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The Travel Habit: On the Road in the Thirties

Semester and Year FA 2015
Course Number IDSEM-UG1558
Section 001
Instructor Steve Hutkins
Days F
Time 12:30 PM - 3:15 PM
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Units 2
Level U
Requirement   HUM


Course meets last seven weeks only, 10/23 - 12/11.


The Great Depression turned millions of people into travelers. Many of the unemployed took to the road in search of work, preferring to give up their homes rather than their cars; others hitchhiked and rode the rails. Ironically, it was also a time for leisure travel too, and this was the era when taking a family trip on a paid vacation became a national ritual. Government and industry promoted tourism to help the economy—and to pacify the working class. But getting people to travel required a deliberate, large-scale effort. As one tourism promoter put it, “The travel habit was not born with Americans. It’s an acquired taste that must be religiously and patiently cultivated.” So the Roosevelt administration created a national travel bureau to assist the hospitality industry, poured millions of dollars into roads and highways, and put authors like Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, and Ralph Ellison to work writing WPA travel guides. The travel theme attracted novelists like Nathaniel West and Nelson Algren, who used the journey motif in their fictions, and writer-and-photographer teams like James Agee and Walker Evans traveled to document the suffering of sharecroppers and migrant workers. This course will survey the travel writing of the 1930s and provide an introduction to the social history of travel and tourism during the period. Readings may include Steinbeck’s  The Grapes of Wrath , West’s  A Cool Million , Kromer's  Waiting for Nothing , Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White’s  You Have Seen Their Faces , and Agee and Evans’  Let Us Now Praise Famous Men , as well as the WPA travel guides and histories of the Depression and the tourist industry.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)