American Studies ETDs


Ivan Weber

Publication Date



This thesis advances a critical understanding of how scale informs the production and consumption of the American nation, and it makes a foray into Marxist critical analysis by integrating the theoretical and methodological objectives of historical materialism with the multiple, dialectically construed dimensionalities of scale. The hobby of model railroading serves as the case study for this analysis, and the dialectics of scale as the theoretical apparatus with which this analysis is articulated. The central argument of the thesis is that the model railroad hobby builds the nation, in miniature, through the continual regeneration of American masculinity, the traditional American family, archetypical spatial and geographic imaginaries, paradigmatic historical moments, and the ways in which the railroad links all of these together. Subtending this larger argument are questions of how the categories of race, class, gender, and nation are mutually constituted and reinscribed in everyday cultural practices like model railroading. The bulk of the evidence is drawn from hobby catalogs, magazines, and advertisements from the 1930s through the 1950s. The primary historical period under investigation is the decade-and-a-half following World War II, though the late-nineteenth century and the late-twentieth century are considered as part of the larger historical constellation that surrounds the early postwar era. All three periods, and the first two in particular, were marked by bourgeois anxiety over an increasingly modern present and nostalgia for an idealized past. These periods also saw bursts in model railroading activity, which suggests that the hobby has been repeatedly called upon to mediate the real and imagined historical losses that have characterized American modernity.




National characteristics, American. Marxism--Historical materialism--20th century. Dialectics of scale. Hobbies--Model railroading. Popular culture--United States--History--20th century. Whiteness--United States--History--20th century. Masculinity-- United States--History--20th century.

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Advisor

Trujillo, Michael

First Committee Member (Chair)

Trujillo, Michael

Second Committee Member

Brulotte, Ronda

Third Committee Member

Schreiber, Rebecca

Fourth Committee Member

Wilson, Chris