Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Philip Harling
My research examines how the London Underground – the first subway in the world - provided new public spaces and forms of mobility that redefined how Londoners interacted in, moved through, and imaged the city.
Perhaps nothing embodies the Underground’s iconic status in London quite as completely as the phrase, “Mind the Gap.” This phrase, which originally referred to the gap between the train and the platform at Embankment station on the Northern line, has since become an enduringly popular symbol of London in the minds of travelers and visitors. The fact that a behavioral command about how to move through Underground space has become synonymous with visiting London suggests the deep connections between spatial behaviors and identity in the modern city. People had to be taught how to “Mind the Gap” – and railway officials were never completely able to control the ways in which people used, traveled through, and imagined these spaces. Illuminating these tensions between railway technicians and ordinary passengers demonstrates how the Underground provided a new type of space in which men and women from different classes and backgrounds could assert claims to freedom of movement within the city.
Aside from the gap between station platforms and Underground trains, this cultural history of the Underground also reveals how Londoners negotiated and bridged other important gaps - between rich and poor, men and women, and concepts of what constituted being modern or backwards, progressive or dangerous - as they embraced this public space as a part of their everyday lives. My dissertation interweaves works of art and fiction, literary scholarship, and elements of geography and sociology into a cultural history of London’s transport. Though it was owned and operated by a series of private companies throughout the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the Underground offered a relatively affordable means of traversing the capitol for Londoners of all classes and backgrounds, and therefore the spaces of the Underground network (stations, platforms, and train cars) acted as public spaces where new ideas about democratic order in society were challenged and negotiated.
My dissertation will bring a new perspective to studies of urban history by using interactions within the Tube to demonstrate how modernity was experienced and given meaning through particular spatial practices. I argue that the Underground helped challenge and redefine urban identities in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, particularly for women.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Dodson, Danielle K., "Minding the Gap: Uncovering the Underground's Role in the Formation of Modern London, 1855-1945" (2016). Theses and Dissertations--History. 40.