By the Way: Research on the Roadside

Elsa Court image

It was not always clear why I, a non-driver in my late twenties, had chosen to research the road and its architectural landscape. My PhD studied representations of the American roadside and its commercial structures – the motel, the gas station, the highway service area in its various denominations, the roadside café, the toilet cubicle, and, occasionally, the roadside sign – as global icons of modern America. This liminal spot between land and road, capitalised upon to ease the fluidity of motorised motion, seemed especially meaningful in the American landscape, where the land is vast and roads cut through desert and empty prairies.

The roadside as space spoke to my sense of the road as a passive traveller and reader of literature. As a representational space, I thought, the roadside is often paradoxically a dead-end: an embodiment of indirection and loss. Continue reading

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Sounds to Accompany a PhD #4

The British Library, 96 Euston Road. Pack up your things, remember which locker your stuff’s in? Let’s get out of here before they close the gate at the main road.

Avoid the faster roads around Euston and let’s bury ourselves straight into the romance of Russell Square. The concrete melts away, notice the plane trees, the hanging baskets on the flats, the deep green of Coram’s fields. Let’s go back to the early twentieth century, we might bump into one of the Bloomsbury Group, or catch the whispers in English, French, Russian of local artists and political asylum seekers. Get the thrill of just passing the British Museum and imagining the treasures inside, the bones and feathers and fabric and stone all catalogued and ordered and ready to be consumed by thousands of eyes. Watch out for that cyclist. Continue reading