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Consuming Landscapes

What We See When We Drive and Why It Matters

Thomas Zeller

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What we see through our windshields reflects ideas about our national identity, consumerism, and infrastructure.

For better or worse, windshields have become a major frame for viewing the nonhuman world. The view from the road is one of the main ways in which we experience our environments. These vistas are the result of deliberate historical forces, and humans have shaped them as they simultaneously sought to be transformed by them. In Consuming Landscapes, Thomas Zeller explores how what we see while driving reflects how we view our societies and ourselves, the role that consumerism plays in…

What we see through our windshields reflects ideas about our national identity, consumerism, and infrastructure.

For better or worse, windshields have become a major frame for viewing the nonhuman world. The view from the road is one of the main ways in which we experience our environments. These vistas are the result of deliberate historical forces, and humans have shaped them as they simultaneously sought to be transformed by them. In Consuming Landscapes, Thomas Zeller explores how what we see while driving reflects how we view our societies and ourselves, the role that consumerism plays in our infrastructure, and ideas about reshaping the environment in the twentieth century.

Zeller breaks new ground by comparing the driving experience and the history of landscaped roads in the United States and Germany, two major automotive countries. He focuses specifically on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the United States and the German Alpine Road as case studies. When the automobile was still young, an early twentieth-century group of designers—landscape architects, civil engineers, and planners—sought to build scenic infrastructures, or roads that would immerse drivers in the landscapes that they were traversing. As more Americans and Europeans owned cars and drove them, however, they became less interested in enchanted views; safety became more important than beauty.

Clashes between designers and drivers resulted in different visions of landscapes made for automobiles. As strange as it may seem to twenty-first-century readers, many professionals in the early twentieth century envisioned cars and roads, if properly managed, as saviors of the environment. Consuming Landscapes illustrates how the meaning of infrastructures changed as a result of use and consumption. Such changes indicate a deep ambivalence toward the automobile and roads, prompting the question: can cars and roads bring us closer to nature while deeply altering it at the same time?

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Consuming Landscapes

Thomas Zeller

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Reviews

A strikingly original, international analysis of roadmindedness, of landscape ordered into scenery by roads designed to shape motorist aesthetic experience. This book will inaugurate a new era in landscape studies, but it is also an original contribution to social, engineering, and business history.

Profoundly researched and beautifully written. The flow and pacing of the author's prose unfolds like a scenic drive itself. Acutely aware of visuality and of the verticality and horizontality of space in the construction of some of the first scenic park- and motorways, Zeller elegantly weaves together the histories of transportation, mobility, landscape, and the environment.

In this well-illustrated, trailblazing work, Thomas Zeller tours the managed vistas of mid-twentieth century highway engineers. The Blue Ridge Parkway or German Alpine Road provided not rapid travel but transformative experiences of scenery. Construction demanded social control, yet modernist driving aesthetics prized challenges, deceleration, uncertainty, and surprise. Fasten your seatbelt!

Thomas Zeller has written an important and imaginative book about "roadmindedness" and the forms it took in Germany and the US during the 1930s. Elegantly written and superbly illustrated, Consuming Landscapes offers major insights into the relationship between humans, technology, and the environment. I strongly recommend this compelling work.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Preorder
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
264
ISBN
9781421444826
Illustration Description
34 b&w photos, 2 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction. Cars and Roads as Environmental Saviors
Chapter 1. Roads to Nature
Chapter 2. Roads to Power
Chapter 3. Roads in Place
Chapter 4. Roads out of Place
Epilog

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction. Cars and Roads as Environmental Saviors
Chapter 1. Roads to Nature
Chapter 2. Roads to Power
Chapter 3. Roads in Place
Chapter 4. Roads out of Place
Epilogue. Landscape Taken for a Ride?
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Thomas Zeller

Thomas Zeller (COLLEGE PARK, MD) is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Driving Germany: The Landscape of the German Autobahn, 1930–1970 and the coeditor of The World beyond the Windshield: Roads and Landscapes in the United States and Europe.