In this unit, students will examine the important and chaging role of the railroad in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They will learn about the railroad from two perspetives: those who worked on the railroad and those who rode the railroad. Students will come to understand the change in immigrant labor on the rails over time, gain knowledge of the working conditions and life experiences of immigrant railroad workers, and examine how railroads shaped larger social standards for behavior and comfort.
- Textual evidence, material artifacts, the built environment, and historic sites are central to understanding United States history.
- Learning about the past and its different contexts shaped by social, cultural, and political influences prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society.
- Long-term continuities and discontinuities in the structures of United States society provide vital contributions to contemporary issues. Belief systems and religion, commerce and industry, innovations, settlement patterns, social organization, transportation and trade, and equality are examples continuity and change.
• Analyze a primary source for accuracy and bias and connect it to a time and place in United States history.
• Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, geographic, political, and social relations for a specific time and place.
• Apply the theme of continuity and change in United States history and relate the benefits and drawbacks of your example.
Working on the Rails: Irish and Italian Laborers on Pennsylvania's Railroads
19th-Century Life on the Rails: A Microcosm of American Society
R. David McCall, "Everything in its Place": Gender and Space on America's Railroads, 1830-1899. (Masters thesis, Virgina Polytechnic and State University, 1999).
Students can create three diary entries of an immigrant working or riding on the rails. If musically inclined, they could write and perform a ballad which could have been sung by Irish workers on the rail.