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Week Thirteen: Railroad Construction and Telegraph Lines

"All aboard for Virginia City"

Railroad history is often seen, like economic, business, or political history, as the fairly bland story of triumphant white men. This story is often devoid of social context. Railroad history, however, does not have to be written or taught this way, because it is, in fact, intimately connected to numerous other areas of historical inquiry.

Click here for a discussion of the railroads and what they contribute to our understanding of labor, social, economic, and environmental history.

This week’s lecture by Professor Fritz (~38 minutes), covers the planning and building of the railroads through our region from the perspective of the organizations and business leaders who spearheaded efforts.

The Maps page presents an array of maps documenting railroads which were produced around the time of their construction. Try to locate the route of the railroads that run through a particular area of interest, and gauge, if you can, what might have been points of conflict on the map.

In Tribal Perspectives, members of the Wasco and Chippewa-Cree tribes (both sides of our region), describe the environmental impact of the railroads, and the incredible waste that accompanied the massive slaughter of the bison. These perceptions of waste and damage provide some context for understanding why Indians actively resisted the construction of the railroad.

On the People page we’ve suggested possibilities for moving beyond the study of “triumphant white men,” or the more traditional orientation of railroad history, and into the rich fields of social and labor history which puts the lives of everyday railroad workers front and center. In Art and Literature, we’ve assembled an eclectic assortment of images and literature which will hopefully stretch your views of the consequences of the railroads.

On the Research page you'll find a lengthy list of resources to augment your and your students' study of railroads. We've included several sources that provide background on the history of the telegraph - a topic that was eclipsed this week by the abundance of information we wanted to present on railroads. Professor Fritz's lecture next week will address the ways in which communication and transportation are linked in the story of western settlement.


Lecture Maps People Research Unit 1 Unit 2 Unit 4 Unit 5