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Reference: Ralph Harrington, (1998). The neuroses of the railway: trains, travel and trauma in Britain, c.1850-c.1900. DPhil. University of Oxford.Citable link to this page:


The neuroses of the railway: trains, travel and trauma in Britain, c.1850-c.1900

Abstract: This thesis explores some aspects of the cultural history of the railway during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. It argues that the railway was of central importance in creating and shaping Victorian attitudes to the machine and to mechanized civilization in a world increasingly dominated by large scale-technologies. In particular, it explores the significance of negative responses to the railway - fear, anxiety, nervousness, alarm, revulsion - in influencing a range of social, cultural and medical responses to the perceived degenerative threat of technological civilization. The four chapters of the thesis are organized so as to provide a progressive tightening of focus on particular aspects of the railway's significance in this context.The first, most wide-ranging, chapter explores the ways in which the Victorian railway was perceived as both an icon of progress and civilization and as a disruptive, threatening, destructive force. In particular, it seeks to establish the deep-rooted, enduring and influential nature of the fear and anxiety which the railway provoked. The second chapter is concerned with the railway journey as an experience, relating the ambivalence with which the railway was viewed to the journey as a sensory, physical and mental experience. The third chapter focuses on the accident as the most dramatic instance of the dangers of the railway, and relates its significance in contemporary culture to the wider context of the fears provoked by increasingly powerful and potentially destructive technologies. The fourth and final chapter explores the phenomenon of 'railway spine', the obscure nervous condition supposedly suffered by railway accident victims who had seemingly received no actual organic injury, but nonetheless displayed nervous, mental and physical symptoms of serious bodily disorder.

Digital Origin:Digitized other analog Type of Award:DPhil Level of Award:Doctoral Awarding Institution: University of Oxford Notes:Thesis (PDF file, 50.9MB). Illustrations removed because of copyright restrictions.


Dr Ruth HarrisMore by this contributor


 Bibliographic Details

Issue Date: 1998

Copyright Date: 1998 Identifiers

Urn: uuid:28dfe6cd-64ea-4924-a7bd-234c002c0fae Item Description

Type: thesis;

Language: en Keywords: railways railway history neuroses history of psychiatry railway spine railway accidents transport history Victorian railwaysSubjects: History Economic and Social History History of Britain and Europe Modern Britain and Europe History of medicine History of technology Tiny URL: ora:4014


Author: Dr Ralph Harrington - institutionUniversity of Oxford facultyHumanities Division - History Faculty oxfordCollegeLincoln College -



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