The World Awheel: Americans in the Global Bicycle Age

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Find out how Jethro (BA History) became an ‘efficient machine’ working with Dr Nathan Cardon to identify and catalogue information from nearly 30 volumes of cycling journals!

Page from ‘The Wheel’, 1899

My Research Scholarship task was simple. Dr Cardon wanted me to undertake the important, but tedious task of meticulously making my way through 22 volumes of the “Wheel and Cycle Trade Review” (1888-1900) and 4 Volumes of “Bearings” (1893-94) to identify and catalogue useful and exciting information that was related to and could be used in one of his upcoming projects. I was primarily interested in: the bicycle and race, cycling in the ‘South’, commodities relating to American imperialism such as rubber and asphalt, American cycle tourists in Europe, Asia and the wider world as well as those who explored the US. By creating a clearly defined and well-structured catalogue for Dr Cardon to use, he could quickly and easily access information from primary material that creates or builds his argument without having to spend many hours searching through hundreds of journal pages.

My progress started slow as it took a good while to ‘get my eye in’; knowing where to look within an article and which key words to look for. After a week or so I became an efficient machine and getting through roughly 1-2 volumes a day (circa 1000 pages!) I also became more select with the quality of evidence I was recording, rather than recording anything I ‘thought’ Dr Cardon might use I preferred to select the information I ‘knew’ he would use – this more effective way of sorting came from experience and the series of meetings I had with him. I started to get excited about the especially interesting articles or information that I knew would make Dr Cardon just as excited. The task however was tedious and boring requiring intense concentration in front of a screen. I was ultimately rewarded though with Dr Cardon more than pleased with my progress, I gained invaluable practice engaging with primary source material which will be useful when prepping for my dissertation and I gained an insight into what it is like to be a historian. The project was rounded off with a 2 day visit to the Raleigh archives in Nottingham where I took a greater look at period and US specific advertising.

Overall the opportunity was interesting though it helped I had an academic and general knowledge in the subject. Any student wanting to undertake such a task should be aware it’s not a glamorous role, but with patience and a dedicated work ethic it can be a successful one.

Jethro McGraw, BA History

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