The long and winding road

Like others have mentioned, many of these readings have brought a flood of road trip memories from childhood back to the forefront of my mind. I remember long rides in the hot car through the desert on the way to southern California to visit my Grandparents. For much of the way, we would drive on what used to be the iconic Route 66. My Dad would tell us why the road was important– how during the Depression people used it to escape the Dust Bowl, how it provided economic opportunities, all things that my siblings and I couldn’t have cared less about at the time. But the road is a theme that we encounter all the time, in movies (Rebel Without a Cause, Forrest Gump, Thelma and Louise), lyrics (country songs are full of them) and literature. Usually they are a symbol of freedom and possibilities.

In chapter 5, I was introduced to “odology,” a term I have never heard before. Although my inner-roadtripping child can’t believe I’m saying this, linking the study of roads and what they mean for American culture is an intriguing topic. Davis, on page 65, says these roads “would reveal that, despite its reputation…the strip was a vibrant social and economic space that fulfilled important civic functions.” I think approaching the study of the landscape from any of the four approaches discussed in chapter eleven would open up a door to understanding the automobile culture, and American culture as a whole. It ties into our everyday lives, entertainment, economy… Our love affair with the open road is an aspect of history that I certainly haven’t thought about, but is clearly a worthwhile subject.

My dad would be proud.

Cultural Landscape Studies

I began this week’s readings with J.B. Jackson’s piece “To Pity the Plumage and Forget the Dying Bird.” I had several questions about the article, such as, who decides what is urban, rural, or what it considered picturesque? And above all why were roads his answer to every problem? In general I thought the article had some valid points, but could never quite understand how adequate roads were going to fix poverty.

The selected readings from Everyday America helped to clear up a lot of my confusion. The loose definition to cultural landscape and introduction to the Landscape publication gave context to the article. This led me to believe that just jumping to a Landscape magazine would be difficult without knowing who Jackson was and where his ideas where coming from. In chapter 5, Timothy Davis said “Jackson sought to understand the modern motorway on its own terms and relate it to broader social and historical patterns.” This statement answers my question about “To Pity the Plumage and Forget the Dying Bird.” It makes sense that roads would be the fix for every problem if you are trying to prove that new roadways are imperative to our future social success. That being said, I still do not agree with Jackson’s article, however I do agree with the idea of cultural landscape studies.  

I believe that cultural landscape studies are another possible definition for applied historical research. The idea is open to varying studies of archeology, architecture, history, and sociology to name a few. As I see it cultural landscape study is a historical analysis of modern times.  History, as we all know, is complex; there are several different kinds of historians-social, political, cultural, environmental, ect. This mirrors the concept of cultural landscape studies. Cultural landscapes characterize what is happening at the time. Cultural landscapes studies can be an invaluable primary resource. It gives a clear historical analysis that will be helpful to any historian interested, in Jackson’s case, on the history of roadways in America.

Cultural Landscapes & Public History

I found the readings interesting and engaging, and was able to curl up and actually enjoy them. This is often a feeling unobtainable from required readings, but nonetheless I enojoyed all of the readings. I appreciated that chapter 1 offered a few defintions of cultural landscapes, since I have often heard the term tossed around, but never paid attention. The defintion on page viii, that cultural landscapes are “complex sets of environments that support all human lives and all social groups,” seems especially applicable to public history since our definition for public history is that it is history done by, for, and of the public, who would of course be responsible for the cultural landscapes around them.

I found other aspects from the reading applicable to public history. On page 161, in the introduction to the section containing chapter 11, there was a brief discussion about writing with accessibility so as not to isolate “perspectives, disciplines, professions, discourses, and publics.” When I think of public history, this is integral for any interpretation. You do not need to “dummy” down history for the public to understand; you need to engage your audience in a way that speaks to them. Interest in history can often be inspired by places, so using J.B. Jackson’s questions about a new place: “How do places like this come to exist?” “How do they work?” and “What do they mean to us today?” I also think in any public history endeavors, especially in the academy, we need to keep in mind Jackson’s disappointment in the academicization of landscape studies; if we allow dull and dry interpretations to pervade into the public eye, then we will be successful in making public history unaccessible to its very consumers. We will ask the same question that Jackson did about landscape studies: “Why must public history be so dull, so lacking in insight and emotion?” (p75).

The Ideology of Odology

I am surprised that I had never heard of “odology” before this week’s reading on J.B. Jackson. It seems to encapsulate that clichéd American ideal of being footloose, and fascinates me on a personal level since I have always loved driving for the sake of sightseeing.

In Chapter 5, Timothy Davis speculates about the future of odology in light of the lack of contemporary “Jacksonian approach[es] to landscape studies in general” (76). (Maybe the fact that I had never so much as heard the term “odology” until now implies that Davis’ fears were well founded.) It is true that cultural landscapes and roads themselves have changed since Jackson’s time; however, these changes should not be the demise of odology’s significance to American cultural studies.

Perhaps Jackson’s approach is not now irrelevant, as Davis wonders, but evolving. I think that cultural landscapes can and should be studied on an ideological level in addition to the physical; while physical landscapes may change drastically over time, there is of course significance in how they change, and even behind the implication of change itself. More than just canvases for cultural expression as Jackson saw them, roads are also ideological symbols themselves. Old scenic byways and the interstate highway system, for example, denote different underlying American values, and their respective decline and development demonstrate how cultural ideologies have changed over time. George Henderson most clearly acknowledges this ideological approach to landscape studies in Chapter 11 in his identification of “landscape as discource”—“the idea that the landscape is an ideological expression” (182).

J.B. Jackson

In Chapter 1, I was interested in learning background information about J.B. Jackson that included his education, traveling, and variety of people that influenced his life and his education.  Although he had experiences with wealth and privilege, he also valued the hard work of manual labor and balance in his own life.  He spent time at private boarding schools in the United States and Europe which resulted in him being fluent in Spanish, French, and German.  Jackson also tested the waters in college until he found the right fit.  He served in the U.S. Army, worked as a publisher and editor for his Landscape magazine, and taught college courses at Harvard, Berkeley, and other universities.

Jackson spent time in both Europe and the United States which gave him a somewhat new perspective on his interpretation of the American landscape.  He saw the importance in the everyday lives of Americans and how the architecture, countryside, shopping centers, and roadways represent us.  “Winston Churchill put it simply when he wrote, “We shape our buildings, and then they shape us”  (Jackson, 2003, p.15).

The Churchill quote reminds me of Jackson’s interest in the American highway landscape in chapter 5.  Professional publications found the roadside signs and silly architecture ugly, and low class.  However, Jackson viewed it as unique and fun.  In part he understood how some may view the large overpowering signs as ugly to the landscape, however he understood the economic reasons for roadside restaurants, hotels, and gas stations using that type of advertising to the masses.  Chapter 5 also touches on the socioeconomic climate during the 50s & 60s in which people had more leisure time and income that they could spend money on their automobiles and spend time traveling, or going on a scenic drive.  Henry Ford and the automotive boom greatly changed the roadways of America, and increased government spending on roadways.

Also, what kept coming to my mind after reading the text were the many connections or themes between American lifestyle, socioeconomics, advertising, leisure time, and how they influence modern architecture.

Dying Birds

J. B. Jackson’s article “To Pity the Plumage and Forget the Dying Bird” provided a fascinating look at how class affects concepts of landscape and how those who attempt to address perceived problems do not look at the more serious underlying issues that affect those in poverty.  I found it interesting that Jackson could identify what seems like social problems as failures in landscape.  Using environmental designers to fight poverty sounds intriguing, and I wish Jackson would have elaborated more how solutions could come from rethinking neglected landscapes that fall victim to outdated and unwieldy planning or even the lack of planning.  He mentioned the problems of unpaved roads, outdated grid systems in rural areas, and dying city or commerce centers, but I would have been interested in how landscape could be used for social and economic justice.  This article gave landscape agency to help or hinder the lives of those who occupy specific regions and add more use and value to the concept of landscape beyond aesthetic appeal.

My thoughts exactly…

There are a few things I would like to comment on out of these chapters; starting at chapter 1 seems to make sense. I would like to note that while I do feel some advantage from taking a public history course from Leslie M-B before, rest assured I am fully aware of my status as an undergrad and thus at somewhat of a disadvantage; MAN this blogging thing is fun! =)

Back to the situation at hand…Chapter One discusses the beginnings of the term “Cultural Landscape” and society’s hesiation to coin anything as cultural when this idea first came into the picture, is somewhat reminiscent of the issue of Public History and defining what that means as well, both to the indvidual, and what is means for the community as a whole. The discussion of the development of the word “landscape” to benefit the desired definition is quite inventive, I must say. This is not to say I find it incorrect, but it was entertaining…for me a least.
The jump from defining cultural landscaping and breaking it in to society to chapter 5 and its “odology” isn’t much of a stretch in my mind. Chapter one was about coining a term and integrating it into society while being well-recieved, and so is the idea of the study of roads. Though, admittedly, the first time I read this chapter, I had myself a few giggles. And “King of the Road” has been stuck in my head for 2 days. Moving on: Jackson’s perception of the American Highway was before its time. For many, the restauraunts on Route 66 (or your favorite alternate highway) were/are places to stop and fill up you cars, bellies, what have you. The observation that these are all definitions of American Culture and society (and public history at that) was genious.
This is getting wordy so I suppose I should wrap things up. Chapter 11 somewhat reflects some of the previous thoughts of defining things the right way to ensure that they are successfully accepted by society, whether that means “positivism,” preying of the idea that politics will benefit greatly, benefits of its acceptance for the community, and what it will mean for the future. A cultural landscape ideology was a good way to describe it.
Alright, now I’ll be done.
These are my thougts.

Thoughts after reading Grady Clay’s essay on cross sections…

My family took the jingle “See the USA in your Chevrolet” to heart in in the 1960s and 70s. We logged thousands of miles in our Chevy Nova station wagon. By the time I graduated from High School I had driven through 41 states. Grady Clay’s description of his cross section method brought back lots of memories of our travels off of interstate highways. We were on the road to meet people and to see and learn about different places.

I like J.B. Jackson’s name the “Stranger’s Path” as a way to learn about an unfamiliar place. The “Stranger’s Path” could also be the “Insider’s Path” for those who live in a particular city. My family moved to Boise in 1973. I learned to drive here long before the construction of the roadway we call the Connector and I was a teenaged shopper here pre-Boise Towne Square Mall. I lived away from Boise for several years in the 1980s and when I moved back to Boise in the 1991 I had to decide how to deal with the change in traffic patterns and the emptiness of Boise’s downtown. I didn’t use the Connector because I still knew perfectly good ways to get places and driving so far out to the mall seemed inconvenient. Now I’m just stubborn. Friends who’ve never known Boise without the Connector or the Mall are always interested to ride with me and see which route I’ll take. I’m always surprised by their comments about how they’ve never seen certain parts of Boise.

I love reading travel books that include lots of history and human interest stories. Here are some of my favorite book titles about “roadtrips” in the U.S.:

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure by Matthew Algeo. The author revisits a “roadtrip” taken by Harry and Bess Truman after they left the White House. Harry Truman was the last President able to travel with freedom as a private citizen.

States of Mind : A Search for Faith, Hope, Inspiration, Harmony, Unity, Friendship, Love, Pride, Wisdom, Honor, Comfort, Joy, Bliss, Freedom, Justice, Glory, Triumph, and Truth or Consequences in America by Brad Herzog. The author and his wife traveled the United States visiting towns with these names.

On the Road by Charles Kuralt

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

A book on my “to read“ list:

The Magic Bus: An American Odyssey by Douglas Brinkley. The author is a college professor and historian I heard speak at the Idaho Humanities Council dinner last fall. He takes students for on-the-road class experiences to historical sites and to meet people involved in politics and literature.