Connor, ‘Afterword’ from The Victorian Supernatural (Cambridge: CUP, 2004) p. 259

[2] ‘The Latest Thing in Ghosts’ from Once a Week Jan 1862, p. 100

[3] Robert MacFarlane, “Foreword” to Mugby Junction (London: Herspeus, 2005 originally published 1866) p. viii

[4] ‘Jugby Junction: a Christmas Number’ from Fun magazine Dec 29 1866, p. 167

[5] Michale Freeman, The Railway: Art in the Age of Steam (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008) p. 8

[6] Wolfgang Schivelbisch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) pp. 16-32

[7] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction (London: Hesperus Classics, 2005) p. 4

[8] John Ruskin, “The Cestus of Aglaia” from The Works of John Ruskin (London: Library Editions, 1903) p.60-61

[9] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 8

[10] Ibid., p. 6

[11] Ibid., p. 4

[12] John M. Clare, London’s Necropolis: A Guide to Brookwood Cemetery (Gloustershire: Sutton Press Limited, 2004) p. 1-25

[13] ‘The London Necropolis’ from Chamber’s Journal, Jan 1855, 97, p. 297-300

[14] Ibid., p. 299

[15] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers and Co.’ from Mugby Junction p. 29

[16] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 18

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., p. 11

[20] Thomas Carlyle, ‘The Sign of the Times’ (1829) first published in Edinburgh Review p. 444

[21] Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development (London: John Chapman, 1851) p. 66

[22] Tamara Ketabgian, The Lives of Machines (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2011) p. 17

[23] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 7

[24] Ibid., p. 11

[25] Charles Dickens, ‘The Signalman’ from Mugby Junction p. 56

[26] Ralph Harrington, ‘The Railway Journey and the Neuroses of Modernity’ from Pathologies of Travel (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000) p. 253

[27] ‘Railway Thoughts’, All the Year Round January 4 1868, p. 82

[28] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers and Co.’ from Mugby Junction p. 43

[29] Andrew Halliday, ‘The Engine-Driver’ from Mugby Junction p. 67

[30] Ibid., p. 71

[31] Saturday Review July 16th 1864

[32] ‘Fearful Accident on the Metropolitan Railway’, The Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh Thursday Decemeber 20 1866 Issue 24171, p. 100

[33] ‘Railway Thoughts’, from All the Year Round January 4 1868, p. 82 emphasis in orginal

[34] Andrew Halliday, ‘The Engine-Driver’ from Mugby Junction p. 67

[35] Ibid., p. 72 emphasis added

[36] Ibid., emphasis added

[37] Ibid., p. 73

[38] Ibid., p. 74 emphasis added

[39] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 4

[40] Andrew Halliday, ‘The Engine-Driver’ from Mugby Junction p. 70

[41] Charles Dickens, ‘The Signalman’ from Mugby Junction p. 57

[42] Ibid., p. 58

[43] Ibid., p. 60

[44] Samuel Hibbert, Sketches of the Philosphy of Apparitions (London: Whittaker, 1824) p. iii

[45] Charles Dickens, ‘The Signalman’ from Mugby Junction p. 57

[46] Ibid., p. 63 emphasis added

[47] Norris Pope, ‘Dickens’s ‘The Signalman’ and Information Problems in the Railway Age’ in Technology and Culture July 2001, p. 437

[48] B.K. Field ‘Charles Dickens’s Railway Accident’ in Strand Magazine July 1906, p. 37

[49] Jill L. Matus, ‘Trauma, Memory, and Railway Disaster: The Dickensian Connection’ in Victorian Studies, p. 431

[50] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 4

[51] Louise Henson, ‘Investigations and Fictions: Charles Dickens and Ghosts’ from The Victorian Supernatural p. 58

[52] John Potts, ‘The Idea of the Ghost’ from Technologies of Magic  (Sydney: Power Publications, 2006) p. 54

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Critical Spaces: Disorientating the Topographical

This is a conference taking place on the 5th of January 2015 at The London Graduate School:

Members of the Playgrounds in Prison team will be attending and hope to see you there.

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A Street Car Maimed Desire: Cross-contamination of Agency between the Body and Technological Space in J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1971)

This short review will plot two technological spaces that are targeted by J.G. Ballard’s Crash as being largely responsible for our post-human, psycho-technological, and cyborg status as car-driving, city-living and camera-captured subjects. In the car and the city we find two spatial constructions infected by modernity, but we also find two spaces that infect the body and the mind of the subject immersed within this technological modernity. These spaces are created by us, but they also in a sense create us. The space and the body deployed in space have a two-way relationship marked by a certain mutual malleability. Both the individual and the technological space that surrounds the individual are in a sense soft; the constitution of each is at the whim of the other. There is a question of agency here. Henri Lefebvre summed it up when he noted that,
There is an immediate relationship between the body and its space, between the body’s deployment in space and its occupation of space. … Each living body is space and has space: it produces itself in space and is also produced by that space.

It is counterintuitive to think that we are somehow controlled by the space we inhabit, but it is this very counterintuitive feature of modernity that Ballard lays bare in his most controversial of novel. Perhaps the controversy lies more in the idea that technological space holds a certain level of agency over bodies rather than in the novel’s perverse or so-called psychopathic sexual exploration.

We might ask this question: at what time does this spatial agency function? Lefebvre uses the term ‘immediate’, which designates his opinion of what time frame exists in this sharing of agency between the body and space. But perhaps this can be thought through a little more carefully. Perhaps we can say that a higher degree of agency exists in the technological spaces that direct or produce the body because space created by bodies tends to an agency that exists only in the duration of the design, building and perhaps restoration process (let’s say that this is the period of time that the body exerts power over the spatial technological construction, bearing in mind that this time period is limited and fragmentary), whereas, once space is constructed/deployed it exerts a more permanent, less limited, and perhaps less predictable agency over the body of its creators and users. In the grand scheme of things, the agency invested in space appears to win out. It exerts power over bodies for a greater length of time. Add to this the fact that the agency held by the space that surrounds the body usually functions tacitly. The agency inscribed in space, then, is both more sustained and functions with greater stealth, which creates a world in which the body is, to a greater extent, controlled by the space it inhabits. This is the counterintuitive psycho-technological world that Ballard is exposing, which is perhaps a more unfamiliar facet of our actuality than any machine-based sexual deviancy. It is here, then, that the controversy of the novel lies.

By looking at the character’s relationship with the car, suburbia, and the camera, this review will examine the recurring trope of the text that displays the counterintuitive cross-contamination between the body and the technological space that surrounds it. It will conclude with a caution not to read the text as a cautionary tale, despite what the author himself has written on numerous occasions.

To start with the car. The text seems to dwell on one specific kind of description; the impressions made by the car on the body. The narrator gives many accounts in fine detail of the marks made by the car on the body of its user. The technological space that surrounds the car-driving individual literally inscribes, stamps, indents, shapes and engraves itself onto the bodies of the characters; the aesthetic of the body becomes a space in which the car can be recognised, the technological space of the car can be seen in limbs and on skin, traces of the technological space that the characters inhabit are embossed on their bodies. The examples are numerous. The first impression we see in detail is on the body of Dr Helen Remington’s husband. He is lying dead across the windshield. ‘His hand had struck some rigid object as he was hurled from his seat, and the pattern of a sign formed itself as I sat there … the triton signature of my radiator emblem’. This episode puts the narrator in a privileged position. Not only does he see the imprint of technology on the body, he sees it forming in front of his eyes. In other words, he sees the process of our technological cross-contamination. This is what releases his new sexuality; from that moment on he sees the technological colonization of our bodies as a fundamentally sexual process of insertion, invasion, and complete productive dependence.

The same idea is at work as we witness Ballard recognise himself as a body impressed by, and so in a sense sexually active with, his own car. He is lying in hospital inspecting his own body after his crash. ‘A semi-circle bruise marked my chest … As I looked down at myself I realized that the precise make and model-year of my car could have been reconstructed by an automobile engineer from the patterns of my wounds’. The narrator has been branded by his car; his car has forced itself upon him. There is a sense of reproduction hovering behind this scene. Like the bodies disciplined in a Fordist factory line, the body of the narrator has become a blueprint for the (re)construction and (re)production of an automobile. Donna Haraway offers an apt way to understand this episode when she remarked in her manifesto that ‘modern production seems like a dream of cyborg colonization at work.’

There are many more examples like this, but for brevity’s sake I will offer just one more. This time the direction of the impression goes the other way. The body is as much a force to encode or shape the car as the car is a force that impresses and inscribes the body. The body/car relationship is one of cross-contamination, creating an anthropo-technological machine space as well as a psycho-technological body. The most vivid example of this is the episode in which we first see Ballard prowling the motorway with Vaughan looking for accidents and picking up prostitutes. Driving along, the narrator watches Vaughan having sex with a nameless prostitute on the backseat. ‘In the triptych of images reflected in the speedometer, the clock and revolution counter, the sexual act between Vaughan and this young woman took place in the hooded grottoes of the luminescent dial’. Not only does the interior of the car reflect the sex act, the sex act actually takes place inside the surface that reflects it. The image in the reflection becomes the act itself. In other words, the car is inscribed with the sexuality of the individual user at least as much as the sexuality of the individual car-user is inscribed by their car.

This psycho-technological cross-contamination is always given by Ballard in theatrical terms. The very existence of this interdependent relationship between body and space questions the traditional boundaries between reality and fantasy. This is why the camera is so central to the text. The character’s new sexual relationship with their cars is often mediated through the camera. Until we meet Vaughan we only experience him following Ballard (and consequently ourselves as readers) with a camera in his hands gripping it like a gun; he holds in his hand the power of a new technological gaze. The images of fresh mutilations in Vaughan’s office and the important crash-test episode at the Road Research Laboratory both have filtering through them the question of where to draw the line between real-life and illusion. The scopic field of the text constantly teeters on the brink of fiction and reality, not in an attempt to question the validity of the fictional world created, but to question the ‘reality’ of the actual world that the text comments on. Like the seepage in form and agency between the body and its surrounding geography, reality and fiction are cross-contaminated in an attempt to expose our ever growing psycho-technological status. As Haraway put it, ‘the cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience … [which makes] the argument for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality.’

The same seepage between the ‘real’ world and the ‘fictional’ world haunts the text’s description of landscape, as does the seepage of agency between body and space; the two are inextricably linked. Again, examples of this are numerous. But one episode in particular shows this interdependent play of agency and actuality to dazzling effect. Ballard has just returned home after his stay in hospital following his crash. He sits on his balcony watching the airport-centred suburban machine-scape go by. From here he can see endless stretches of motorway, planes taking off and landing, and congested traffic following predetermined routes around the built environment. Taking all this in, Ballard has a kind of psycho-geographic epiphany. Gazing down at ‘this immense motion sculpture’ , he feels the potency of its artifice; calling it sculpture denotes this. We then get a description that anchors onto the question of agency that we discussed in relation to the car: ‘I began to orientate myself again,’ explains Ballard, ‘around its reassuring bulk, its familiar perspectives of speed, purpose and direction’. He is a fully sexual-psycho-geographical construction here, returning to the mantle of the artificial landscape. ‘I realized,’ he continues, ‘that the human inhabitants of this technological landscape no longer provided its sharpest pointers, its key to the borderzones of identity’. In other words, the borderzones of identity do not lie in the hands of the identified. Instead they are inscribed in the space that surrounds them. The next passage makes this even clearer:
I found myself flinching with excitement towards the traffic streams on the Western Avenue interchanges. The flashing lances of afternoon light deflected from the chromium panel trim tore at my skin. The hard jazz of radiator grilles, the motion of the cars moving towards London Airport along the sunlit oncoming lanes, the street furniture and route indicators – all these seemed threatening and super-real, as exciting as the accelerating pintables of a sinister amusement arcade released on to these highways.

The moving cars have the potential to reflect the lances of light because they have the potential to distort reality; they are directly involved in the manipulation of nature or reality. Nature never appears unscathed in Ballard’s work. These reflected, manipulated lances of light also tear at his skin, replicating the cross-contaminated engraving of the body seen in the description of the car. The street furniture and route indicators tell of the agency inscribed in spatial and architectural constructions. All this marries together to give Ballard the feeling of super-reality and illusion.

To conclude I simply want to comment on what the text is doing in its defamiliarization of space and subjectivity. Ballard (the author not the character[?]) mentions in the introduction (1995) that the story is a cautionary tale, a warning to those unaware of the psycho-technological mutations of society. He also mentions this in an interview with Melvyn Bragg on BBC Television. But I would contend that the text’s status as a cautionary tale is problematic. The whole book reads as a descriptive exposition rather than a prescriptive warning sign. The text is too barren of any moral framework to be considered cautionary. Instead the tone is ambivalent to any moral decision, its most forceful gesture is to hold up for us the seepage between organism and technology, between reality and fiction, pertaining more to expose how things are rather than how things should be.

Peter William Slater

Ballard, J.G., Crash (London: Fourth Estate 2011, first published 1973)

Bragg, Melvyn. “The South Bank Show: Melvyn Bragg meets J.G. Ballard (1995)” Interview accessed at 12.33 on 14/02/2013 at

Haraway, Donna “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s” from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism 1st Edition ed. Vincent B. Leitch (London: W.W. Norton & Co, 2001) p. 2269

Lefebrvre, Henri The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996)

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‘This is a war universe’ (William Burroughs): Mappa Bellum or Mapping the War Universe

In his lecture series given at the College de France in 1975-76, Foucault asked whether or not it would be appropriate to use the model of war to analyse the operation of power in society. In the second lecture he dismissed the philosophical question “who has power?” replacing it instead with the questions “where is power” and “how does power function?” This essay will look for the “where” and “how” of power on the map. It will offer an extra premise to Foucault’s conclusion that politics is the continuation of war by other means. Maps and war are intimately linked. ‘Geography grew up in the shadow of the military’. Power and war are intrinsic to the meaning of maps. So if it can be shown that maps are the way we see the world, or, more precisely, the way we see a world; and if it can be shown that society’s will-to-map has in some way changed our perception of the world and our relationship with space, then does it mean that we already see, as William Burroughs put it, the ‘war universe’? The easy answer to this question is no, or not exactly. It would take a radical rethinking for society to be comfortable with the idea that politics is the continuation of war by other means. The same radical rethink would be needed to see, and this is my thesis, that maps are the image of politics as the continuation of war by other means. By looking at the writings of a few radical theorists and theoretical geographers it should become clear that we can indeed see the war universe if we heed the schematic framework that maps are firstly subjective, secondly intimately bound up with the phenomena of war, and thirdly profoundly affect our perception of space by significantly altering the mechanism of the gaze due to the internalization of a “map-vision”, a map-vision predicated on, and borne of, war. If, as Baudrillard said, ‘the map precedes the territory,’ and if the map is a technology of war, then it should follow that we do act and perceive in the war universe.

In an interview printed in Power/Knowledge, Foucault said that a ‘whole history remains to be written of spaces – which would at the same time be the history of powers’. The discourse of cartography could be a useful place to start this history if we view it as a truth-producing discourse that is entirely at the whim of political factionism. Recognising this would be taking a conceptual jump from the status quo; it takes a ‘new radical awareness’ of postmodern cartography and a certain methodological leap from academic doxa to really understand the archaeology of geography in terms of war, or to understand how power and space perform a war dance on the image of a map. It might sound counterintuitive but there can be no such thing as a completely transparent and objective map. Due to the inevitable distortions and selective conventions in the making of maps, not to mention the size and the texture discrepancies, a map’s representation of a territory is always flawed; there are inevitably many cartographic silences in any attempt to reproduce real space on a map. Contrary to esoteric cartographic practice and exoteric geographic use, maps are not mimetic. They are always biased, partisan, and politically circumscribed.

Phillip Muehrcke concisely espoused the intuitive but mistaken view of cartographic verisimilitude. He said that ‘the map is only reflecting the mutable world in a passive way; it is not a living, active thing’. Quite the opposite, maps are always an active political argument, a world-view, a technology of power, and a formidable component in the rhetoric of discipline and control. As Geoff King put it in Mapping Reality, ‘the map is more than just passive representation of the territory’. Maps have a definitively active relationship with the space that they represent. Maps sculpt the geopolitical world. They mould territory into partial political systems, reproducing their own image in the territory. Maps are the mask that eats into a territory’s face. They exhaust the reality of the territory. Boundaries and borders, for example, are socially imposed, and the way that they are imposed has profound effects on the way society is organised. National frontiers, once concretized on a map, have the force of law. Or, as J.B. Harley put it, mapped borders have some kind of ‘cosmological significance’ when it comes to ordering our lives. Maps have ‘the power to strengthen territorial claims’ with authority. Additionally, a flat map of a spherical world always entails distortion, and distortion has all sorts of power-knowledge consequences. The Mercator map of the world that we are all familiar with in Europe is itself saturated with ideological proclivities: there is a specific reason why Europe takes centre-stage, crowned of course by Britain. These decisions are ultimately national-imperial. Maps always have a geopolitical context that at once denies any scientific neutrality and any atemporality being attributed to them. They are, therefore, the filter through which we see the historico-political landscape both in time and in space, they change the landscape that we exist in by turning it into a politico-topographical domain whose function and identity is defined ultimately by war. To recognise this is to make a radical break from the cartographic and indeed cultural status quo. Harley saw the philosophical necessity in this new radical awareness when he argued that,
Both in the selectivity of their content and their signs and styles of representation maps are a way of conceiving, articulating, and structuring the human world which is biased towards, promoted by, and exerts influence upon a particular set of social relations.

Maps, then, are a subjective text, a language or, more precisely, a “literature” awash with power plays and directives of war (even though they hide them pretty well). This means that cartography is a politically bound discourse with its own truth-effects. Maps as a truth-seeking or ‘scientific’ discourse are weapons of power. They create their own discursive formations based on the principle of war and hold these formations as gospel. They are, therefore, an instrument of power that fits well within the Foucauldian definition of a technological apparatus of knowledge: ‘It is the actual instruments of power [e.g. maps] that form and accumulate knowledge, the observational methods, the recording techniques, the investigative research procedures, the verification mechanism’. Maps are a specialized weapon of power, they are saturated with traces of war, and they are how war is waged on a subject to subject, state to state, and subject to state level.

Like many other instruments of power, maps undergo a curious transformation. Somehow, even though maps are undeniably social in construction, they garner the aureole of science. Once fixed and objective, maps have the sheen of sincerity and the authority of nature. They transmit a permanence, stasis, and sense of control when in fact they possess an intrinsic image of faction, antagonism, agitation, and war. It is this mechanism (the magical shift from subjective to objective representation) that turns a map into weapon of war and a powerful tool for government, empire, and nation. Maps are how nations “speak”, and by their nature they only speak of war: of us and of them. It has been said that ‘the map is the perfect symbol of the state’ and that ‘the national map and the concept of nationalism are inextricably linked’. It is worth asking, then, how far do maps create the nation that they appear only to represent. It looks like maps have the power to create a national domain geo-coded by war; in a definitional sense, the map’s meaning is war. Maps impose meaning onto the world and in doing so they impose a structural war, an organizational war, a war intrinsic to the society of the mappers and the mapped. Maps reify a nation in the imagination of its nationals. They alter a national’s schema of perception and their relationship with the space around them based on an imposition of territorial anxiety and abstract antagonistic identity; this anxiety, being so deep-seated, might even by quite hard to spot, it might feel normal. Nations become normalized and standardized when they are reproduced and “authenticated” by maps; it is because of this that ‘we are all inevitably someone’s adversary’. This means that maps have a discernible agency over a national’s perception. They entail their own internalized, systemized gaze. They have woven into them a sense of surveillance that reinforces national identity.

It is this sense of surveillance that imperial conquest was predicated on. Maps gave the sense that one can watch the world from a bird’s-eye-view. As King noted, ‘with the help of the map, territory could be understood as a whole rather than a series of separate local impressions’. And as Harley pointed out ‘maps anticipated empire’. Maps classify, delineate, and appropriate land in an imperial context. They offer the world as an object capable of possession:
To map a territory is to stake various kinds of claims to it, to make the assertion of ownership, sovereignty and legitimacy of rule. [… Maps were] a ritual of conquest, an act of conceptual appropriation seemingly inseparable from the seizure of the land itself.
Maps provided would-be colonizers with the prospect of domination. They ignited or maybe even created the imperial drive in the form it has come to take. Being able to have a representation of an area of space in front of you, especially under the guise of objective science, must have had all sorts of complicated consequences for your relationship with space. It turns real territory into a kind of fiction with seemingly fictional consequences. It can ‘foster the notion of a socially empty space’. It provided the opportunity to conceptually carve up land, which inevitably had myriad effects on the working of power relations from territory to territory and person to person. A stroke of a pen could instigate battle. Deluded despots may even fight their wars on the surface of the map only, this is an extreme case but the power-relations at play in a map and the anticipation of war in the form of a map contains this potential. In terms of empire it probably had an effect. Harley conjectures that killing real bodies ‘on a map’ might be more easily contemplated: ‘Military maps not only facilitate the technical conduct of warfare, but also palliate the sense of guilt’. Perhaps this is what Jean Baudrillard meant when he said in a 1991 article in The Guardian that the First Gulf War was an ‘unreal war, a war without symptoms’. Because it was a war fought via images and maps it never actually happened in the eyes of the Americans, they only got the technological coverage, the simulacrum. Bombing an area on a screen, map, or any other image questions its claim to reality; the map-image itself becomes the theatre of war. Baudrillard was not devaluing the loss of Iraqi lives, but he was being facetious by parodying an American view on the war. More importantly, however, is that he cottoned on to something more serious in his polemic.

By implying that the American army fought an unreal war through map-images only, Baudrillard hints at the internalization of map-vision. With the will-to-map comes the “geographication” (for want of a better or real word) of the mental space of an individual. It cultivates an ‘inner geopolitical space which responds to the outer political and cultural situation’. The geographication of the mind is the conscious and unconscious recognition of a mapped territory, it is the feeling felt when surrounded by chartered and demarcated boundaries, it is a socio-geographical understanding conceived in the cognition of gridded territory, and the effect given merely by the familiarity with the concept of a map, but, most importantly, it is the fact, and not necessarily the knowledge, that you are the recipient or relay of many circulations of power that flow through the map to the individual mapped. The process of geographication, in a sense, turns reality into a map, not just by normalizing war-defined territorial arrangements, but also by turning reality into an image, an effigy, and a catachrestic spectacle in the Debordian sense of the term.

It has been said that ‘for those who inhabit particular mappings they are likely to be viewed simply as reality. To those born into them they tend to appear natural’. With the continuous and on-going mapping of every bit of space on the planet, everybody now is born into a map. Google Maps is making sure of it. Everybody, then, is under surveillance. Everybody is mapped, and it feels normal to be so. With this incessant and escapable mapping, then, everybody is in some way related to war in that nobody resides outside the lines of force and everybody occupies a space that marks a point of collision. Through affiliation to nation, everyone is in some sense defined by war. The concept of a map, being mapped and seeing maps, decrees this. But this is not natural. This system is one born of cultural codes. It is a man-made frame imposed upon the world. It comes from the mind of those implicated by what I have called a state of geographication. This state of being was necessary for Baudrillard to announce that henceforth it is the map that precedes the territory. In Simulations, he gave a vivid example of the effects of our engendered map-vision. Using Jorges Luis Borges tale about an empire that commissioned a map of its territory to-scale, and then declined as an empire with the deteriorating condition of the map, Baudrillard offers us a metaphor for the retreat of the real.
It is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the [Borges] fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own’.
Again, Baudrillard cottoned on to something important. The mapped individual has internalised the image of the map so fully, and this image of the map is so engendered with traces of war, that the war universe is the only thing the mapped individual can see. Interestingly, if you look up ‘off the map’ in the dictionary you will find that it means ‘out of existence’, ‘into oblivion’, ‘obsolete’, and ‘of no account’. And if you look up ‘on the map’ it means ‘in existence’ and ‘of some account’. So to slightly alter Burroughs’ announcement in light of the understanding that Baudrillard offers: this is a war universe in that all we can see is war, the simulation or mask of war, the map.

Up until now this essay has been giving examples of the war universe from the juridico-political sphere of geographication, explaining how this works on a national and imperial level. But it must also be stressed that this internalization of map-vision defined by war occurs on a local level as well. An anecdote might help explain this. A friend of mine works in a community centre in the Govan area of Glasgow. The centre offers a scheme based on interventionist care to adolescent gang members. One day he gave them a practical exercise to do. He asked them to draw their version of a map of their home area. Many struggled to “correctly” offer the standardized district and street names. Instead they drew a map showing where it would be safe for them to go and where it would not. Their relationship with the space around them was on a go and no-go basis. Now there is something very interesting in this. The standard map does not apply. But the concept of mapping does. Space is outlined and mapped according to the a sense of confrontation: this is how they saw their world. Once the sovereignty of the “neutral” and “objective” map has been stripped away – a process that we should all get into the habit of doing – mapped territory fully and explicitly enters into the idiom of war. To rid ourselves of the ruse of objective cartography is to make patent the latent underpinnings of war in maps. This anecdote should be read as an example of what Deleuze calls the War-Machine. It is war in a state-free setting as well as war in a national, imperial, and so legal setting. Or more precisely, war emerges from the geographication of the individual in a stratum that exists outside the juridico-political setting as well as within it.

Foucault’s proximity to geographic discourse was only ever cursory, but the influence he has had on theoretical geography or the history of space has been fittingly substantial. I have here offered the potential to extent his proposal that the best/only way to interpret society is through a war-model by arguing that we already do look at society in terms of war because of our intimate and irreversible connection with maps. Understanding the knowledge systems and surveillance mechanisms that maps put in place – on an international, national, and local level – is key to the cultivation and perception of the war universe. Cartographic certainty has become the Golden Lie, the ruse of peace in the arena of war, and cartographers have become the unacknowledged legislators of both public and private warfare. Maps are ubiquitous in more than one sense, and from a detailed analysis of this state of affairs we can affirm, as Foucault did, that ‘a battlefront runs through the whole of society, continuously and permanently’.

Peter William Slater


Baudrillard, Jean, Simulations trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983)
Baudrillard, Jean, “The Reality Gulf”, The Guardian, 1st January 1991, Quoted in King, Geoff, “World-views” in Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996)
Burroughs, William, “The War Universe” in Grand Street No. 37 (1991)
Debord, Guy, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1994)
Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London: Continuum Impacts, 2004, originally published in 1987)
Foucault, Michel, “14 January 1976 – War and Power etc.” in Society Must Be Defended (London: Penguin Books, 2004)
Foucault, Michel, “21 January 1976 – Theory of Sovereignty and Operators of Domination etc.” in Society Must Be Defended (London: Penguin Books, 2004)
Foucault, Michel, Society Must Be Defended (London: Penguin Books, 2004)
Foucault, Michel, “Questions of Geography”, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and other Writings 1972-1977 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980)
Harley, J.B., “Maps, Knowledge, Power” in The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)
Harley, J.B., “Power and Legitmation in the English Geographical Atlases of the Eighteenth Century” in The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)
King, Geoff, “Maps of Meaning” in Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996)
King, Geoff, “The Map That Precedes The Territory” in Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996)
King, Geoff, “World-views” in Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996)
Mcluhan, Marshall War and Peace
Monmonier, Mark, How to Lie with Maps ((Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996)
Muehrcke, Phillip “Map Reading and Abuse” in Journal of Geographers, Vol. 4, May (1974)

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