Abstract: Speed, Culture, and High-Speed Trains

James Cohen


This paper explores the multiple dimensions of speed as a theoretical and empirical construct. After presenting timetable data on the speed of French and American trains, 1890-1970, I explain how this data fails to capture the subjective-perceptual dimension of speed, its dialectical nature, and the way speed affects the uses of space in cultural and economic terms. The paper also looks at ways in which social class and culture mediate individual and collective memories of speed and how collective memories, in turn, affect the development of national transportation systems.