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The Railway Accident: Trains, Trauma and Technological Crisis in Nineteenth Century Britain


  • Ralph Harrington


The railway accident as an agent of traumatic experience occupies an important place in the history of mid- and late-nineteenth-century medical and medico-legal discourses over trauma and traumatic disorder. In fact it can be argued that systematic medical theorization about psychological trauma in the modern west commenced with the responses of mid-Victorian medical practitioners to the so-called 'Railway Spine' a condition, which was characterized by the manifestation of a variety of physical disorders in otherwise healthy and apparently uninjured railway accident victims. The railway accident as an event was significant not only as an agent of individual traumatic experience but as the cause of a collective trauma over railway safety and railway slaughter in Victorian society as a whole. The traumas of rapid industrialization, of human independence surrendered to the vast powers of the machine, of uncontrollable speed, of sudden, shattering, catastrophe, found expression through the neuroses of the railway age. Conceptualizations of 'Railway Spine' had begun with shaken spines; they had ended with splintered minds

Suggested Citation

  • Ralph Harrington, 2007. "The Railway Accident: Trains, Trauma and Technological Crisis in Nineteenth Century Britain," Working Papers id:1181, eSocialSciences.
  • Handle: RePEc:ess:wpaper:id:1181
    Note: Institutional Papers

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