The Science of Walking recounts the story of the growing interest and investment of Western scholars, physicians, and writers in the scientific study of an activity that seems utterly trivial in its everyday performance yet essential to our human nature: walking. Most people see walking as a natural and unremarkable activity of daily life, yet the mechanism has long puzzled scientists and doctors, who considered it an elusive, recalcitrant, and even mysterious act. In The Science of Walking, Andreas Mayer provides a history of investigations of the human gait that emerged at the intersection of a variety of disciplines, including physiology, neurology, orthopedic surgery, anthropology, and psychiatry.
Looking back at more than a century of locomotion research, Mayer charts, for the first time, the rise of scientific endeavors to control and codify locomotion and analyzes their social, political, and aesthetic ramifications throughout the long nineteenth century. In an engaging narrative that weaves together science and history, Mayer sets the work of the most important representatives of the physiology of locomotion – including Wilhelm and Eduard Weber and Étienne-Jules Marey – in their proper medical, political, and artistic contexts. In tracing the effects of locomotion studies across other cultural domains, Mayer reframes the history of the science of walking and gives us a deeper understanding of human movement.
Introduction: A Recalcitrant Object
1 Walkers, Wayfarers, Soldiers: Sketching a Practical Science of Locomotion
2 Observers of Locomotion: Theories of Walking in the French Science de l’homme
3 Mechanicians of the Human Walking Apparatus: The Beginnings of an Experimental Physiology of the Gait
4 The Rise of Graphical and Photographic Methods: Locomotion Studies and the Predicament of Representation
Conclusion: The Centipede’s Dilemma
"What could be more natural, more intuitive than walking? Yet as Mayer shows in this erudite and perceptive study, everyone from physiologists to physicists, drillmasters to dancemasters, novelists to physiognomists tried to plumb the secrets of human locomotion in the long nineteenth century. Deeply researched and beautifully illustrated, this book draws together philosophy, science, literature, and medicine into the fascinating story of a science that sought the essence of the human and the truths of character in how we put one foot in front of another."
– Lorraine Daston, director emerita, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
"Mayer asks how the apparently mundane and commonplace activity of walking ever became the subject of a science. His fascinating and illuminating answers, presented in this superbly crafted book, reveal very much more. Mayer gives a compelling account of how experiment and observation interacted across a range of social and medical sciences through the nineteenth century. Along the way, he offers important commentary on the very status of the empirical sciences and the emergence of modern disciplines such as field anthropology and experimental physiology, and he illustrates his account with graphics and cleverly chosen case studies. The work will help change received stories of how modern life became the target and the challenge for the scientific gaze."
– Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge
"With the emergence of the human sciences in the late Enlightenment comes a new scientific interest in that most human of things, the upright gait, which Balzac famously called 'the physiognomy of the body'. For nearly a century and a half, from Rousseau and Wordsworth to Freud and Marcel Mauss, this subject would remain a preoccupation across many intellectual environments in at least three languages. Mayer, a guide singularly equipped to conduct an exploration of this complex terrain, leads us on a walking tour that is by turns march and ramble, hike and promenade. The result is a deft and original study, with implications spelled out for promising paths of inquiry well beyond its own beautifully executed itinerary."
– James Chandler, author of An Archaeology of Sympathy: The Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema