Revs Program at Stanford


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. The Revs Program was part of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS).

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 correct all this. Our challenge – 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.

The Revs Program ran classes, pursues research, hosts events, connects 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.

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]

As a codirector, with professors Cliff Nass (now sadly departed [Link]) and Chris Gerdes, I am pursuing three projects that connect research, teaching, and reaching out to those beyond Stanford who are interested in the world of automobility:

One. Automotive Archaeology: How the History of the Car is the Key to the Future of Personal Mobility – a book written with automotive historian and journalist Jon Summers. A detailed outline of the mission of the Revs Program and involving fresh research into automotive history, the cultures of car collection, and into car design. This is a a call to action – to care for the automotive past in all its richness of human experience and in the cars themselves, such that the future of personal mobility, with the coming of the autonomous robotic vehicle, may be better designed.

There are three main components to this project. The first is foundational work – research into the way design works, the way people connect with the world of goods, how we get on with things, and especially how history and memory are a key to understanding this most human component of our identity. Part of this effort is my popular class – Ten Things: an archaeology of design – voted in 2014 one of the top ten classes at Stanford [Link].

The second component is an ongoing series of conversations with designers – aiming to gain insights into their world of creative conception and making. The conversations began in Spring 2015 and will appear here at, as well as on Stanford websites.

The third is a research effort that is investigating car collection as a field of emerging heritage. This connects with the second major component of my Revs work –

Two. Auto-biography – an exploration of how cars and their stories may be best documented. Here I am collaborating with, among others, the Historic Vehicle Association of America, developing ways for recording the richness of automotive history as it is embodied in the cars themselves.

At the heart of this effort is the question – Just what is an automobile? I am working with Miles Collier to outline issues in the ontology of the automobile, as part of established anthropological and archaeology concern with material culture (our target is an academic journal article). This deceptively simple question also immerses us in the world of the designer.

In June 2013, working with performance artist and theatre director Mike Pearson [Link], I 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]

Three. The Animated Automotive Archive – a new kind of library/archive/repository for all things automotive, to be a one-stop shop for imagery, literature, information about automotive history, and where the visitor is also an active collaborator or co-creator, able to annotate and add to the collections. Under development by Stanford Libraries – [Link]

This takes me back to 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 see – [Link]

Archive and collection merging with design studio

– where the museum is again a home of the creative muses – inspiring design.

Follow my 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 exists through the vision and support of Miles Collier and is affiliated with the Revs Institute, based in Naples, Florida.


[Link – Revs Program at Stanford]

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