Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Digital Project: Railroads and the Making of Modern America

"Railroads and the Making of Modern America" is a digital history site at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, led by William G. Thomas III of Nebraska and Richard Healey, a geographer at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who focuses on historical GIS. The site's introduction explains:
This project seeks to document and represent the rapid and far-reaching social effects of railroads and to explore the transformation of the United States to modern ideas, institutions, and practices in the nineteenth century. The railroad was the first and most complex national system in American history. The records of this system's colossal growth are as diverse as they are voluminous, ranging from massive and detailed corporate records to editorials, cartoons, poetry, songs, and even abandoned track lines in today's landscape. While many histories have addressed the railroad's importance, we need a new approach that takes account of how the railroad triggered unexpected outcomes in American society and how the system became wedded into the fabric of modern America. Railroads and the Making of Modern America seeks to use the digital medium to investigate, represent, and analyze this social change and document episodes of the railroad's social consequence.
The project includes a number of topics and ways of looking at railroad history. Among the several topics examined so far are "Slavery and Southern Railroads," "The 1877 Railroad Strike," and "Tourism and Mobility." Another section is "Views," which "contains information pulled from documents, databases, and historical sources and each seeks to demonstrate the social effects of the development of the railroad network over time." Topics here include "Technology and the Expansion of the U.S. South," "Land Sales in Nebraska," and "Travel Time: How Railroads Shaped Time and Space." The site also contains student projects, datasets, and links to other on-line railroad history sources.
    Thomas, former director of the Virginia Center for Digital History, previously worked on The Valley of the Shadow project and on The Countryside Transformed: The Railroad and the Eastern Shore of Virginia, 1870-1935.