The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History

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9780813528083: The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History

Was the electric car ever a viable competitor for the petrol one? This book examines the relationship of technology, society and environment to choice, policy and outcome in the history of American transportation.

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Review:

The electric vehicle of historian David Kirsch's title is an old technology that seems ever on the verge of making a comeback. In the late 1890s, the electric engine competed with steam- and gasoline-driven engines to become the standard for automobile manufacturers, and it remained competitive for nearly a decade until, in the early 1900s, the internal-combustion engine captured the market.

It did so for complex reasons, few of them, in Kirsch's account, having to do with purely technological issues. Enter the "burden of history," a fruitful notion that reminds us that deterministic ideas of why things are the way they are--for example, that the lead-acid battery held insufficient power to carry cars over long distances without recharging, thus ensuring the victory of the more easily replenished internal-combustion engine--are often only half-right, if that. Kirsch urges that those concerned with analyzing the wherefores of the past take into consideration multiple causes, and not always the most apparent ones. The automobile, he continues, is not simply a machine, but "a material embodiment of the dynamic interaction of consumers and producers, private and public institutions, existing and potential capabilities, and prevailing ideas about gender, health, and the environment." In short, the automobile is a system unto itself, and how it came to take its present form--unchanged in many respects for a hundred years--is a story that involves many episodes.

Kirsch's account of some of those episodes provides a solid case study for students of technological history, and for those who press for new means of transportation in the new century. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

Why is it we gas up rather than plug in our cars? Will we ever drive electric cars?

In the late 1890s, at the dawn of the automobile era, steam, gasoline, and electric cars all competed to become the dominant automotive technology. By the early 1900s, the battle was over and internal combustion had won. Was the electric car ever a viable competitor?

David A. Kirsch examines the relationship of technology, society, and environment to system choice and economic growth in the history of American transportation. He takes the history of the Electric Vehicle Company as a starting point for a vision would each have been used to supply different kinds of transport services. Kirsch argues that technological superiority ultimately was located in the hearts and minds of engineers, consumers, and drivers; it was not programmed inexorably into the chemical bonds of a gallon of refined petroleum. Finally, Kirsch connects the historic choice of internal combustion over electricity to current debates about the social and environmental impacts of the automobile, the introduction of new hybrid vehicles, and the continuing evolution of the American transportation system.

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David A. Kirsch
Published by Rutgers University Press (2000)
ISBN 10: 0813528089 ISBN 13: 9780813528083
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Kirsch, David A.
Published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick New Jersey (2000)
ISBN 10: 0813528089 ISBN 13: 9780813528083
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Book Description Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick New Jersey, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: VG. ISBN 0813528089. Signed by author. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, copyright 2000. xiii,291 pages. Illustrated. 9 x 6", paperback. VG. Bookseller Inventory # 71622

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