Roads to Power
From 1790 to 1830, the first government-sponsored information revolution hit Europe, an interkingdom highway system of thousands of miles of roads that connected London with her capital cities. How deep a role should government play in regulating traffic, many wondered? The first round of answers bear a striking resemblance to conversations today about the nature of the internet. Advocates of centralized regulation advocated limits to tolls -- a geographical version of net neutrality. Critics argued that eminent domain meant tearing down the houses of the poor. The new roads sped traffic to poor areas, promoting commerce and industrialization, for a time. Critics claimed that soon the earth's peoples would speak a single language. But soon mounting evidence showed that the road's users were speaking to each other less than they ever had before. What had gone wrong?
Jo Guldi is a professor specializing in the history of infrastructure at U Chicago and Harvard. Her forthcoming book, The Road to Rule (Harvard University Press, 2011), explains how states first paved their roads and strangers stopped speaking on the public street. It tells the story of how a libertarian revolution then destroyed public funding for infrastructure and ruined the economies of Ireland and Scotland. Her next project is a political history of land use and the environment since 1350.
She also teaches courses on the history of the internet and has organized collaborative laboratories for visualizing time with IBM and GoogleBooks.