In the summer of 2010, senior Jeff Norberg embarked upon his Fiel Fellowship travel—a cross-country journey along historic Highway 40, from New Jersey to California. From May through August, Norberg followed the well-trodden path of travel writers before him, and photographed changes in the landscape.
Highway 40 was first written about and documented by George R. Stewart in U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States of America (1953). Thirty years later Thomas and Geraldine Vale drove the same route and re-photographed the same spots highlighted in Stewart’s book. The Vales published U.S. 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America (1983), shortly thereafter. Norberg discovered the books in 2009, just a few years shy of the thirty-year anniversary of the Vale’s chronicle of Highway 40.
Wishing to follow up on these studies of the changing landscape of Highway 40, Norberg applied for a Fiel Traveling Fellowship from the Department of Landscape Architecture in academic year 2009-10. The Fiel Traveling Fellowship provides an award of $5,000 for travel within the United States. Norberg was awarded the Fellowship in the spring of 2010 and he immediately began to plan his trip.
Road trips are an American tradition and, to Norberg, Highway 40 seemed like the perfect choice for his first road trip because, as he writes, “40 makes a great cross-section of the US by passing through incredibly diverse landscape types, from the Atlantic coastal plain…through the salt flats of Utah…and finally reaching the California coast.” The origins of Highway 40 can be traced back to 1651 in Delaware. Later, part of it became known as the National Road when the “road tied together two halves of the fledgling democracy, separated by the Appalachians, in the early nineteenth century.”
In the months Norberg spent on the road, he re-photographed the landscapes of Stewart and the Vales. All in all, he documented eighty-one views in twelve states. He took over 2,500 photographs, had his camera stolen (and then returned by the police four hours later), and his car nearly stolen in St. Louis. Along the way he camped, slept in his car, or “couch surfed.” He occasionally took a detour, such as a quick trip into the Rocky Mountain National park in Colorado and a visit to Smith’s Spiral Jetty in Utah, but for the most part, he stayed on America’s “National Road.”