Workin’ on (researching) the railroad…among other things

Wolfgang Schivelbusch gives a very detailed, well-researched account of how the railroads changed how people viewed their lives. Despite his dearth of primary sources, however, Schivelbusch neglects the lower-class people whose views were no doubt also impacted by what the Americans called the “iron horse.” This is somewhat understandable, as the lower class in pretty much all of society is traditionally less lettered, literate, or likely to record their thoughts and feelings than the upper class, but their thoughts on the matter are still quite important. Perhaps more than the rich, the working class was influenced by the railroad as an easy method of quick conveyance around the Continent, and accordingly had more of a worldview shift courtesy of the railroad. Schivelbusch presents an excellent picture of how the railroad changed society, but it could stand to be a bit more complete.

With regard to Marius’ writings, I must confess I had the exact opposite problem with my research. Colonel John D. Hartigan no doubt had a very interesting career in the service, first as a training unit commander at Dickinson, then in the military governorship of Austria. Tantalizing glimpses are given of this, such as a friendly letter from the commander of all French forces in Germany, or his Memorial Day speech to the college, but by and large his papers are a somewhat single-minded affair, focusing on his drive to create a study abroad program at the college. His pictures are somewhat more interesting, but again provide little insight into the man. I suppose this motivated me to be quick and efficient with my research, but it was somewhat disappointing in that I’d expected to find a much different set of documents to peruse, rather than a single-minded collection focused solely on one aspect of the man.

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