Tom Ullrich

"Regulation Mania": Rail Traffic and Station Control around 1850

In order for the trains to come to the towns and the townspeople to come to the trains, railway stations were designed as an architectural solution for infrastructuring mass transportation. Because early rail travel was an expensive and dangerous endeavor, the operation of tracks, machinery, and stations was governed by strict requirements for safety and security. In mid 19th century France, in particular, early stations were highly controlled places of order and discipline, where travelers were viewed as a chaotic human mass of mixed social classes, genders, and origins. In order to facilitate a smooth flow of traffic, procedures were established to sort and regulate people, which involved not only special personnel and architectural structures, but also a complex set of media and paper technologies.
This paper examines the extent to which the control of railway traffic and stations depended on these hitherto neglected paper media. As the prestigious Parisian stations were characterized by a bureaucratic obsession with monitoring and sorting various forms of mobility, different actors (politicians, civil servants, engineers, police, employees) tried to manage the ever-increasing traffic from their desks as well as on the ground. Based on archival material, the article analyzes their promises of controllability and measures to enforce order, which, however, created new problems and often led to disciplinary-bureaucratic excesses ("too much paper"). Three specific circulations of people, things, and signs in railway traffic and station organization are at stake: first, the control of the mobility of travelers through notices and ticketing systems; second, the control of the mobility of documents through administrative regulations, reports, and manuals; and third, the control of the mobility of trains through the invention of operational images for monitoring circulation in the railway network.

Tom Ullrich is a postdoctoral researcher in the project »Urban Control Regimes. Railway Stations as Infrastructure of Human Categorization« of the CRC 1482 »Studies in Human Categorization« and lecturer in media and culture studies at University of Mainz. His main areas of research are media history of revolution and protest, urban mobility infrastructures, and surveillance, safety and security.

Selected publications:

Ullrich, Tom (2020): “Working on Barricades and Boulevards. Cultural Techniques of Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Paris.” In: Jörg Dünne/Kathrin Fehringer/Kristina Kuhn/Wolfgang Struck (eds.), Cultural Techniques: Assembling Spaces, Texts & Collectives. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 23–45.

Ullrich, Tom/Christoph Eggersglüß (2020): “Die Straße sperren, Wege öffnen.” In: Stadtbauwelt, Heft 227, 19, Gütersloh: Bauverlag, 56–61.

Ullrich, Tom (2018): “Reparieren nach der Revolution. Kulturtechniken der Un/Ordnung auf den Pariser Straßen des 19. Jahrhunderts.” In: Stefan Krebs/Gabriele Schabacher/Heike Weber (eds.), Kulturen des Reparierens. Dinge – Wissen – Praktiken. Bielefeld: Transcript, 373–399.

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