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Auto Mechanics

, 280 pages

32 halftones

May 2010



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Auto Mechanics

Technology and Expertise in Twentieth-Century America

The history of automobiles is not just the story of invention, manufacturing, and marketing; it is also a story of repair. Auto Mechanics opens the repair shop to historical study—for the first time—by tracing the emergence of a dirty, difficult, and important profession.

Kevin L. Borg's study spans a century of automotive technology—from the horseless carriage of the late nineteenth century to the "check engine" light of the late twentieth. Drawing from a diverse body of source material, Borg explores how the mechanic’s occupation formed and evolved within the context of broad American fault lines of class, race, and gender and how vocational education entwined these tensions around the mechanic’s unique expertise. He further shows how aspects of the consumer rights and environmental movements, as well as the design of automotive electronics, reflected and challenged the social identity and expertise of the mechanic.

In the history of the American auto mechanic, Borg finds the origins of a persistent anxiety that even today accompanies the prospect of taking one's car in for repair.

Kevin L. Borg is an associate professor of history at James Madison University.

" Auto Mechanics provides a superbly researched, engaging look into the profession that's near and dear to us all."

"Borg's own work in the repair shop infuses the study with insights that I am sure would escape anyone without the experience he has had... His questions are anything but academic."

"He's... provided a source of inspiration to those who would like to work to improve the industry's image, recruitment and retention."

"This is an excellent work that has much to contribute to our understanding of the automobile, technology, and wider trends in American history."

"In seven richly detailed chapters, theoretically sophisticated and attentive to nuances of race, class, and gender, Borg analyzes the changing background, training, and expertise of auto mechanics over the course of the twentieth century."

"A wonderfully insightful study of the emergence and evolution of a contingent occupation and the meaning that that position had on both the people who did the work and those who procured the workers' services."

" Auto Mechanics is an important contribution to U.S. labor and economic history and to our understanding of the ways that the mass production of automobiles changed working life."

"Well-written and well-researched... will be read with interest by all scholars of modern America."

" Auto Mechanics sheds new light on the history of the automobile that top-down and bottom-up studies alike have missed. Call it a 'history from the middle-out,' if you will."

"Kevin Borg's Auto Mechanics is a finely researched, rich social history."

"Borg’s Auto Mechanics will strongly appeal not only to those with an interest in this particular group, but also more generally to scholars working on the connections among material culture, labor, and the history of technology."

"Borg’s history of technology, expert knowledge, training, recruitment, and reproduction of social inequality is elegantly crafted and seamlessly narrated... Given the centrality of the rise of the automobile to 20th-century American history, his book could be taught to undergraduate or graduate students in courses on sociology and the history of technology, as well as courses focused on industrialization, labor, or gender."

"Borg’s careful attention to issues of race and gender, and his ability to draw connections between larger social movements and technological change makes Auto Mechanics a valuable contribution to a new generation of scholarship on the automobile, one that marries social history and the history of technology."

"I found the history fascinating and was glad to see [Borg] addressed workplace issues I hear about all the time... Although there is a lot of overlap of car/truck mechanics with manufacturing workers we represent who build and fix equipment (machinists, tool & die makers, electricians, etc.), they are a different craft with their own set of issues."

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