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Domingo Cuellar Villar and Andres Sanchez Picon (eds), 150 years of Railways in Andalusia: an Overall Perspective/150 anos de ferrocarril en Andalucia: un balance.

Domingo Cuellar Villar and Andres Sanchez Picon (eds), 150 anos de ferrocarril en Andalucia: un balance [150 years of Railways in Andalusia: an Overall Perspective], Junta de Andalucia, Seville (2008), 2 vols, 1180 pp., 40.00 [euro].

This book is a consequence of the fourth Railway History Congress that took place in Malaga in 2006 and was part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first line in Andalusia in 1854. It describes the history of railroad construction and exploration in this Spanish region from the first proposals in the 1820s and 1830s until the end of the twentieth century. It also sheds some light on the impact they had over regional economy and society. Finally, it offers some ideas about preserving their memory through heritage. In an overall perspective, 150 anos de ferrocarril en Andalucia provides an excellent insight into the history of railways in southern Spain, as well as some guides regarding research in this field.

The work is published in two volumes with four chapters and two statistical and documental appendices. The first volume--entirely written by economic historians--describes the evolution of the network, the formation of companies and their role during the second half of the nineteenth, and the first half and twentieth, centuries, their concentration in one large public company in 1941 and the modernisation of some lines after that (at the same time that others were closed). It also analyses in detail the use of narrow gauge and regional and urban trams. It closes with a statistical appendix that includes an excellent chronology, a few maps, network evolution and traffic values. It is mainly a work of synthesis. For some specific periods and for some companies, however, it does provide new data and new information.

The second volume--written by scholars from different scientific areas--covers interactions between railways and some sectors of the Andalusian society and economy. So, the reader can grasp how railroads influenced the specialisation of agriculture and the unification of the markets; how mining was fostered by railways (even though the integration of these mining lines in the network was scarce); how their construction was responsible for the deforestation of the region (but also how this had implications for the definition of national forest policies); a geographical point of view about the urbanisation process (namely the formation of railway towns); and, finally, an overview of the profile of Andalusian Railway Company workers (distribution by sex, the families of employees, age of hiring, geographical origins, career development, salary levels, healthcare, internal discipline). These relations have barely been studied in previous works. The final sections approach heritage issues: the railway stations and their impact on modern architecture and in the formation of an industrial and mechanical culture; the evolution of rolling stock; railway documentation about Andalusia at the disposal of researchers; and the importance of this heritage to the preservation of collective memory. The book concludes with another appendix of documents and pictures regarding rail tracks in Andalusia.

Even though this work cannot be deemed as path-breaking in its field of expertise--it summarises in a great part what has been written--it does present some interesting research methods that could be used to study the same social and economic phenomena elsewhere. Besides, the use of different approaches from different social sciences (geography, sociology and economics) broadens the analysis. This way, the historical interpretation and contextualisation (which is done in some detail, comprehending the political and economical background of Andalusia as well as technical issues regarding construction and operation of railways) is enriched with other points of view.

On the down side, there are the difficulties in analysing one single region, like Andalusia, which can hardly be considered as an administrative or economic unity. Even the authors recognise this shortcoming and, in fact, they did not omit the comparisons with other regions of Spain, although the focus is clearly centred on Andalusia. This feature can also be a disadvantage. It is too specific, and can diminish the interest of transport history researchers (especially if they are not Spanish readers). Furthermore, regardless of the thoroughness of the two volumes of the book, the reader cannot help thinking that more could be done as far as issues such as tourism and the economic, political and military implications of an international connection to Portugal (which are only briefly mentioned) are concerned.

Nevertheless, the work is very complete and useful for teaching, since it can be employed as means of comparison with other regions and other countries. Moreover, the chapter about sources of information regarding Andalusian railways is also a superb tool for students and researchers to organise an investigation. It includes all sorts of sources (manuscript, printed, bibliographical, cartographic, oral and audiovisual), their location (both in physical archives and on the internet) and even some of the conditions in which they were produced. Nevertheless, that chapter is also only devoted to Andalusia.

In short, 150 anos de ferrocarril en Andalucia is an interesting tool to work with, regardless of its specificity. It can serve as a beacon to those countries whose railway history is not as developed as in Spain. The volumes also include historical knowledge in the argument about the need of new investments in railways, both high-speed and urban.

Hugo Pereira

Universidade do Porto, Portugal
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Author:Pereira, Hugo
Publication:The Journal of Transport History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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