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History Department welcomes Dr. Nathan Wood for 2017 Callahan Lecture

One week from today (March 20), Dr. Nathan Wood will present findings from his current book project in the annual Department of History Callahan lecture series. The lecture, titled, "Backwardness and Rushing Forward: The Age of Speed in a ‘Suburb of Europe,'" will be held at 7:30 p.m. March 27 in  G09 White Hall and is free for all attendees.

As Professor Nathan Wood (University of Kansas) began to conduct research for his second book project, a cultural history of bicycling, motoring, and aviation in Poland from 1885 to 1939, he noticed a trenchant irony: that the quintessential experience of the age of speed—and of modernity generally—just might be the sensation of feeling behind. When the age of speed came tearing through on foreign-built machines and without much infrastructure to sustain it, Poles, like many others, had a hard time steering its course. They may have had dreams of rushing forward, but generally the best they could do was to go along for the ride.

Typically, histories of technology focus on the “firsts,” innovators such as Starley, the inventor of the “safety bicycle,” Benz, Daimler and Maybach, Ford, and the Wright Brothers, without fully grasping the context in which their ideas arose, and often floundered. Taking Poland, “a suburb of Europe,” a place intimately connected to Western technical civilization but not at its core, as our center of investigation allows us to see the history of the age of speed not from the position of the victors, even if Poles occasionally experienced triumphs, but rather from the perspective of the “also rans.” And in this, Professor Wood will argue, it is actually more evocative of the way most of us experience modernity: as a thrilling and often terrifying race in which we participate, but rarely come out on top.

The Callahan Lecture series was established in 1964 in honor of the eminent historian James Morton Callahan, who served as Department Chair from 1902 to 1929, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1916 to 1929, and University Research Professor from 1929 to 1956. A student of Herbert Baxter Adams, Callahan received his Ph.D. from the John Hopkins University and is considered one of the founders of modern diplomatic history. This lecture is presented by the Department of History and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.