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On the Course of “Progress”: A Review of Literature on Road Building in Latin America

Michael K. Bess

The building of motor roads in Latin America, as elsewhere, was an activity essential to the history of modernization and state formation in the twentieth century. Governments, private companies, and regional boosters launched construction efforts with the goal of reducing travel times, linking cities and towns together, and stimulating economic development. In the process, these initiatives also changed the way citizens thought about the nation-state. New highways helped give shape to national identity, not only by making more of the countryside traversable, but also by putting citizens and foreigners in greater contact. Likewise, motor tourism identified and reified regional cultural symbols, transforming them into representations of that nation, and packaging them for easy consumption by travelers on weekend getaways.

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