The Travel Habit

On the Road in the Thirties

Semester and Year FALL 2014
Course Number IDSEM-UG1558
Section 001
Instructor Steve Hutkins
Days Tue, Thu
Time 2:00 PM – 3:15 PM
Units 2.0
Level U
Foundation Requirement HUM

Note: Course meets during second first seven weeks only. First Class: Thurs., Oct. 23; Last Class: Thurs., Dec. 11.

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.

Required Readings

(available at the NYU bookstore and online)

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. Thirteen blog posts, approx. 500 words each (70% of final grade)
2. Thirteen comments on other posts (15%)
3. In class: attendance, participation, etc. (15%)


(for details, see the Assignment page)


Week 1: Introduction
Thurs., Oct. 23 Introduction
Week 2: Writers on the Road
Tues., Oct. 28 Anderson, Asch, Caldwell, Adamic, Gilfillan 1. Setting Off
Thurs., Oct. 30 Pyle, Hickok, Rorty 2. Writers on the Road
Week 3: Down & Out in Fiction & Autobiography
Tues., Nov. 4 Kromer, Waiting for Nothing 3. Kromer
Thurs., Nov. 6 Guthrie, Bound for Glory; Boxcar Bertha; Algren, Somebody in Boots 4. Travel novels
Week 4: Writers & Photographers
Tues., Nov. 11 Lange & Taylor, Caldwell & Bourke-White 5. Words & Images
Thurs., Nov. 13 Agee & Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 6. Agee-Evans
Week 5: The Grapes of Wrath
Tues., Nov. 18 Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath, chapters 1- 21 7. Steinbeck (1)
Thurs., Nov. 20 Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath, chapters 22 – end 8. Steinbeck (2)
Week 6: Movies
Tues., Nov. 25 On the Road in the Movies 9. Movies
Thurs., Nov. 27 Thanksgiving
Week 7: Innocents on the Road
Tues., Dec. 2 West, A Cool Million 10. West
Thurs., Dec. 4 Tourism in the Thirties: Wild, Agee, Berkowitz 11. Tourism
Week 8: America discovers itself
Tues., Dec. 9 WPA Guides 12. Guides
Thurs., Dec. 11 Conclusion 13. Final 

Deadlines: The blog posts are due the night before a class day (i.e., on Monday and Wednesday night), so there’s time to read them over before class. The comments on other people’s posts should be done with a day or two of the original post.  These are important deadlines, and the website makes it easy to track them.

Plagiarism: 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.  The blog posts are a form of academic writing, and plagiarism is a serious violation of the rules of academic integrity.

Attendance: The class is a discussion seminar, so attendance is very important. One or two absences are fine, but more than that will affect the final grade (with the exception of illnesses).  It is not necessary to notify the instructor about your absences, unless you are having issues that you’d like to discuss.


Phone: 998-7361
Course website:
Office Hours: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 12 – 2
Office: 715 Broadway, room 608