Alumnus discusses relationship between roads and culture


Photo by: Isaac Iniguez

In his talk entitled “Roads Forge the Nation: Identity, Society and Infrastructure in North America,” a Franciscan alumnus spoke in the St. Joseph’s Center seminar room to a standing-room-only crowd on Wednesday, March 27, at 8 p.m.

Michael Bess, who holds his doctorate in borderlands history, spoke on the connection between road building and culture, a topic which he has been studying for over 10 years.

Bess works for the Center for Research and Teaching of Economics in Mexico, where he has spent much time studying the country’s infrastructure. His focus is on how immigrants physically travel to the United States of America. His discovery: good roads mean cheap travel, and cheap travel means that people can move from rural areas to cities.

Bess said, “Roads are like umpires. When they work, they’re invisible.” He explained that good roads are not generally noticed, but they are expensive to build and maintain. Once a community invests the necessary money to build a good road, the people of the community are able to travel farther and faster than before, helping them to become more connected with other cultures in both business and thinking.

Another major advancement that Bess noted was the railroad. The railroad made cross-country travel in a week possible, carrying products and passengers between communities.

Both roads and railroads are imperative for cultural growth, explained Bess. Due to these advancements over the years, instead of staying in their small towns, people are able to travel farther. This increases trade across communities and even makes those communities more diverse through the now-realistic prospect of migration. It also opens up opportunities for people to live farther away from the cities but still work there, he said.

Students who came to the event left with a new perspective on roads in North America, each taking away a different aspect that stood out most to him or her.

“He seems really knowledgeable, and the lecture was very informative,” said sophomore Caroline Monsour. “He helped me realize how instrumental roads were to forming the culture.”

Senior Taranee Karimpour was “most interested in seeing how road building was intertwined with progress and the state’s power over nature.”

For junior Flannery McGovern, it was Bess’ relatability that most struck her. “The talk was fun,” she said, “especially from an alumni who went here, like me, and continued on in the field.”

This talk was the 2019 Carrigg Lecture, an annual event at Franciscan University.

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