Route 66: History, Myth and Memory

Introduction and Overview

Gas Stations Diners Motels Attractions Museums Cruisers Merchandise Interviews
ANTH 435 American Material Culture Class, Spring 2008

Welcome! This website is the outcome of a class research project on Route 66 undertaken in spring 2008 by students in the anthropology course, ANTH 435 American Material Culture, at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). We explored the difference between the highway’s actual history and the mythology that has sprouted up around it. We did this in part through a comparison of abandoned Route 66 sites and current popular Route 66 museums and tourist sites. We also compared the stories of older local residents, for whom the road was part of everyday life, and younger “enthusiasts,” whose attraction to the mystique of the road stems from more emotionally charged associations. We studied representations of the American past at historic house museums and living history sites to better understand the processes through which local stories become national histories. Finally, we examined American economic and political histories for the roots of the cultural beliefs and values that have led to the fascination with Route 66. Thereby we have gained a better understanding of the ways in which cultural values, beliefs and master narratives have been embodied in Route 66 events, sites and material culture. We hope you enjoy perusing our findings as much as we enjoyed working on the project!

Students in the class undertook original historical and ethnographic research, including archival research, interviews and visual documentation (digital photography and video), in institutions and at sites in Southern Illinois and Missouri, within driving distance from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Working in teams of two or three, each group focused on a particular theme related to Route 66: Business and Leisure, Locals vs. Cruisers and Car Culture. Within their groups, students selected different aspects of the group theme, resulting in the final selection of eight themes for the site: Gas Stations, Diners, Motels, Attractions, Museums, Cruisers, Merchandise, Interveiws.

Students in ANTH 435 American Material Culture conducted their own fieldwork and wrote and designed their own essays, photographic essays and shorter web pages. I have posted the student work unedited, allowing it to reflect the students’ variety of narrative styles and their academic levels from sophomore through graduate students. The site is designed so that it may include the work of future students in ANTH 435 American Material Culture as they continue the exploration of these Route 66 themes in Southern Illinois and Missouri. So much more can be said and pictured!


SIUE Home Page
Published by: Department of Anthropology, SIUE
Created by: Cory Willmott ,Brian Kumpf and Tong Wu, 2008
Webmanager: Cory Willmott < >
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