The Travel Habit

On the Road in the Thirties

Semester and Year FALL 2016
Course Number IDSEM-UG1558
Section 001
Instructor Steve Hutkins
Days Friday
Time 12:30 – 3:15 PM
Units 2.0
Level U
Foundation Requirement HUM

Note: Course meets during second of half semester.  (First Class: Fri., Oct. 28; Last Class: Fri., Dec. 16.)

Course Description

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.

Course Objectives

Among the goals and objectives for the course are: introducing students to some of the literature and photography of the 1930s; learning about the various ways travel was a central theme of the decade; and improving writing skills.

Required Readings

Books (available online and at the NYU Bookstore):

  • Tom Kromer, Waiting for Nothing (University of Georgia)
  • John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin Non-Classics)
  • Nathanael West, A Cool Million (Farrar, Straus)

Various articles and excerpts from other texts, also available online


1. Twelve blog posts, approx. 600 words each (70% of final grade)
2. Twelve comments on other posts (15%)
3. In class: attendance, participation, etc. (15%) (more for excessive absences)


(for details, see the Assignment page)


Week 1: Introduction
Friday., Oct. 28 Introduction
Week 2: Writers on the Road
Mon., Oct. 31 Anderson, Asch, Caldwell, Rorty 1. Writers on the Road (1)
Thurs., Nov. 3 Hickok, Adamic, Gilfillan 2. Writers on the Road (2)
Week 3: Down & Out in Fiction & Autobiography
Mon., Nov. 7 Kromer, Waiting for Nothing 3. Kromer
Thurs., Nov. 10 Guthrie, Bound for Glory; Boxcar Bertha, Sister of the Road; Algren, Somebody in Boots 4. Travel fiction
Week 4: The American Dream
Mon., Nov. 14 Nathanael West, A Cool Million 5. West (1)
Thurs., Nov. 17 Scholarly articles about A Cool Million 6. West (2)
Week 5: Thanksgiving, no class, no assignments
Week 6: The Grapes of Wrath
Thurs., Nov. 28 Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath, chapters 1 – 21 7. Steinbeck (1)
Thurs., Dec. 1 Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath, chapters 22 – end 8. Steinbeck  (3)
Week 7: Photo-Text Books
Mon., Dec. 5 Lange & Taylor, Caldwell & Bourke-White 9. Photo-Text Books
Thurs., Dec. 8 Agee & Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men  10. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Week 8: America discovers itself
Mon., Dec. 12 Tourism in the Thirties: Wild, Agee, Berkowitz 11. Tourism during the Depression
Thurs., Dec. 15 WPA Guides to the States 12. WPA Guidebooks 

Deadlines: The blog posts are due on Monday and Thursday night. The comments on other people’s posts should be done within a day or two of the original post.  These are important deadlines, the website makes it easy to track them, and they are part of the final grade.

Plagiarism and academic integrity: In writing your posts, you are encouraged to copy and paste quotations from scholarly articles and other websites, but it is extremely important that you cite your source (author’s name or title of the piece) and provide a link to it.  Plagiarism is a serious violation of the rules of academic integrity and can lead to severe consequences, including dismissal from the University.  Examples of behaviors that compromise the academic integrity of the Gallatin School include plagiarism, illicit collaboration, doubling or recycling coursework, and cheating. Please consult the Gallatin Bulletin or Gallatin website for more information.

Attendance: The class is a discussion seminar that meets for a double class once a week, so attendance — and arriving on time — are very important and part of the final grade.


Phone: 998-7361
Course website:
Office Hours: Fridays, 11:30 – 12:30; 3:15 – 4:00
Office: 1 Washington Place, room 608