Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Clarsen, G. W. (2008). Machines as the measure of women: colonial irony in a Cape to Cairo automobile journey, 1930. Journal of Transport History, 29 (1), 44-63.


Machines as the measure of women: colonial irony in a Cape to Cairo automobilejourney, 1930 Georgine ClarsenHistories of transport have been notably deficient in considering women ascompetent technological actors, but, in seeking to correct that elision, feministscholars have argued that adding women to those histories does much morethan merely expand established narratives. Instead, an analysis of womensengagement with transport and travel offers an analytics of the power relationsthat inhere within those practices and allows us to consider the standard masculiniststories in new ways. Georgine Clarsen explores some of the intimate links betweengender, technological modernity and colonialism by focusing on white womenstranscontinental travel in Africa at the end of the 1920s, when assumptions ofBritish colonial and industrial superiority were being challenged and Americaneconomic supremacy was replacing the old empires of Europe. She focuses ona journey taken by two women who, at the height of the Great Depression,drove an aging British car from Cape Town, through Africa and back to thefactory where it had been built. The story the women told about their tripprovides a fresh perspective on some of the disavowed anxieties that coloniserscarried with them, and depicts gender, race, class, nation and empire as performativesocial categoriesshifting, unstable and thoroughly imbued with changes inthe global automobile industry at that historical moment. Key words Womendrivers, Cape to Cairo, Automobile adventure, Transcontinental motoring,Colonialism, Car culture.