A lecture by Dr Ralph Harrington, School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies, University of Leeds.
The mechanized transformation of the environment has been one of the key defining themes of modernity. The bulldozer powerfully symbolises that theme. Appropriately, the bulldozer came into British landscapes as an instrument of war, brought by the American armed forces to construct airfields, roads and harbours and reshape the landscape for military purposes. Once peace came the bulldozers remained, driving the reconstruction of post-war Britain with the same ruthless power that had characterized their military role.
Huge, powerful and sometimes monstrous, the bulldozer has become both a symbol of technological progress and an archetypal image of environmental destruction. Protest movements and countercultures quickly and enduringly adopted the bulldozer in words and images as the symbol of all that they feared and opposed. The environmental destruction associated with the advance of modernity affected both urban and non-urban landscapes, and the bulldozer – inhabiting both realms, and haunting the debatable borderland that lay between – was the technology most publicly associated with that process.
This paper uses a range of source material and perspectives to trace the multifaceted and contested significance of the bulldozer as an agent of environmental transformation and an engine of technological modernity in modern Britain.