“Every person’s life is fundamentally filtered through the car,” said Ken Yohn, the chair of the history and politics department at McPherson College, while discussing the college’s new six-week summer webinar. “And everybody has a theory of the automobile, whether they’re afraid of technology or love speed, even if they can’t articulate it. My goal here is to help people formulate their theories to help them make better sense of their life.”
Grand ambitions, perhaps, but Yohn, who has taught courses on the social history of the automobile at McPherson for more than 20 years, said the key to teaching automotive history to both gearheads and general audiences alike lies in finding some sort of common ground. “It’s why we’ve picked six topics that we hope each person would understand,” he said.
Thus the webinar — “Wheels of Change: How the Automobile Shaped Our Lives” — opens with a discussion on road trips, specifically four road trips from early automotive history “that upended the world,” according to the webinar description: Bertha Benz’s, Ransom Olds’s, Horatio Nelson Jackson’s, and Alice Ramsey’s. “Road trips are an iconic part of human history, going back even before cars to Don Quixote,” Yohn said.