Narrating the geography of automobility: American road story 1893-1921

by Vogel, Andrew Richard

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation traces the cultural history of American automobility as revealed in narrative back to its inception in order to shed light on the construction of America’s automobile geography. Examining multiple genres of narrative I argue that narratives representing road travel established new relationships to national space so that the civil and industrial infrastructures that make automobility possible could be built. The construction of America's highway infrastructure depended upon the production of narrative rhetoric that formulates new possibilities of relating to and experiencing America’s physical space. Thus, building on Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the chronotope of the open road, and defining narrative broadly, I analyze poetry, novels, travel memoir, prescriptive travel writing, and promotional literature to show how narratives about road travel propelled sweeping changes in the production of national space in the early century. Chapter one traces the beginning of automobility in America to the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and analyzes geographic narratives in architect Louis Sullivan’s Transportation Building, Colonel Albert Pope’s rhetoric of the Good Roads Movement, and Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” of American institutions. Chapter two demonstrates the spectrum of nineteenth-century conceptions of geography reflected in Walt Whitman’s romantic worldview and outlines the points on which Whitman became a touchstone for the national geographic concepts of later American road writers. Chapter three analyzes numerous promotional texts that depict road travel to demonstrate how promotional literature popularized automobility for a reluctant, reactionary nation. Chapter four examines prescriptive travel books by Effie Gladding Price, Emily Post, and A. L. Westgard, revealing the fantasies and desires with which these texts imbue automobility such that it can be represented as more rewarding than alternative modes of travel. Chapter Five investigates Theodore Dreiser’s modernist efforts to depict the novel form of travel in intellectually original and formally innovative ways in his travel memoir A Hoosier Holiday. Finally, chapter six analyzes how three of Sinclair Lewis’s early novels, Flight of the Hawk, The Innocents, and Free Air, reconsider the scope of American geography and dramatize reasons for supporting the construction of an automobile infrastructure.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:road stroies narrative cultural geography


Date of Publication:01/01/2007

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