The Car and the City: Popular Culture in the 1920s

Thursday, March 31, 2011
7:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m. (EST)


Henry Binford

Associate Professor of History
Northwestern University
National Humanities Center Fellow

About the Seminar

Two themes frequently dominate textbook treatments of American popular culture after World War I: the enthusiastic embrace of motor vehicles and the explosive growth of big cities. But many Americans did not have cars and almost half did not live in any kind of urban center. How did cars and trucks, deliverers of mobility and freedom, change the lives of all Americans, even those who did not own them? And how did the city — with its amusements, temptations, and opportunities — transform American life along broad boulevards and country lanes?

This seminar will explore documents and images that will enable you to give your students a richer understanding of the texture of life in the 1920s.

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Assigned Readings

To incorporate seminar texts into your teaching, we offer the National Humanities Center’s Primary Document Application Form.
  1. New York Pedestrians Confront Reckless Drivers”, 1902 (PDF)
  2. Popular Mechanics Auto Tourist’s Handbook, 1924 (excerpt, PDF)
  3. Letter from D. R. Crissinger of the Federal Reserve to Everett Sanders, August, 1925 (PDF)
  4. Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt, chapter 3, sections I and II (PDF)
  5. J.C. Nichols, a Kansas City Developer, Touts the Community Features of Suburbs”, 1924 (PDF)


PowerPoint: 2.2 MB

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