Local Author Talk: Dr. Robert Turpin

On Thursday, May 23 from 6:30-7:30 p.m., local author and Lees-McRae professor Dr. Robert Turpin will visit the library to speak about his book, First Taste of Freedom: A Cultural History of Bicycle Marketing in the United States. Dr. Turpin says, “This book isn’t about the invention of the bicycle or even the technological improvements it experienced over time. Instead, it focuses on conceptions of the bicycle in the United States. Using the bicycle to talk about bigger social and cultural phenomena serves as a lens for analyzing ourselves and our world.”

Dr. Turpin’s love of bicycles began as a child, but it wasn’t until he was around 20 years old and mountain biking with his brother at the Lock Four trails in Gallatin, Tennessee that he came to see cycling as a serious sport. He says, “I was on a borrowed bike that was way too small, and after my first crash in the dirt I thought, ‘This is awesome! I need to get a better bike.'” He ended up becoming a competitive cyclist and an avid fan of the sport, but it wasn’t until he was a graduate student at University of Kentucky that he realized he could combine his love of history and cycling. He focused his research on the larger cultural and historical significance of cycling as a sport.

In First Taste of Freedom, Dr. Turpin highlights the evolution of the bicycle’s image throughout American history, shedding light on how American consumer patterns are shaped over time. He identifies the creation and development of childhood consumerism as a key factor in the bicycle’s evolution. Tracing the ways in which cycling suffered such a loss in popularity among adults is fundamental to understanding why the United States would be considered a “car” culture from the 1950s to today. As a lens for viewing American history, the story of the bicycle deepens our understanding of our national culture and the forces that influence it.

Dr. Turpin is Assistant Professor of History at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. A native of Crab Orchard, Kentucky and a graduate of the University of Kentucky, he now lives in Johnson City with his wife, two daughters, and four bicycles.

For more information on your library’s frequent local author talks, email Pam Murray or call 423-434-4454. And if you’re a local author interested in speaking at the library, click here. To learn about other library programs and services, visit www.jcpl.org, call 423-434-4450, or drop by the library at 100 West Millard Street. Follow Johnson City Public Library on Facebook and Instagram for updates.

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