The Global Middle East in the Age of Speed

Hornton Grange, 53 Edgbaston Park Road, Edgbaston, B15 2TT
Thursday 2 June (09:00) - Friday 3 June 2016 (19:30)

To register to attend this workshop please email Sarah Jeffery.

stunt biker copy
Copyright by permission of Walid Rashid (photographer) -

Workshop leader: Dr Simon Jackson

Programme: The Global Middle East in the Age of Speed agenda (PDF 286KB)

In 1927 King Amanullah of Afghanistan set off from Kabul on a tour of India and Europe, driving "a princely red motor car". Though his trip opened with a serene drive to nearby Qandahar, it reached its eventual apex in the English Midlands, when Amanullah visited the Rolls Royce motor works at Derby. As Nile Green, (Institute of Advanced Studies Distinguished Visiting Fellow) has shown in his pathbreaking work on the "speeding up" of intellectual and religious exchange in the "motor age", such journeys were not just an anecdotal royal luxury, but exemplifies the new forms of internationalism, underpinned by automotive transport technologies, that shaped state and society around the world as the twentieth century matured.

Whether people took the wheel, loitered at the curb, hitched a lift or crossed the road, automobiles also transformed practices of gender, class, and domesticity, most notably, though not exclusively, in urban and suburban contexts. Automobility also refigured international and regional travel in contexts such as pilgrimage, even as national road networks worked to produce national space, and urban roads re-segregated newly 'historic' inner cities and downtowns from suburbs. The latter became both gated communities and laboratories for religious and political organization.

Although the steam-powered cars of the 1920s have faded from the roads, the social and political issues the motor age brought with it remain critically relevant and timely today, across the disciplines and to the wider public. Birmingham itself, as a pioneering city of automobile-oriented urban planning, and as a long-time centre of car production (20% of the city's workers were in auto-industry related jobs in the 1960s) is familiar with many of them. Indeed the University of Birmingham’s own partnership with Rolls Royce bespeaks our institutional involvement with the industry in its most cutting edge form.

Beyond our home city, questions of automobility are central to citizens and policymaking around the world. In China for example, events have proved wrong the predictions of the late 1970s, which argued the country would become the first post-oil society. It has instead become a driver of automotive industry expansion, and private car ownership is now a pivot of Chinese middle class ambition and urban planning alike. Inevitably, the ecological and social politics of pollution and the environment associated with the motor age have also become a growing part of the public debate, and of research problematics cutting across numerous disciplines, from bioscience to civil engineering, and from geography and anthropology to history and sociology, as part of an age of 'carbon politics'.

Programme: The Global Middle East in the Age of Speed agenda (PDF 286KB)