“Car, car over all, it has taken a terrible hold of us”: Experiencing automobility in interwar Britain and Germany

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This article seeks to tell an emotional history of car use through the genre of life-writing, a source whose use in historical mobility research has recently been advocated by Colin Pooley. It focuses on two diarists, Hugh Miller and Victor Klemperer, to uncover what automobility looked and felt like in interwar Britain and Germany, when modern mass motorisation was emerging. It highlights that experiences of automobility were heterogeneous and dependent on social position, combining the excitement and liberty popularly associated with interwar car use with the banal, frustrating and terrifying. Motorists like Miller and Klemperer felt conflicted about automobility and what it represented. Their inner ambivalence points to a unique emotional engagement with the car, which may help to explain its persistence in twentieth-century society and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-435
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Transport History
Issue number3
Early online date31 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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