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Bicycling Renaissance: a Bike Boom of Old (With Lessons for the New)

Jesse Gant

28 March, 2016

Forever Bicycles installation by Ai Weiwei. Photo by flickr user Michael Jefferies [CC BY-NC 2.0].

Imagine being a cycling enthusiast in the 1890s before the automobile had become embedded in the American dream and defined the nation's urban landscape. In this re-blog we cast a spotlight on the brief moment in American history when the notion of a cycling city was a genuine pipeline dream for urban designers. This post by Jesse Gant appears on Edge Effects and features an interview with Dr Evan Friss, Assistant Professor of History at James Madison University, whose book The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban American in the 1890s was recently published by the University of Chicago Press. In this blog, Friss describes the place of the bicycle in a decade of rapid urbanization, industrialization, and technological transformation:

"Enthusiasts embraced a vision of the future in which bicycles made cities seem smaller, cleaner, and healthier and in which individuals felt liberated."

 Sound familiar? And if you'd never thought about identity politics in terms of technology, Friss reminds us that the identity of the (now) lycra-clad "cyclist" is an intersectional story that includes the complexities of gender and race. Backchannels readers interested in the historical origins of the bicycle as a green technology and the contingencies that determined its second class status relative to the automobile will enjoy this post.

Read the full blog post here.

The Edge Effects digital magazine comes out of the Center for Culture, History, and Environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is produced by an interdisciplinary crew of graduate students with their ear to the ground on all things remotely environmental. Jesse Gant is one such Edge Effects blogger whose other great bicycling-related posts can be found here.

Byron Company, Boulevard near 60th St. NY, 1898. From the Collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

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Backchannels / Reviews

Critical reviews of media, technology, literature, and performances. These are not intended to be book reviews of STS scholarship, but STS-based reviews of cultural works, including material culture, outside of our field.