Posted on 29 April 2022
Dr Sophie Vohra, who completed her collaborative doctoral award (CDA) PhD with the history department at the University of York and the National Railway Museum, now has an article based on her research into the commemoration of British railways published in the online, open-access Science Museum Group Journal.
The article, 'Commemorating the past, shaping the future: The jubilee and centenary celebrations of the Stockton and Darlington Railway' examines how and why communities connected to the railways celebrated anniversaries of important moments in the industry’s history. It focuses on the jubilee (1875) and centenary (1925) anniversary celebrations of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (established 1825) by railway companies, workers and local communities. While these anniversaries were used to symbolically affirm a continuity in railway history, they occurred under different organisational conditions – 1875, during the heyday of multiple smaller companies and 1925, during the consolidated control of the amalgamated ‘Big Four’.
A comparative study of these commemorative events reveals continuities and changes in the construction of railway history, and corporate and community identities. To demonstrate this, the article focuses on narrative construction, temporal interplay between the past, present and future, and the role of agency. Conveyed through a series of commemorative ‘components’, these elements converge to establish the shape and function of the events, and highlight the motivations of different groups for celebrating the past, how commemorative narratives were developed for select audiences, and what vehicles were used to carry said narratives. These core narratives concertinaed elements of the industry’s past, present and future, and were deployed to validate cultural values, draw together communities and consolidate political or economic loyalties. Overall, the article demonstrates how and why different stakeholders create and foster commemorative cultures, and critique and measure the efficacy of the forms and functions of this performative engagement with railway history.
Dr Sophie Vohra is a Research Associate at the National Railway Museum and University of York