Automobility and American
You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all
that is here.
I believe that much unseen is also here. —Walt Whitman1
Almost from the moment of the Interstate Highway System's authorization in 1956, historians, sociologists, geographers, political scientists, urban planners, journalists, cultural critics, and artists have ruminated on the far-reaching effects of cars and highways on transportation and work patterns, the environment, social customs, and popular culture. The resulting body of work ranges in rigor from treatise to frolic, and varies in tone from outraged to elegiac to resigned to celebratory. Nearly all of it, however, characterizes the Interstate Highway System as an agent of epochal rupture. As the historian Tom Lewis tells his readers in the introduction to Divided Highways, “This is the story of consequences, how for better and worse the Interstates have changed our lives.”2
Beyond this common thesis, however, these works tend to cleave down a predictably partisan line, their titles promising evidence of how the interstates built or ruined the nation, empowered or enslaved its population. In finding in the momentous coming of the interstates either triumphant progress, liberation of the self, destruction of the environment and society, or the loss of national innocence, the authors of these emotive works reproduce, implicitly or explicitly, the ideology of American excep-