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Andreas Helmedach, Das Verkehrssystem als Modernisierungsfaktor. Strassen, Post, Fuhrwesen und Reisen nach Triest und Fiume vom Beginn des 18. Jahrhunderts bis zum Eisenbahnzeitalter.

Andreas Helmedach, Das Verkehrssystem als Modernisierungsfaktor. Strafen, Post, Fuhrwesen und Reisen nach Triest und Fiume vom Beginn des 18. Jahrhunderts bis zum Eisenbahnzeitalter, Sudosteuropaische Arbeiten, Band 107, Oldenbourg, Munich (2002), 549 pp., 64.80 [euro]. (The transport system as factor for modernisation: roads, post, carrying trade and travel to Trieste and Fiume from early eighteenth century to the Railway Age. South East European Studies, Vol. 107.)

Andreas Helmedach presents an interesting thesis on the construction of networks of mail coaches and its importance in early modern history. It marked the beginning of a transport revolution, and not the end of the old world, as most people think.

Looking back over 300 years, we can identify several waves in the transport revolution. These waves involved the construction of new and improved facilities to incorporate a growing number of people and goods within ever-expanding traffic and communication networks. Many people in the eighteenth century were fully aware of the fundamental way these changes would affect society. One eighteenth-century author accurately described the importance of the introduction of mail coaches in the transport sphere by noting, 'The man who set into business our current mail companies has benefited, ineffably and eternally, the whole of mankind. Among all the contributions to our little Europe becoming the dominant part of the world, and the centre of all culture and politics, this invention should rank at the top' (Ernst Ludwig Posselt, Uber das Postwesen, besonders in Teutschland, dessen Geschichte, Recht und Mangel, 1785, p. 298). These words speak to the importance of this innovation as the forerunner of the transport revolution that would later achieve its full dynamic in the nineteenth century.

The introduction of mail coaches was a complex process and particular attention should be paid not only to the technical improvements but also to successive organisational innovations. The coordinated establishment of fixed mail routes and mail stations to exchange horses liberated the transport process from the time horses need for recovery. Mail companies succeeded in achieving a regular transport system that up to that time was totally unknown in Europe.

In this book Helmedach's ambitious goal is to analyse the far-reaching consequences of introducing this network of mail coaches. To do so, he focuses on a single region of the Habsburg Empire, which stretched from Vienna and the German Erblande of the Habsburg dynasty down to the southern parts of the eastern Alps and to the border of the Ottoman Empire at the banks of the rivers Una, Save and Danube. This region, including parts of Veneto, Steiermark, Krain and Croatia, serves as a laboratory for field research and microanalysis. Helmedach's methodological approach is based upon Hans-Ulrich Wehler's interpretation of social history and his concept of modernisation, which is somewhat astonishing, considering that Wehler did not pay very much attention to communications, traffic or transport and processes of distribution.

The book starts with a discussion of the old transport system and the beginning of systematic modern road construction which took place in the early eighteenth century. This immense project involved the construction of several main routes after the peace settlements of Rastatt (1714) and Passarowitz (1718). The new roads had been planned as part of the unification process of the Habsburg Empire. However, the construction of modern chaussees started only in the 1750s. The main routes all led to Vienna and the author gives us an in-depth description of how the growing network affected the social life of the empire.

According to Helmedach, road construction and road renovation became an important part of the state administration which led to an expansion of the bureaucratic apparatus and the establishment of new professions such as civil engineers and common construction workers. It is a pity that the author minimises the social consequences of these effects and does not fully confront the social dimensions of mobility. However, he does present the consequences of road construction for passengers and freight traffic: market relations became denser and business grew alongside major routes. Moreover, the expansion of modern roads paved the way for the Habsburg Empire to attain independent access to sea traffic and colonial products via the Mediterranean harbours of Trieste and Fiume. Above all, merchants from Vienna successfully entered markets in Italy and the Ottoman Empire.

Helmedach describes the impact expanding communications had on the expansion of the public sphere for the middle class as well. For example, the culture of letter writing increased in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and the educational tour along with other early forms of tourism expanded. Significant advances were made internationally in modern science, partly due to the increased capacity to exchange ideas. All this would not have been imaginable without progress in transport and mobility.

Helmedach's approach to analysing the effects of the new traffic system upon the development of society is the strength of his study. But we must consider the gap which exists between a theoretical approach and methodological reflections and the basic work of empirical research. It seems that the author's close adherence to the positions of Jurgen Habermas and Hans-Ulrich Wehler resulted in too narrow a view of the effects which modern transport facilities had on society. Traffic, transport, communications and mobility were of more importance for society and its dynamic in early modern history than the study actually took into consideration. This aspect, however, does not discredit the strength of the study, and scholars interested in background information surrounding road construction under the Habsburg Empire will certainly not be disappointed with Helmedach's analysis of the subject.

Ralf Roth, Frankfurt am Main
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Author:Roth, Ralf
Publication:The Journal of Transport History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Words:926
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