When Bill Trogdon (aka William Least Heat Moon) set off in a rattly van from Columbia, Missouri in 1982, he decided to steer clear of the truckstop interstates and stick to the “blue highways,” the small two-lane, Main Street roads. Like many before him, his journey was both an anthropological study of his own nation and a personal self-discovery of his own psyche… with a nod to other writers and other iconic road trips. He took no dog, only a pair of books as traveling companions (vade mecums): Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks.
If you were setting off on the blue highways, what would you take along? And which of our readings during this course would be on your mind? Where would you go? And what do you think you would learn?
Podcasting Group 4: your podcasts are due on Thursday, 12/8 (we will listen to them in class that day). Remember that the links and guidelines are under the “Podcasting” tab in the course website’s sidebar.
Tuesday 1/6 we will be screening scenes from the PBS documentary, “Freedom Riders,” about the interracial freedom rides in the summer of 1961.
Thursday 1/8 please bring to class your copy of William Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways.” If you’ll remember, we read this at the very beginning of the course, and we’re returning to it with seasoned eyes as a way to close out this course on Roadside America. If you need to print/access it again, it’s found under “Documents” on the course Blackboard.
Your last writing assignment is also due on Thursday 1/8 – this is a course reflection (in lieu of a final exam), a 3-4 page consideration of the following questions. Due on Thurs 12/8 in class (printed out, please)
Each new course at Worcester State is organized around things that the students should know or be able to do at the end of the semester (the “student learning outcomes”). These are the student learning outcomes for this course; how well do you feel you achieved them? (or are there some you feel you accomplished more/less than others?)
By the end of this course, students will…
- Explain and synthesize course readings. Dramatize and craft a profile of a state’s roadside cultural attractions. Interpret American history and values as encountered through course readings and films.
- Analyze course texts along dimensions of culture and meaning (i.e. on a deeper level than just content), forming and synthesizing original evidence-based interpretations
- Apply appropriate methodologies to different kinds of cultural texts, crafting critical (evaluative) essays for each one to demonstrate scholarly approaches to these texts
- Identify elements of distinctive American subcultures and experience aspects of these cultures
- Through consistent and substantive contribution to class discussion over the semester, construct a group framework for understanding the cultural landscape of the American roadside
- Demonstrate active engagement in seminar-style learning, which includes: creating an inclusive environment for all students, taking intellectual risks without fear of failing or ridicule, cooperating with others in groups and discussions and being part of a learning community
- Use technology tools for personal and academic management… and demonstrate reflection on one’s own learning
From this course, what have you learned about YOUR learning process?
What advice would you give to new first year students taking this course?
Complete this sentence: “If I ran Worcester State…”
This week, we’ll be looking at road and roadside culture through the lens of long-haul truckers, 18-wheelers, and truck stops. Recall how in Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley he thought truckers were like sailors, navigating over the surface of America in their somewhat fantastic conveyances, living in a tightly bounded subculture or brotherhood that seldom interacted with the rest of America. The job description, schedule, skills and specialized knowledge of truckers are really unique within the American working class. They have their own union, of course: the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which (as its name suggests) dates back to horse and wagon days. Truckers have their own language and slang used on CB radio. Truck stops are a special category of roadside America, complete with scales, showers, check cashing services, and of course – hearty food and lots of it (Travel Centers of America’s motto: “It’s Not Homestyle if You Can’t Have Seconds.”).
On Tuesday 11/29 and Thursday 12/1, we’ll screen portions of the 2007 documentary, Big Rig, riding alongside some truckers and getting to know their rigs. We’ll also discuss an article from the New Yorker in 2005 by writer John McPhee titled “Land of the Diesel Bear,” which you should read prior to class.
Note: Podcasts 3 are due on Tuesday, 11/29 and Podcasts 4 are due on Thursday, 12/8. If anyone wants to borrow my microphone setup, let me know – it’s available to loan.
Image: sculpture, “Big Rig Jig,” made for the Burning Man Arts Festival in 2007.
This Thursday and next Tuesday we’re focused on John Steinbeck’s compact, charming account of a cross-country road trip in a converted pickup truck camper named Rocinante, accompanied by his French poodle Charley. The trip was taken in the fall of 1960. Along the way, we’ll talk about what Steinbeck hoped to learn and what he actually did (or didn’t) learn from his travels about himself and his country.
Over the next three class periods, we will be reading and discussing Hunter S. Thompson‘s 1967 (non?)fiction “saga,” Hell’s Angels, which takes us straight into some of the nation’s roughest motorcycle gangs in the mid-1960s. It’s long, gritty, rambling, and occasionally outright offensive – and Thompson wrote it that way on purpose, to shock his readers and establish his own uniquely authentic voice. His style came to be called “gonzo journalism.” Although it began as a profile of “outsider culture” in America, ironically, over the course of his research for Hell’s Angels, Thompson himself became something of an insider to the outsider culture of motorcycle gangs. The reading breaks down this way:
Tues 11/1 – Read part one, “Roll ‘Em Boys” and this 1965 article from The Nation magazine which served as a sort of rough draft for the book, titled “The Motorcycle Gangs”
Thurs 11/3 – “The Making of the Menace, 1965” (and Kerouac paper is due)
Tues 11/8 – “The Dope Cabala and a Wall of Fire”
As we read, we’ll be looking at two films exploring biker culture and this “outsider” road warrior mentality in America – a 1953 Marlon Brando film, The Wild One and the trippy 1969 hippie biker film, Easy Rider. We’ll be looking at how to read a film as a historic text, analyzing film sequences and filmic storytelling and how this differs from storytelling in print. How do films establish narrative? What kinds of history can we get from films? What can we learn about road culture, fears about violence and lawlessness, or rootlessness of the same generation as Kerouac but taken in a very different direction?
Image credit: Leonard Smalls, the “Lone Biker of the Apocalypse,” from Raising Arizona
Ok you asked for it. I love the 1950s, it’s a fascinating and complicated decade, often misremembered as a “simpler” time. Hardly.
Photo: interior of a 1949 Hudson, one of the car models mentioned in On the Road.
Some links and resources:
Billy Joel (1989) “We Didn’t Start the Fire” – the first several verses are all events from the 1950s (up to Kennedy) for a quick visual overview of some iconic moments and people of the era
Digital History (free hypertext history book), “Postwar America, 1945-1960”
National Gallery exhibit, “Rebels: Painters and Poets of the 1950s”
1954 Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency (focusing on comic books)
NPR Morning Edition, 2002: Present at the Creation: On the Road
This coming week in both our class sessions we are discussing Kerouac’s iconic road trip novel, On the Road. Between now and the 22nd, you are analyzing the novel as a historical text, and choosing some aspect of it to write about for your History Lab #4.
Some links you may need for this project:
Reviews of the book when it was first published (if you want to write your own and compare it with a review from the 1950s)
Information about the unusual format of the book’s original manuscript, a 120-foot scroll that goes out on tour (It is scheduled to go on display in January 2012 on loan to the Indiana State Museum)
Also, you might find useful –
Local interest in Lowell – Kerouac memorial walks and events in his own hometown
(photo of Jack Kerouac’s Underwood typewriter courtesy of The Lone Cypress blog)”>
1952 Chevrolet commercial with Dinah Shore:
(And yes, I know there’s a Glee remake version)