American Road Trips

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

--Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957 

From Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, this Sophomore College explores epic road trips of the twentieth century. Travel is a fundamental social and cultural practice through which Americans have constructed ideas about the self, society, the nation, the past, and the future. The “open road,” as it is often called, offered excitement, great adventure, and the space for family bonding and memory making.  But the footloose and fancy-free nature of travel that the Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac waxed lyrical about in the 1957 classic On the Road were available to some travelers but not to others. Engaging historical and literary texts, as well as imaginative modes including film, autobiography, memoir, photography, and music, we will consider the ways that travel and road trips have been represented in American society.  This course explores the following questions: How did men and women experience travel differently?  How did the motivations for travel change over time?  What role did race, ethnicity, class, relationships, and sexuality play in these trips?  This Sophomore College examines how writers have explored the theme of travel, American writing, American history and culture, and American life. Students will work together to plan a road trip of their own which the class will take during the period of the Sophomore College.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Allyson Hobbs

Associate Professor of History

Professor Hobbs teaches courses on American identity, African American history, African American women’s history, and twentieth century American history. She has won numerous teaching awards including the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize. She has appeared on C-Span and National Public Radio and her work has been featured on and Her first book examines the phenomenon of racial passing in the United States from the late eighteenth century to the present. A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life will be published by Harvard University Press in the fall of 2014.