Mar 04 2014

Car Country

Car Country: An Environmental History

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

OEC Auditorium

Free and open to the public

Environmental history professor to discuss society’s dependence on automobiles in lecture here March 4

Macalester’s Christopher Wells is author of “Car Country: An Environmental History.”

Dr. Christopher Wells, associate professor of environmental history at Macalester College, will give a lecture titled “Nightmare or Love Affair? The History of Car Dependence in the United States” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, in the auditorium of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

The lecture, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the St. Thomas departments of History, Political Science, and Geography and the interdisciplinary programs of Environmental Studies and American Culture and Difference.

Wells, who earned his doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is author of many articles, chapters and the 2012 book Car Country: An Environmental History. His book analyzes the environmental changes associated with expanding automobile use and changes in automobile technology in the 20th century in the United States.

Information about Wells’ book, including an interview, can be found at the book’s website.

Writing in Southern California Quarterly, Theodore Strathman described Car Country as “an outstanding piece of scholarship.... Like much of the best environmental history, it utilizes a range of approaches, bringing together political history, the history of technology, and economic history. And like much of the best environmental history, Wells' approach may best be described as ecological: he deftly untangles the interconnections among humans' economic practices, institutional arrangements, and ideas, and the environments upon which these activities depend. ... Wells' book is a remarkable achievement. Anybody interested in how the automobile shaped the American environment will regard Car Country as indispensable."

Christopher Wells approaches the history of the automobile by addressing the social and cultural contexts of the development of car culture in the USA. However, he goes beyond what many historians do by giving special attention to the public policy and environmental aspects of the story.  He documents and analyzes how the explosion of automobile ownership, and “improvements” in automobile technology have shaped developments in road construction, public policies relating to driving, traffic management, energy use, the economy. Furthermore, his playful style and liberal use of examples from the Twin Cities area make his work accessible and entertaining for a non-specialist audience.

Wells is a well regarded scholar and prolific writer. His Car Country: An Environmental History, was published in the prestigious Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series of the University of Washington Press.  His article, “The Road to the Model T: Culture, Road Conditions, and Innovation at the Dawn of the American Motor Age,” Technology and Culture 48 (July 2007): 497-523, won the Levinson Prize of the Society for the History of Technology.