Cycling Historiography, Evidence, and Methods

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My purpose in Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1900, was to unearth a largely hidden social cycling history from the point of view of the ordinary, not the famous. While there were many Boston connections to racing champions like Major Taylor, Eddie McDuffee, and Nat Butler, and there are abundant sources of evidence about them, the research was not just about them, nor just about bicycle racing, nor just about unique or fast bikes. I wanted to write about what bicycling meant to ordinary citizens of Boston and its surrounding towns— and to write about the worsening social climate of the time and the consequences for cyclists and their organizations. Of course, the danger in a thoroughly historicist approach is that it can fall into a kind of antiquarianism, reveling in the past for its own sake, without any attempt to draw parallels or lessons for the present—entertaining but not useful.