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Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

HIST 3741: The Automobile

Students consider the invention of the automobile as a vehicle for understanding North American cultural and economic history. By exploring the revolutionary impact of the automobile, students examine the context and status of its invention, its relationship to environmental and socioeconomic factors, and current trends and priorities in auto-mobility, urban planning, and production.

Learning outcomes

  • Describe the evolution of the American System of production and the origins of the modern global corporation.
  • Explain the origins and development of mass manufacturing and its corollary, mass consumption.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the unique social conditions that gave rise to Fordism and Sloanism, their global influence, and their connections with Scientific Management and Positivism.
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of the nature of the relationship between the American military complex and America’s global dominance in auto-mobility and automotive production.
  • Analyze the effect of mass motorization on African Americans, women, and low income Americans.
  • Assess the theoretical possibilities of Social Construction of Technology for understanding automotive development.
  • Analyze the influence of auto manufacturers on advertising, consumption, transportation choices, and urban design in North America.
  • Contextualize the postwar decline of North American auto-centrism, and the evolution of safety and environmental concerns against the current social and economic realities effecting automotive development and consciousness.

Course topics

Unit 1: Automotive Historiography and Theoretical Approaches

Unit 2: Interchangeable Parts and the American System of Production

Unit 3: Bicycles to Automobiles and Steam to Electric

Unit 4: Taylorism, Fordism, and Modernity

Unit 5: Middletown in the 1920s

Unit 6: Growing a Market—Advertising, Planned Obsolescence, and the Power of Lead

Unit 7: Mussolini of Detroit

Unit 8: Arsenal of Democracy

Unit 9: Motorization and the Highway Lobby

Unit 10: Halcyon Days

Unit 11: Second Thoughts

Unit 12: A New Century

Required text and materials

The following materials are required for this course:

  1. Volti, R. (2006). Cars and culture: The life story of a technology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
    Type: Textbook. ISBN: 9780801883996


Please be aware that should your course have a final exam, you are responsible for the fee to the online proctoring service, ProctorU, or to the in-person approved Testing Centre. Please contact with any questions about this.

To successfully complete this course, students must achieve a passing grade of 50% or higher on the overall course, and 50% or higher on the final mandatory exam.

Assignment 1: Reading Notes 10%
Assignment 2: Reading a Car 15%
Assignment 3: Primary Documents, “Driving it Home” 15%
Assignment 4: Research Essay 30%
Final Examination (mandatory) 30%
Total 100%

Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Students will receive the necessary contact information at the start of the course.

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