CFP: The Bicycle in Environmental History

Proposals are solicited for an edited volume on the bicycle in environmental history. In contemporary society, the bicycle is the lone “green alternative” in the array of transportation options: it requires no parking space, produces no exhaust fumes, and causes no traffic jams. But it also constitutes a form of mechanized transportation that invariably puts the rider in close contact with the elements (and, culturally, with community and surroundings). What would an environmental history of the bicycle look like? What role has the bicycle played in human interactions with place? How does the bicycle as a symbol of mobility and motility shape our historical understanding of the environmental past? In what manner have changes and continuity over time in design variations, materials, manufacturing, and distribution contributed to technological advances in the machine on the one hand, and cycling advocacy networks on the other? And, indeed, vice versa: how have competitive sport and urban bike politics influenced the technological system built up around the bicycle and its relationship to the physical environment?

Perhaps because of its diversity and complexity, the history of the bicycle has received little comprehensive treatment from historians. The most coherent trend in bicycling historiography tends toward emphasis on the bicycle as a liberating technology. In North America, the bicycle’s place in women’s emancipation efforts at the turn of the last century is a dominant theme; similarly, a growing literature on the bicycle as vehicle for social and economic empowerment is prevalent throughout the developing world. In the European literature, business and technology seem to predominate, along with a longstanding interest in sport history. Outside of fleeting discussions of the bicycle in urban environments, the bicycle is conspicuous in its absence in environmental history works; this volume seeks to build on existing literature, while situating its focus squarely on the bicycle’s connection to environmental history.

As a venue for opening conversation about the bicycle in environmental history, this project does not plan to impose geographic boundaries on its analysis of the bicycle. Indeed, transnational, comparative, and global approaches are encouraged. Just as the geographic scope is broad so, too, is the volume’s intended chronological reach. Topics will be considered from a variety of perspectives, ranging from (but not limited to) the bicycle’s role in place-making; human-powered motility; bicycling leisure and culture; gender, bicycling, and nature; the bicycle as economic tool in the developing world; bicycle technology; the bicycle in urban design; mountain bike trails; or bike advocacy.

Inquiries and submissions can be sent to Dr. Michael Egan (McMaster University):


6 April 2012: deadline for submission of 300-word abstract

20 April 2012: invitations distributed

1 December 2012: deadline for submission of clean first drafts

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