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2017 Callahan Lecture: Dr. Nathan Wood

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2017 Callahan Lecture: Dr. Nathan Wood


The Department of History is pleased to welcome Dr. Nathaniel Wood as the 2017 presenter for our annual Callahan Lecutre.

About the Speaker:

Nathaniel Wood is a professor of history at the University of Kansas. He has been awarded a number of prestigious grants including from Fulbright-Hays, Fulbright, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), and the International Research Exchange (IREX). In 2010, Professor Wood was honored with a W.T. Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching

His current book project and subject of his upcoming lecture, “Backwardness and Rushing Forward: Technology and Culture During Poland’s Age of Speed, 1885-1939,” investigates the attitudes of early adapters, enthusiasts, journalists, the public, avant garde artists, and the nationalizing state toward bicycles, automobiles, and airplanes from their introduction until WWII.


About the lecture:

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.


About the Callahan Lecture:

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 West Virginia University Department of History and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

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