Archaeology and the automobile

Authored by: Miles Collier

The Routledge Companion to Automobile Heritage, Culture, and Preservation

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  December  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138389434
eBook ISBN: 9780429423918
Adobe ISBN:


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The world was one way before the automobile and very much another way afterward. Within a mere 50 years of its introduction, the automobile had already become one of the most important objects of modern material culture. Now, 130 years on, it is arguably the defining artifact of our age. Were some archaeologist from an unimaginable future to explore the buried vestiges of our society, the remains of the automobile and its infrastructure would undoubtedly be the dispositive indicator of this time. Rich objects are those with complex narratives combining historical, aesthetic, technical, and age values in profusion. Such objects appeal to our minds and senses through many avenues of engagement. Thus, the aspect of the artifact that interests one person may well differ from the aspect that captures the imagination of another. For this investigation, we apply this ontological approach to the automobile using an archaeological perspective because different individuals relate to the different avenues of engagement to varying degrees. Thus, one may be primarily interested in an object’s aesthetics, its form, and decoration. Another may be most taken with the object’s history and the people with whom it was associated. A third may be fascinated by its making, mechanism, and function. Clearly, such rich objects have many ways to engage our sensibilities. Because of its many roles, both transportation and social, no object is richer than the automobile.

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