Schlereth, Thomas J. | Reading the RoadReading the Road

Reading the Road

U.S. 40 and the American Landscape

Schlereth, Thomas J.

Paper Edition, $24.95s
Paper ISBN: 0-87049-945-9
Status: Out of Print
Publication Date:

Not available for purchase


"Thomas Schlereth . . . opens our eyes to one of the nation's first and most fascinating highways and helps us see things the interstate highways will never allow."
—James H. Madison, Indiana University

Once known as the National Highway, U.S. 40 has long been a major east-west route across America. In this fascinating and profusely illustrated book, Thomas J. Schlereth explores the historic landscapes and cultural legacies that are evident alongside the 156 miles of the highway that bisect central Indiana.

Now updated for this paperback edition, Reading the Road was originally published in 1985 under the title U.S. 40: A Roadscape of the American Experience and was hailed at that time as a pioneering study in "above-ground archaeology." As Schlereth explains in his new introduction, the book works on many levels. "It is," he writes, "a brief history of American road transportation, a primer for investigating the past and present of the contemporary landscape, a portfolio of documentary photography from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and a personal assessment of the cultural role that the road has played in the American experience." Schlereth's innovative approach allows the reader to see the highway "as a mammoth outdoor museum of American history."

In Part I, the author shows how the extant physical evidence of any American road can be interpreted in a way that illuminates its historical development and contemporary meaning. Part II applies those interpretive techniques to the Indiana section of U.S. 40, focusing on four historical periods: the highway's "National Road" era (1827–49); the time frame of its private highway associations (1850–1925); its resurgence as part of the national numbered highway system (1925–present); and its role since the advent of the Interstate era (1960–present). In Part III, Schlereth reviews the scholarship on American highways, including bibliographical resources that he consulted in his original research as well as new studies published since the book's original appearance.

Whether discussing the historic architecture of Centerville, Indiana (which forms what Schlereth calls an "epitome district"), or the evolution of the motor inn, the author continually presents familiar places in a new light. Landscape historians, cultural geographers, students of material culture, architectural historians, and, indeed, anyone with an interest in America's built environment will welcome this new edition of Schlereth's groundbreaking work.

The Author: Thomas J. Schlereth is professor of American studies and professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. A contributing editor to the Journal of American History, he is the author or editor of numerous books, including Victorian America and Cultural History and Material Culture.

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