12,000 visitors a month use Web site devoted to the role of autos and the auto industry in American life and culture

May 25, 2006

A screenshot of the Web site devoted to the impact of the automobile and the auto industry on American life, labor and culture

DEARBORN / May 25, 2006---A Web site and online archive devoted to the impact of the automobile and the auto industry on American life, labor and culture is attracting 12,000 unique visitors per month and being used by teachers, students, scholars, museum and library professionals, journalists and auto enthusiasts across the country.

The site, www.autolife.umd.umich.edu, was developed by faculty members at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and archivists and curators at the Henry Ford with a $220,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and $10,000 from the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund.

“The automobile’s impact on American life is everywhere and the car is much more than a means of traveling from one place to another,” according to UM-Dearborn humanities Prof. Jonathan Smith, one of the main architects of the site.

“This Web site explores some of that vast impact,” Smith said. “It is designed primarily with college students and faculty in mind, but students and educators at other levels, as well as the general public, will find it of interest.”

Smith served as project director and Judy Endelman, director of the Benson Ford Research Center at the Henry Ford, coordinated the work of a team of staff members at the museum. UM-Dearborn librarian and archivist Karen Morgan provided research services and UM-Dearborn economics Prof. Bruce Pietrykowski, director of the campus’s Center for the Study of Automotive Heritage, helped develop the initial concept and the grant proposals for the project.

Numerous other scholars and institutions contributed essays and archival material for the site, which focuses on five main topics: the impact of the automobile and the auto industry on labor, gender, design, environment and race in America.

Each of the site’s five sections contains two essays, one an overview of the topic and the other a more focused case study, plus an annotated bibliography to guide further reading. The articles are supplemented by photographs, drawings, advertisements and archival documents from the collections at the Henry Ford and accompanied with resources for students and teachers such as discussion questions and writing assignments.

The NEH grant for the project was awarded in the “exemplary education category,” designed to fund the development of humanities materials, and ways to disseminate humanities scholarship and teaching practices.

The Web site and online archive project are among the projects of UM-Dearborn’s Science and Technology Studies (STS) program and Center for the Study of Automotive Heritage, which has organized courses, sponsored a series of lectures and conferences and fostered collaborations with institutions around the world.

“These initiatives, including the Web site, have enabled us to make a significant contribution to the development of a broader understanding of ways in which auto production shaped our way of life," Pietrykowski said.

"In addition to supporting our curriculum, it has given us greater opportunities to engage with individuals and organizations in the regional community, like the Automotive National Heritage Area," he added.

One unique feature of the Web site is its focus on the work of auto industry engineers and designers, incorporating both oral and visual materials, based on materials in the archives of the Henry Ford.

In the 1980s, the museum’s staff interviewed 100 automotive designers, and “we were able to digitize 17 of the most important oral histories, providing visual materials to accompany three of those, which are now made available online for the first time,” Smith said.

“Our goal has been to provide students with access to a mass of previously unavailable materials and make available a focused set of relevant materials that are positioned in an academic context and designed to be used and analyzed critically," Smith said. "We believe this will make for a challenging, productive and satisfying educational experience."


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