Bodies and Structures


Vehicles move things from point to point. They are the physical conduits and/or apparatuses that make the communication and/or exchange of people, goods, and information possible, such as ships, trains, and telegraph wires; and they are the media that facilitate the exchange of meaning, such as surveys, magazines, exhibit displays, and letters. Vehicles are thus essential components of Flows and of Built Environments. Yet they are also places, place-makers, and space-makers in their own right.

Traditionally, vehicles’ power of place- and space-making has been limited to their role in producing “time-space compression” (Harvey 1989). In these accounts, transport technologies, such as railroads, communications technologies, such as telegraphs, and the networks of wires and rails upon which they moved, shrunk the time it took to move people, goods, and information between places, and thus shrunk the effective distance between points on the globe (for an example of this mode of historical writing, see Rosenberg 2012; for a critique, see Kirsch 1995).

Here we treat the spatiality of Vehicles in a broad sense. Transport technologies, such as trains, ships, and airplanes, produce space, circulate in space, and are themselves places and topoi. Such is the case in David Ambaras’s study of the travels of Ogura Nobu, who finds herself entangled in a web of police surveillance because steamship travel made contact with customs agents in Kobe, Moji, and Shanghai inevitable. U.S. Army Air Force B-29s carried people (pilots, bombers) and things (bombs), but also conveyed ideas about power and the obliteration of place. As David Fedman shows, the B-29 encouraged pilots and bombers to see space through the bird’s eye view of their bomb sights, which “measured [destruction] in square miles not human lives.” Intra-empire steamships, in Kate McDonald’s module, also served as microcosms in which passengers enforced and contested the broader spatialization of the empire into groups who moved freely (citizens) and those whose movement the state curtailed (the colonized).

Beyond transport technologies, however, Bodies and Structures modules also explore how communicative media -- such as modern cartography, the I-novel, and social surveys -- constituted space, circulated in space, and serve as topoi in their own right. Shellen Wu’s module shows how the linked social scientific genres of the plan, the report, the map, and the survey played central roles in the contest between the Chinese, Japanese, and Soviet states to determine the location of Xing An/Shing An, a region in today’s Inner Mongolia. Moreover, the language that particular genres employ is itself spatially informed. This is the case in images captioned by Dr. Charles Gail, which label the locale of the photographs as “Okinawa,” a moniker that situates the islands firmly within the modern international system and a Japanese political space (rather than, for example, Ryukyu, the name of the independent kingdom, or Ruuchuu, the name of the islands in the Ryukyuan language).

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