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Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Guldi narrates how Britain built the first nation connected by infrastructure, how a libertarian revolution destroyed a national economy, and how technology caused strangers to stop speaking. The new infrastructure state saw unprecedented control by bureaucrats over everyday life and gave rise to competing visions of community still debated today.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06288-7
    Subjects: Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. INTRODUCTION: The Road to Rule
    (pp. 1-24)

    In 1726, the roads of Britain were mire and muck. A few cobblestoned streets in well-off villages punctuated long stretches of dirt track between towns. Rain-soaked wheel ruts and eroding banks made long-distance travel impossible for considerable periods of the year. Occasionally a peasant dug a hole in the middle of the road to obtain mud to make bricks. If the hole was disguised by rainwater, a traveler’s horse could disappear into it. The courts had only recently declared this practice remediable.

    By 1848, the road system consisted of forty-foot-wide highways of level gravel that extended to every village and...

  4. 1 MILITARY CRAFT AND PARLIAMENTARY EXPERTISE: The Institutional Evolution of Road Making
    (pp. 25-78)

    Just before his death in 1834, bedridden and coughing in “bilous derangement,” Thomas Telford chose to defer all interaction in favor of commemorating the technology responsible for his renown. A lifetime bachelor, now completely deaf and virtually reclusive, Telford was happy to enshroud himself in the finer specifications of paper weight, copper engraving, and typography, tools of political persuasion whose use he had refined during his entire professional life.¹ Between 1805 and 1811, Telford produced a remarkable corpus of documents that differed from anything earlier engineers had accomplished. These reports delineated in masterful detail the shapes of Scottish and Welsh...

  5. 2 COLONIZING AT HOME: The Political Lobby for Centralizing Highways
    (pp. 79-127)

    In terms of the spectacle of modern engineering, the most impressive routes that a visitor to London in 1830 could take were the parliamentary routes to Scotland and Ireland. Setting out from the stagecoach yard before the gleaming marble temple front of the General Post Office in London, with the dome of St. Paul’s looming overhead, the stagecoach would rattle over new-paved streets of smooth flagstones, only recently carved through parliamentary order from the former slums of St. Martin’s-le-Grand, and then past the Angel Inn on Islington’s High Street. Wide highways continued north, avoiding the imposing northern hills that had...

  6. 3 PAYING TO WALK: The National Movement against Centralized Roads
    (pp. 128-152)

    In 1843, Welsh coal miners began to sneak at night to the wooden toll bar at Yr Efail Wen in Carmathenshire that collected fees for users of the ancient road. The road was being paved for the first time, and in Wales, as elsewhere on both private turnpikes and Parliament-built roads, the cost of paving was defrayed by the tolls collected from the road’s users. The Rebecca rioters, like participants in some dozen other riots during the past century, dressed up in women’s clothing and left indignant biblical verses warning the toll collectors to stop their charges in the name...

  7. 4 WAYFARING STRANGERS: Mobile Communities and the Death of Contact
    (pp. 153-197)

    In 1791, two discharged soldiers were traveling from Portsmouth on their way home to Scotland. They planned to walk the entire route together, as soldiers often did, facing bullies and poverty as a team. When they crossed London Bridge, a stranger shouted at one of the pair, George Lowrie, who was still wearing his uniform. The stranger claimed that he too was a soldier and offered to join their company. A few nights later, when the soldiers were staying together at the Green Man at Poplar, their new friend robbed them of all their bundles, handkerchiefs, shirts, drawers, a psalter,...

  8. CONCLUSION: The Necessity for Infrastructure
    (pp. 198-212)

    For better or worse, in the modern era, infrastructure unites distant strangers into new communities. Following Britain’s model, nineteenth-century nations recognized the necessity of connecting their peripheries, and centralized railroads and government land grants ensured the production of similar connective networks across Europe, North America, and their colonies. But infrastructure also divides the nations it nets together. As economists have reflected on the problem of the “public good,” the highway has frequently appeared to refine the question. In the eyes of many, the benefits of highways to the public were more impressive than their threat. To historian of technology Michael...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 215-288)
    (pp. 289-290)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 291-297)