This blog will expand on themes and topics first mentioned in my book, "The Automobile and American Life." I hope to comment on recent developments in the automobile industry, reviews of my readings on the history of the automobile, drafts of my new work, contributions from friends, descriptions of the museums and car shows I attend and anything else relevant to those interested in automobiles and auto history. Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 , 2016 by the author.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
HST 378 -- closing comments -- or why in a car course, people are more important than automobiles!
HST 378 Closing Comments Dr. Heitmann
We’ve come a long way since late January and the viewing of Wild Wheels and Horatio’s Drive. Those first weeks were crazy, as I had a hard enough time just negotiating the maze that is KPJ and finding my classroom. Once I got there and became comfortable, KPJ 214 was a great room to teach in. Sort of like a big living room.
I doubt that you found this a difficult course, but I do hope that you found it interesting with a fresh perspective on the 20th century past. This offering blended old approaches to the study of the automobile in America – namely focusing on producers – with new approaches examining how users took the technology and in doing so changed their everyday lives. The material was far from peripheral to the history of the 20th century in America, and my intention was both to provide new sights and reinforce knowledge that you acquired from other courses. Indeed, the automobile merely serves as a handle for us to dig deep into the past, into the ebb and flow of institutions, ideas, human motives, desires, and behavior.
So in the process you should have learned much about mass production and its consequences, consumption and consumerism, individuality and freedom, culture as a reflection of contemporary life and as a driving force in the shaping of materialistic desires, and much, much more. While the early industry was largely the result of entrepreneurial efforts, tinkering, and trial and error, later vast bureaucratic organizations, faceless corporations, industrial research and development, aesthetic design, marketing research, and global connections became the rule rather than the exception to any understanding of the automobile business. And it was always competitive, but never more than today, where nationally subsidized firms vie for market share. And the stakes are high, including national economic growth and future of the nation state in terms of power.
One final word – while this was the history of a thing in a very real way – the car – it was far more about people. And as you go about fulfilling your dreams, don’t forget the primacy of people over things. Objects of desire tend to rust like cars, and owning them never leads to long-term happiness. They amuse only for a while; focus your energies on cultivating your spirit and the people around you.