Railroads and the Making of Modern America. http://railroads.unl.edu/. Directed and edited by William G. Thomas, III (Professor in Humanities at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln), Richard Healey (Professor of Geography at the University of Portsmouth U.K.), and Ian Cottingham (Software Engineer for the Computing Innovation Group at UNL). Received production assistance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. http://railroads.unl.edu/about/team.php. Reviewed February 22, 2019.
Railroads and the Making of Modern America is a digital project that looks at the social impacts of railroads in 19th-century America. It covers topics such as slavery, the Civil War, politics, migration, segregation, tourism and railroad work. The website implements visual aids including documents, maps, and statistical graphs.
As an example, when you look at Slavery and Southern Railroads under the topics tab, there are two columns: On the left are documents and on the right are visual aids. Under documents, you can take a closer look at contracts, annual reports of railroad companies, and letters. When you click on contracts, there are seven items – all of them are receipts for a slave purchase. One receipt was for the sale of slaves to the Mississippi Central Railroad Company on March 5, 1860. It briefly describes and shows a photo of the receipt. Underneath it is the metadata in the “about” section. It gives the source, the citation, the date, and other related topics. In the letters, they all have a description, but some do not have the photograph of the letter. However, these contain a transcript of the letter. As for the visual aids, many are maps to visualize information. Some require Adobe Flash Player 8 to view.
The next tab on the website is “views”, which are specific cases that focus on a research question or problem. Some of these “views” include passenger mobility in the 1850s, land sales in Nebraska, the growth of slavery and Southern railroad development, and women’s experience on the Great Plains in the 1850s. Just like the topic section, these “views” use multimedia when presenting the material.
This project openly shares their data and tools used in the making of this site. Under the data tab, you can download these resources for free. The authors encourage you to use these resources for your own research. The search bar for this project has several categories to limit your searches. These include types of document, the topic, scope, year, and publication.
Railroads and the Making of Modern America features four railroad-related projects from several graduate students in history from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Finally, this site offers teaching materials such as seminars, interviews, worksheets, and links to other teaching sites for university, college, secondary and elementary school teachers. Just like the sources provided in the data tab, these resources are free and open-source.
Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council for Learned Societies, Economic and Social Research Council, and the UNL Office of Research, this digital project uses digital tools and primary evidence to analyze social changes and impacts that relate to the development of the railroad. There is plenty of data here already, but this is a work in progress. The project team is currently working on adding documents and visual materials to the website to further help teach American history. This project is most suitable to those who want to research this topic or teach it in an academic field.