Sequence Overview:

Make an original argument that contributes to the scholarly conversation concerning the expansion of the railway in nineteenth-century America. As you develop your argument you can either work within the boundaries of one of the disciplinary fields or take a more interdisciplinary approach. Regardless, you should engage with a selection of material from the Core Readings, with Schivelbusch and/or Schwantes and Ronda, and with three Exploratory Readings (one of which should be a key text).

Schedule of Reading & Writing Assignments


  • Work strategically with a variety of primary sources to support your thesis.
  • Engage productively with secondary sources by intervening in a scholarly conversation.
  •  Structure your essay in such a way that each paragraph builds on the previous one, so that the “flow” of the essay has its own internal logic that helps sustain your thesis.


Woah, look at all those primary and secondary sources! First of all, don’t freak out. We will be working together to make sense of the material, and you are not expected to master every reading. Also, the different categories of secondary sources will help you frame your research question. This curated experience will prepare you for the open research project later in the semester.

Illustrations (click for image bank)

Core Readings (Course Packet):

  • International Historical Statistics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
  • Dionysius Lardner, Railway Economy: A Treatise on the New Art of Transport (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850), 25-40, 308-348.
  • J.W. Barlow, “Report in Relation to Indian Interference with Northern Pacific Railroad,” in U.S. Congress, 42-3, Senate Executive Document No. 16, 14 Dec. 1872.
  • D.L. Phillips, Letters from California: Its Mountains, Valleys, Plains, Lakes, Rivers, Climate and Productions. Also Its Railroads, Cities, Towns and People, as Seen in 1876 (Springfield: Illinois State Journal Co., 1877), 1-11.
  • Henry Poor, “The Pacific Railroad,” The North American Review 271 (June, 1879), 664-680.
  • Leonard Waldo, “The Distribution of Time,” The North American Review 131, No. 289 (Dec., 1880): 528-536.
  • “Standard Time,” Scientific American Supplement 42, No. 428 (March 15, 1884), 6834.
  • William Temple Hornaday, The Extermination of the American Bison, with a sketch of its discovery and life history (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1889), 387-393, 484-529.
  • Cy Warman, “A Thousand-Mile Ride on the Engine of the Swiftest Train in the World,” McClure’s Magazine 2, No. 2 (January, 1894), 164-184.
  • Joe Mitchell Chapple, “Types of Railroad Travellers,” National Magazine 7, No. 6 (March 1898), 543-550.
  • Zitkala-Sa, American Indian Stories (Washington: Hayworth Publishing House, 1921), 39-45, 47-56.
  • Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: Trains and Travel in the 19th Century, trans. Anselm Hollo (New York: Urizen Books, 1979), 41-50, 93-117.
  • Carlos A. Schwantes and James P. Ronda, The West the Railroads Made (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 113-147.


Exploratory Disciplinary Readings:

  • Economics (Railroad and Economic Growth):
    • Key Text: Robert W. Fogel, Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1964), 1-48.
    • Jeremy Atack, “On the Use of Geographic Information Systems in Economic History: The American Transportation Revolution Revisited,” The Journal of Economic History 73, No. 2 (June, 2013): 313-338.
    • Dave Donaldson and Richard Hornbeck, “Railroads and American Economic Growth: A ‘Market Access’ Approach,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2016): 799-858.
    • Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011), xxi-xxxiv, 140-178.
  • History (Technology, American Indians, and the Environment)
    • Key Text: Mark Fiege, The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012), 228-280.
    • Orsi, Richard J., Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West, 1850-1930 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 349-375.
    • Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 1-17, 199-210, 221-236, 259-265.
    • Alex Ruuska, “Ghost Dancing and the Iron Horse: Surviving through Tradition and Technology,” Technology and Culture 52, No. 3 (July 2011): 574-597.
  • Cultural Studies (The Transformation of Space and Time):
    • Key Text: Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 109-130, 211-240.
    • Mike Esbester, “Nineteenth-Century Timetables and the History of Reading,” Book History 12 (2009): 156-185.
    • Ana Parejo Vadillo and John Plunkett, “The Railway Passenger; or, The Training of the Eye,” in The Railway and Modernity: Time, Space, and the Machine Ensemble, eds. Matthew Beaumont and Michael Freeman (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007), 45-68.
    • Orvar Löfgren, “Motion and Emotion: Learning to be a Railway Traveller,” Mobilities 3, No. 3 (2008): 331-351.

 Pre-Draft Assignments:


PD 2.1: Do I Buy It? (+- 400 words)                                                                                                                                          Due in class, October 10, 2017

Write approximately 400 words evaluating Schivelbusch’s The Railway Journey. Indicate what you think are tenuous speculative claims (and why so), and what you find to be convincing arguments based on the effective analysis of evidence.

Draft and Cover Letter:

Due 5 pm, October 27, 2017

Once again, in order for you to receive the best possible feedback, make sure that your draft features an explicit motive and an arguable thesis. The draft should not be a “rough draft,” but a genuine effort at sustained thinking on your part about your topic. Remember, the more complete and well-organized a draft, the easier it will be to revise!

Given the diverse array of primary and secondary sources, do your best to maintain careful and organized notes throughout the drafting and revision process.

Your draft cover letter should provide readers with a snapshot of your argument and your writing process. In addition to any specific concerns you may have, you should also answer the following questions:

  • What is your motive?
  • What sentence from your draft best articulates your tentative thesis?
  • How your draft is creating a scholarly conversation amongst the secondary sources you use.
  • Use the “Writing Lexicon” to explain what you think are the strongest elements in your essay and what you think could use the most improvement.

Draft Response Letter:

Due in class, November 7 and November 9, 2017

Print two hard copies of each draft response letter and bring them to class on the day of the workshop (one will be given to the writer of the draft discussed, the other one to me).

Each letter should be approximately 350-words long, directly address the draft writer, and feature:

  • A summary of their argument.
  • An assessment of the draft’s strengths.
  • Respectful feedback on where you see room for improvement.
  • Do not focus on correcting grammar or syntax. Instead, you are to ask clarifying questions that are informed by the Writing Lexicon.

Revision and Cover Letter:

Due 5 pm, November 18, 2017

After you meet me and a fellow student for a paired conference you will work on your revision. Revisions are more than just fixing typos and shifting sentences around. Instead, you should fully engage with the feedback you received and build on what you’re learning from our discussions about writing techniques in class and during our draft workshops.

The revision cover letter addresses the changes between the draft and revision. Make sure to explain the reasons behind the most significant changes, and reflect on how your writing improved through the process.