Sculle, Keith A. 1941-

views updated

SCULLE, Keith A. 1941-

PERSONAL: Born January 25, 1941; married, wife's name, Tracey.

ADDRESSES: Office—Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 1 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield, IL 62701-15087. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Historian. Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Springfield, IL, head of research and education; University of Illinois at Springfield, adjunct professor.

AWARDS, HONORS: Henry H. Douglas Distinguished Service Award, Pioneer America Society, 2000.


with john a. jakle

The Gas Station in America, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1994.

(With Jefferson S. Rogers) The Motel in America, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1996.

Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1999.

Lots of Parking: Land Use in a Car Culture, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2004.

Signs in America's Auto Age: Signatures of Landscape and Place, edited by Wayne Franklin, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Keith A. Sculle is an historian who, with geographer John A. Jakle, has written several books exploring changes on American roadways since the advent of the automobile. Their approach is both personal and intellectual, and their books appeal to readers in a variety of disciplines as well as individuals who are interested in disappearing icons and curiosities from an earlier time. As a result, their work has been very widely reviewed, including especially enthusiastic responses to The Motel in America and Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age.

In The Gas Station in America, Sculle and Jakle consider the gas station as it evolved during the twentieth century, and as a distinct predecessor to the contemporary self-serve mini mart. The book charts how global oil companies standardized and branded gas stations beginning in the 1920s, an example of "place-product-packaging," in order to foster customer loyalty. Documenting nine types of station design, the authors pay special attention to the Pure Oil Company's early English cottage station, which fit in well on residential roadways.

Reviews of The Gas Station in America included praise for the study's scholarly contributions as well as criticism of its personal elements and prose style. Karal Ann Marling commented in the American Historical Review that it is "a quirky, personal book, part aesthetic commentary … and part dry-as-dust chronicle of the rise and fall of giant gas vendors in America." More pointedly, Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley called the study both "a competent if prosaic history" and "an exercise in late-20th-century academic gobbledygook and solipsism." While they also expressed reservations about the book's prose, New York Times Book Review writer Thomas Hine concluded that it "provides important information and insights for those who will explain more fully the American landscape of consumption," and American Studies International's Richard Longstreth described it as "the most copious study available on any single, automobile-oriented building type." According to Joseph C. Bigott in the Journal of Urban History, the authors have crafted "a sophisticated combination of historical and geographic perspectives that required both archival and field research."

The automobile created a demand for motel accommodations which peaked in 1961, as Sculle, Jakle, and coauthor Jefferson S. Rogers explain in The Motel in America. They tell readers of how their fascination with motels preceded their scholarly careers, an interest fueled by childhood trips. Other sections of the book discuss motel architecture, independent motel operators, place-product-packaging, and the rise of added amenities.

Recommendations for The Motel in America include Steve Thompson's review in AutoWeek, where he called the book "both a rewarding read and rich in thoughtful commentary." The work is no less than "the definitive history of the motel," according to Tom Hanchett in Business History Review; he advised that it is "a highly engaging, multifaceted work that touches nearly every aspect of the hostelry business from the dawn of the twentieth century to the present." The book's relevance to lay readers was emphasized by Entertainment Weekly's Alexandra Jacobs, who called it "a masterful scrapbook for fellow devotees."

Similarly, a large number of readers can relate to the discussion of restaurants found in Fast Food. The themes of place-product-packaging and corporate territory are repeated in this book, which traces the evolution of the roadside restaurant from dignified tea rooms catering to the same wealthy individuals who could afford the first cars, to establishments that specialize in the quick delivery of food that does not require a knife and fork, such as hamburgers, chicken, pizza, tacos, and ice cream. Chain restaurants are examined, including an extensive look at the history of McDonald's.

Reviewers welcomed the book as an important reference work and as an alternative look at fast food during a time when the industry faced increased scrutiny of its business practices and the nutritional value of its product. In a review for the Times Literary Supplement, Eugen Weber advised readers that this is no quick trip down memory lane: "Thorough, compendious and businesslike, it is not made for the hasty reader, but repays perseverance in the richness and suggestiveness of its prodigal tales." Business History writer K. Austin Kerr was pleased to find that Fast Food "goes a long way toward providing a standard history of the restaurant business in America." In a review for History Today, Reay Tannahill called the book "refreshingly free from foodie pietism" as well as "lucid, sensible and well constructed." It is "a refreshing draft of realism," according to New York Times Book Review contributor Karal Ann Marling, who found "enough incident, comedy and tragedy for any two novels." The book's nostalgic appeal was important to Entertainment Weekly writer Nikki Amdur, who called Fast Food "a minutely detailed paean to an era that has nearly disappeared."



American Historical Review, June, 1996, Karal Ann Marling, review of The Gas Station in America, p. 937.

American Studies International, October, 1995, Richard Longstreth, review of The Gas Station in America.

AutoWeek, June 9, 1997, Steve Thompson, "Motel Studies 101: Required Reading."

Business History, April, 2001, K. Austin Kerr, review of Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, p. 160.

Business History Review, autumn, 1997, Tom Hanchett, review of The Motel in America, p. 488.

Entertainment Weekly, January, 1997, Alexandra Jacobs, review of The Motel in America, p. 54; January 14, 2000, Nikki Amdur, review of Fast Food, p. 70.

History Today, July, 2000, Reay Tannahill, review of Fast Food, p. 57.

Journal of Urban History, November, 1998, Joseph C. Bigott, review of The Gas Station in America, p. 103.

New York Times Book Review, October 30, 1994, Thomas Hine, review of The Gas Station in America, p. 36; January 9, 2000, Karal Ann Marling, "Sameness Is Gloriousness."

Times Literary Supplement January 21, 2000, Eugen Weber, "Hamburger and Fries to Go," p. 34.

Washington Post, November 16, 1994, Jonathan Yardley, "Low-Test History Lesson," p. B2.*