CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Since the 1908 premiere of the Model T, which introduced America to assembly line production for vehicles, to the flash and pizzazz of the Ford Mustang, an American icon since the mid-1960’s, there’s no denying the automobile industry has played its part in shaping America’s history.
Dr. David Blanke, Professor of History at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, is one of a handful of scholars, writers and car enthusiasts who will be featured in a three-part documentary on the History Channel called “The Cars that Made America.” Viewers will be able to pop the hood and uncover the stories of the visionaries who built America’s car landscape when the show airs August 13, 14 and 15 from 7-9 p.m. CST. “The Cars that Made America,” is part of the History Channel’s first annual “Car Week.”
“Too often people think of history as far removed from their lives,” said Blanke. “I’m hoping the series accentuates how important U.S. automobiles and car culture are to individual decisions and actions and how cars contribute directly to much larger historical change.”
Blanke believes the automobile is the single most influential personal technology of the twentieth century.
“I say this, not because it is better than other commercial goods – like the television, telephone, or personal computer – but rather for how it transformed everything it touched, from shopping, housing, and work patterns to dating, vacationing and the creation of unique subcultures.”
Blanke began studying American automobile history in 2003 for a book he published in 2007 titled “Hell on Wheels: The Promise and Peril of America's Car Culture, 1900-1940.” In his book, he argues that the American ‘love affair’ with cars is comprised of two contradictory
emotions – exhilaration in personal mobility versus anxiety over public safety.
“It’s a love of personal freedom and a willingness to act as equals in the public sphere – and that these positive feelings were so strong that we simply ignored the rising ‘costs’ of an auto-dominated culture in terms of accidents, the environment, sprawl, foreign
Blanke has been with the Island University since 2001. For 16 years, he has instructed classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level, including U.S. History since 1865 and Modern U.S. Popular Culture. He says his knowledge of auto history directly impacts his courses.
“As a cultural historian, auto history reminds us of how consumer goods act as the raw material for how people make sense of the modern world around them,” said Blanke. “Even people who don’t drive define their lives, in a very real sense, by the lack of a car. Given its importance, the automobile serves as a useful symbol for modernization, one experienced by nearly every American.”
Blanke says he’s excited to watch the History Channel documentary along with the rest of America – as he hasn’t seen the final product yet.
“I’m interested in seeing how producers pull together this large story told from many diverse perspectives,” said Blanke. “I know they polled a wide variety of experts, so I’m hoping the series gives a sense of just how profoundly the automobile changed America.”