How jargon separates us from our past

Sometimes changing fashions in language stop us seeing links between the past and the present.  Take for example the straightforward business of moving things around.

Recently this has been known as the logistics industry.  Previous generations might have called it transport, haulage, or perhaps before that carriage or shipping.  Anyway, in its modern form it has created huge monuments in the new urban landscape, like this building (above).  The motorways which spawn them are of course already old (if the M5 were a person, it would be retiring by now, having started work in the 1960s) but the web of feeder roads, retail parks and distribution sheds continues to grow in the 21st century.

The modern Black Country, and particularly Sandwell, has been a centre for logistics.  Nationally one in every ten worked in the industry in 2005, but in Sandwell the proportion was one in seven—and 50,000 jobs in the Black Country overall.

The building in the photo is next to the M5. At 340 metres or so it had, until recently, a claim to being the longest in the English Midlands.  That is, until another longer one was built down the road (see below).  But despite the changes in the jargon along the way there is an interesting continuity in this spot.  When two centuries ago they were looking to invest in logistics in the same place, they cut a canal through the summit of the ridge to reach Birmingham.  A bit later, some canal improvement created a bigger cut—an artificial valley through the summit, claimed to be the largest excavation in the world at the time. Generations later, the building above was laid out on the canals’ spoil heaps, a reminder perhaps that logistics is older than we might think.

> the location of the building
> the location of an even longer building
> the location of this sign on the canal summit (left)

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