Revs Program at Stanford

Project: Future of mobility – [Link]
Project: JANUS Initiative – [Link]
Project: Future of the Past – [Link]


Connecting the past, present, and the future of the automobile

In April 2011 we launched the Revs Program at Stanford – an interdisciplinary effort to raise the profile of car studies, to bring together and empower communities of enthusiasts, researchers, and collectors, to bring a deep understanding of the history of the automobile to bear upon automotive design.

With the automobile, everyone has a story that deserves to be shared. No other invention has defined (and redefined) the past century more fully or more profoundly than the automobile. Nevertheless, research into cars, especially centered upon people’s experiences, remains specialized, disconnected, contained within corporations, looked down upon by academics.

The Revs Program at Stanford aimed to dive deep into a human-centered understanding of the design of the car – an understanding that gives priority to the experiences of people who engineer and drive them, love them and hate them. Above all we wanted to harness the history, the archaeology of the automobile to drive this understanding.

I directed the Revs Program with professors Cliff Nass (now sadly departed [Link]) and Chris Gerdes.

Key topics and research findings

Automotive heritage. Our ethnographic research into collecting communities and enthusiasts, corporations and institutions, has prompted a critical redefinition of heritage through the concept of actuality. [Link]

Automotive design. Rather than focus on the automobile as a discrete artifact, we found it more fruitful to take the object of our research automotive systems, as a subset of mobility systems. We also came to address the extraordinary valency of the automobile by focusing on experiences. Thus our research raised questions about the ontology of mobility as we asked – Just what is an experience of mobility? The implications for design are considerable.

The animated archive. Our work to bring alive the history of the automobile that it might energize the future was a case study in the future of museums, collecting, archives

In this the Revs Program came in the wake of the pioneering projects of Stanford Humanities Lab, with its mission to
Animate archives
Build bridges to a bigger picture, through
Collaborative cocreating projects.
On the animated archive – [Link]


The Revs Program ran classes, pursued research, hosted events, connected communities of interest. We worked with a collection of cars, one of the finest in the world, in the Revs Institute in Naples, Florida.

We created a state-of-the-art online library of publications and imagery with Stanford Libraries.

We contributed to the biennial symposia held at the Revs Institute in Naples – extraordinary gatherings of those at the leading edge of automotive collecting.

In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 the Revs Prize for Most Historically Significant Car in Show was awarded at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance – the great annual gathering of car collectors [Link] [Link] [Link]

Art/archaeology. In June 2013, working with performance artist and theatre director Mike Pearson [Link], we presented a new work of theatre/archaeology (“the re-articulation of fragments of the past as real-time event” – [Link]). Titled “Autosuggestion”, this was an exploration of the intersections of lives and automobiles since the 1950s, tracked across an itinerary that took us from the north of England to California and by means of Bill Barranco’s 1956 Chevy [Link] [Link] [Link] [Link]. A version of the piece was published in the journal Performance Research 2014 19.3 pages 101-110- [Link] [Link]

Auto-biography. We collaborated with the Historic Vehicle Association of America, developing ways for recording the richness of automotive history as it is embodied in the cars themselves.

This included playing leading roles in the annual conferences in automotive heritage run by the HVA in collaboration with the NB Center for Automotive Heritage in Allentown PA. [Link]

We collaborated with HVA in the presentation of a pop-up museum of automotive history. Three extraordinary cars sat in an exhibition for a week in Manhattan in the run up to Christmas 2016. [Link]. We took the case for the significance of the history of automotive experience to a center-stage the Detroit Motor Show in 2017.

Follow the commentary – [Link –] [Link –]

The cars arrive at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, August 2013
Eddie Hall’s racing Bentley (1933)
Bill Barranco’s 1956 Chevy hotrod

The Revs Program was made possible through the vision and support of Miles Collier and was affiliated with the Revs Institute, based in Naples, Florida.


Project: Future of mobility [Link]

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