325--Week 4 Questions/Comments

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Susan Danly, The Railroad in American Art

From Susan Danly’s article tracing the railroad in American art, it seems like art was definitely used as one of the primary sources of propaganda and advertising during this time. It mentions how painters were often asked to paint the scenic lure of the railroad as well as how nature and industry kind of combined into this idealistic view of how people could use and overcome sources of nature. One that stood out to me as a show of this idealized harmonization between nature and the industrial railroad was “The Delaware Water Gap” which implied the railroad as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. –Jessica Kilday

“…to float upon this tide” seems to be a good example of how technology and development are only necessary when they are deemed so by society. The author points out how only a few years ago (previous to 1870) the land was more natural and not as controlled by people and technology. Those who lived there did so contently. However, with the prospect of the railroad and higher level of “civilization” that has been reached, it is far less desirable to live how the pioneers once did “with his axe and rifle as his sole companions,” (198). In the time that this author is writing, in order to be successful, technology has become a necessity. –Jessica Kilday


I really enjoyed Danly’s text about art and how it relates to the study of history. I think sometimes we forget to look at art as a document of history. Danly explains art’s significance to the study of history and how it shows the progression of time. She also goes on to talk about how art shows how each person reacted to the changes in technology as well as history as a whole. – Jimmy Conroy

Danly's article really made me think about differing opinions on the integration of the railroad. The railroad can be seen as "progress of capitalism," but not everyone wanted this. Various artists and Americans reacted in different ways in regards to embracing or criticizing the railroad's implementation. I think it important to remember when talking about these technological inventions that they were not always immediately accepted. -Elle

As hard as it is to remember since in today's society we look at technology as the greatest thing since sliced bread. What one has to realize that until today's technology rich era technological advancements were not always accepted. As Elle had previously stated technology was something that many people were weary of and often shunned upon. Throughout the integration of the railroad system many people bickered about what it would do to the surrounding areas and what effects they would feel from the rail system.--Marren

I have little experience interpreting art, let alone introducing it as a learning tool for historical purposes. Susan Danly's writing style in this piece made it easy to match the historical thought to the art that was portrayed at the time. This is great interdisciplinary literature and I gained more understanding about art and history. The reading also related well to the primary documents in our text book. The culture shift and reaction to it was clearly portrayed in news articles and art forms, which shows the passionate opinions the American public had on industrialization and mechanization. -Kirsten Walleck

I found that Danly's writing on the art and it's relationship to history was interesting and important. I have done quite a bit of art analysis in the past, but she does explain it well and I got some new ideas about it. I agree with Kirsten when she says that the culture shift was portrayed through the art and other media. It's a good way for people all over to see how everyone in the nation feels. Aislyn

I agree with Danly's conclusion that the railroad has come to represent a deeply held longing for a picture frame view into the beauty and uncertainty of American nature, while also representing the destruction of the Indians and the spread of many social and environmental problems. Artwork changed over time as these ideas ebbed and flowed throughout American consciousness. Thus it seems that many people used art to express these notions as the railroad represented different definitions of what is "America" or "American." -Bryan Lees

The fact that businesses took advantage of art to further their interests isn’t really a surprise. Corporations tend to take advantage of everything that will get them more money, and art has often been used as an expression of ideology. In the case of the railroads, the arts both emphasized the train’s connection to the natural landscape and idealized it as symbol of human progress, power, freedom, and capitalism. Railroad moguls encouraged artists and photographers to emphasize the relationship between railroads and landscape because it combined the beautiful aesthetics meant to attract tourism and a validation of Westward and economic expansion, both benefits to big business. I think in our post-industrial, environmentally concerned society, it’s somewhat difficult for us to understand peaceful coexistence between natural and industrial forces. We see the destructive aspects, not “progress,” and that seemed to become a problem for artists in the 1930s as well. --Taylor Brann

Charles Dew, Slave Ironworkers in Virginia

The "overwork" system was used by Weaver - he tried to give incentives to slaves that went beyond the minimum amount of production. As skilled laborers, slaves such as Weaver's iron workers were valuable and less easily replaced, so cruel treatment of slaves was less likely. I think this was really interesting that in this case it seems that technology helped the slaves get better treatment and working conditions (or at least an opportunity to make some money). - Elle

I was rather taken back by the "overwork" system. Taken back meaning that I have not heard much about workers getting "overtime" or "overwork" in my past reading. I think it was a good thing, also the fact that there was not much physical abuse by the owner on the slaves. I guess the job was hard and dangerous enough without the extra abuse. I also was pleased to see that a slave family could do well for itself. It's a shame that others did not follow Weaver's example but not beating the slaves and using positive incentives to get more out of them. I say a happy worker is a productive worker.-Aislyn

The essay Slave Ironworkers in Virginia reinforces the same idea from Douglass’ essay that having skills as a slave can give you an advantage. A good question that Charles Dew brings up in the last paragraph is which is better, resistance, running away, and confrontation which could lead to being beaten or sold. Or, is it better to maneuver as best you can within the system to have the best possible life despite the physical and psychological confines of enslavement? I think that Douglass’ article would argue that the former would be better because no matter what, you are still a slave, and freedom is the ultimate goal. For Dew’s article, I think that the latter would be the best possible choice. It really goes into the life of Sam William, how he became a skilled ironworker and was able to over produce for his owner and make his own profit. With this, he was able to provide a good life for his family and keep them from being sold. The idea was, if you are a hard worker and you can get incentives there is no reason for you to try to go against your owner, and therefore your owner wont sell your family, and wont physically harm you. I don’t think there is a right or a wrong answer. - Erin Sanderson

I thought it was interesting how most of Charles Dew's piece makes it seem as though slaves had a good life and then at the end there is a reminder of their condition of forced servitude when William Green runs away and is caught and sold. Some of the slaves, especially Sam Williams, did the best that they could under the given circumstances, and were probably in a better economic situation than if they had been freed, but there is no doubt that freedom would have been preferred. Sam used his leverage to ensure himself a higher standard of living, but this was no replacement for freedom, especially when there were everyday reminders of enslavement. - Karen Siegmund

Reading Charles Dew's essay made me wonder if this 'pay for overwork' happened in any other types of industry such as maybe garment making for women. I agree with Karen, when she mentioned how Dew makes it seem like slaves, or at least skilled slaves, had a 'good' life at first but then raises the questions about resisting the system versus maneuvering through it. Also the sections about what Sam Williams Jr bought for his family is very interesting not only in the fact that he was able to aquire these items but the pricing of them in 1850s. For instance, the 8 3/4 yds of fabric that he bought for his daughter for 1.75 sounds pretty good considering one is lucky if they find fabric that is $1.75/yard. -Lauren Milner

Dew's essay presents the idea of positive reinforcement in regard to slave treatment. His final question proposes two options slaves had. They could resist their masters and actively oppose the system they were a part of in order to gain complete freedom, or they could attempt to maneuver within their limited freedoms in order to earn as much freedom as possible. Knowing slavery's eventual outcome, the question is easier to answer, but how would a slave conceptualize his choices during the height of slavery in the South? For some, I'm sure that resistance was the best option. If you could see no end to your life as a slave, actively opposing your master in order to change your surroundings would have been a good choice. However, Dew shows us that by working with your master, rather than against him, slaves were able to create more agency for themselves. For Dew, any form of freedom (gained by 'overwork' earning pay) was better than none at all. - Lon

Dew's essay brings up many great debates on slave life prior to being granted freedom and many of the answers are not ones that can/were ever answered. It is impossible for any of us to sit here and debate which route we would have taken as slaves since we were never put into slaves shoes and deal with the everyday life that they had to. I agree with Lon, in terms of gaining freedom no matter how you did it would be significant; however, I feel that Dew is correct in saying that overworking and gaining freedom through gaining respect would most likely be the easier way, as well as perhaps more accomplished for the slaves and their owner when being granted freedom.--Marren

This article defiantly shed more light on the concept introduced in Douglass' essay. It can be a good thing to have certain skills as a slave. However, having a skill can not always be a good thing. In this particular article, having a skill really seemed to benefit Dew. I wonder how many other cases were similar to this one? -- Kellye Sorber

This may seem kind of naive but I never thought about the different forms of punishment based on slave skill. Normally when we're taught about slavery and the ways masters punished them when they misbehaved or something you automatically think of whipping or beatings. But realizing how valuable skilled slaves were and how detrimental it could be if you harmed a skilled slave is something I had never thought of. It makes sense to want to try to keep them on your good side so that they remain a financial asset. -Kelly W.

Not to overkill the topic, but I'd like to return to the "overwork" system that Dew presents in his article. What I find so interesting about this system is that it existed. Too often in our study of history we're taught that things happened through one dominant narrative. It's true that slaves were held in bondage and treated terribly by their white masters. The overwork system draws parallels to when slaves would do the bare minimum amount of work as a form of passive resistance. If their masters saw them as incompetent, lazy, or generally needing "higher" guidance, then slaves often played into these stereotypes to resist their master's ownership of them. In the same way, it seems that overwork was another form of passive resistance. While it directly contradicts the stereotypes about slaves, it accomplished the same end through different means. Namely, slaves earned income that they could keep. A man could furnish his own home and buy things for his family. Slaves could retain their humanity and passively resist the system which tried to strip their humanity from them. Although both examples are different, they are both equally viable forms of passive resistance to slavery. -Bryan Lees

I would I have liked to see more of a discussion of sources. I noticed two mentions of how the author divined his information, two specific letters and the "Negro Record" at the forge. I would like to know if all of the authors beliefs about what happened at the forge came from the record, or if there were other sources. I know its a selection, so that discussion may exist in the full version, but I would have liked to see it in the selection. -- Matt Struth

By taking advantage of his iron working skills, Sam Williams was able to improve his living conditions and protect his family from being separated; he was also able to build up a fairly massive savings fund. Not only that, he could get away with purposely taking off work for a month. While the Williams family was better off than many field workers, they were still slaves. Fair living conditions or not, there were always reminders that no matter how skilled slaves were, they were still seen as nothing more than property. Whites were more than willing to, “if necessary, let every tree in the country bend with Negro meat (178).” Needless to say, Sam knew not to push his master too far. Sam’s position raises an interesting point, which the Dew brought up, regarding the “proper” actions of a slave. Should slaves make the best of their situation and work towards improving their living conditions and protecting their family, or should they resist slavery and work towards freedom? Frederick Douglass wrote that as his station improved his desire for freedom grew, but to contradict this, it appears Sam was as content as he could be as a slave. --Taylor Brann

Charles Dew’s text about slavery only brought one question to my mind. Why was he making it sound like being a slave was an excellent way of life? -- Jimmy Conroy

The overwork system was a system that I would have not expected they would have used back then, especially to slaves. Instead of having massive amounts of problems with the slaves, the use of incentives helped them control this issue. With the incentive plan, it was a a great way not to lose their skilled slaves. With this, it made it possible for Sam and Nancy to reach a level of comfortable living. It makes senses just like today's society but with minor differences. In the 19th century they had to do a considerable amount of work to get overwork pay whereas today in some case you just need to show up to work and not do that much and get paid more for working overtime. --Paul Kim

Primary Sources on Steam, Space and a New World Order

The articles about the first railroads really portrayed a controversy over railroads, which seemed to be a double-edged sword for those at the time. The first article spoke about how the steam locomotion was really a basis for our national identity. It cause the nation to be liberalized and bound together by trade and commerce, it was a means of excitement and unity. Charles Fraser brought up another side to this theory. Based off of his article it shows that the idea of the railroad as a unifying and harmonious force is a utopic idea and that there are negative aspects that would come out of it. He specifically speaks of the widening gap between the rich and the poor that was a result of the railroads. He also brings up the fact that the railroads meant the destruction of life and property. Further articles showed how the railroads accelerated the forced removal of Native Americans and the extinction of the buffalo. Do you think that it was worth it? Had canals been chosen as the preferred mode of transportation, would that mean the same repercussions for the Native Americans and the buffalo. - Erin Sanderson

In the Editorial about Railroads and Missionaries, I found what the writer said to be interesting and slightly ironic. He is putting down the religious folks who feel money (apparently American money) should be directed to the conversion of the world instead of building things like railroads. The writer points out that without technology being developed, like the railroad, missionaries would not be able to reach their audiences, which is a good point. However, he takes it a step further in saying that 'railroads and railroads alone' are what will civilize India and China and bring 'proper' Christianity to people etc. This is where the writer starts grasping as railroads bringing missionaries and Bibles probably wouldn't singlehandedly stop massacres from occurring. In fact, as the next excerpt on buffalo and the railroad points out, railroads and other technology can actually help to start massacres. In this instance, railroads brought whites to Native American land and helped to destroy entire ways of life. Obviously there is the question of to what end should progress be pushed in the whole early American technology phase.- Lauren Milner

The Plenty Coups memoir stuck out to me the most out of all of the articles. You see a lot happening in that one trip east -- you get a glimpse at how horrible road conditions were during early travel (especially out west) when Plenty Coups mentions the muddy ground after/during the rainstorm, and how much quicker it seemed to be on a train than in a coach. Although it was maybe going only 25mph, it obviously was much more convenient and that is evident in Plenty Coups discussion of "outdistancing the birds." But you can also see how the railroad almost became a tool for the white population of America to expand westward. It was a machine that entranced the Native American population (much like rifles earlier on) and it was almost a way to manipulate them into saying "sure thing, go ahead and rip my tribe to bits and build track on my land." It's interesting to see how much was actually going on at this time and what all resulted from this railroad craze. -Kelly W.

These essays about RR expansion gave my thoughts a different view on this time in American history. In class on tuesday gave me the impression that all was well with the RR expansion and that there were really no negative effects. Either I didnt focus on them or wasnt listening to it. The Plenty Coups Travels to Washington took my attention the most. The Native Americans were aware of what was going on and had an open mind towards it, but then in the end the Americans ruined it. It is more than an issue with the technological growth but as well as a disappointment to the Americans taking it so far. They had plenty of land, but took what belonged to someone else. I feel terrible for the Native American to work with the President on an issue and keep the agreement, but for the President not to follow through with his word is a disgrace. --Maggie Wroe

After reading the Native American pieces at the end, I began to wonder if this was really about railroads or about broader systems of oppression. It seems like the buffalo would have been decimated and the tribes in Yellowstone undermined with or without the railroad- perhaps the railroad sped up these affects, but I feel like they were inevitable. -- Matt Struth

I found the artcile on "Railroads and Russian Peasants" to have a American pride theme to it. The author quotes very large numbers and talks of how the American locomotive could influence a reform and which would cause the freedom of the many Russian peasants that occupy the land. - Melissa Graham

The editorial, "...to float upon this tide," suggests that the need for technology is finally realized. The author writes of how in his past a person needed to make due with his resources and support himself, along with his family, with his strength and craftsmeanship. The author goes on to say that it wasn't like that anymore and that people needed to understand the technology so that they can manage the unskilled worker to do the work for them. For it's the person who manages others that will remain on top. - Melissa Graham

I thought the "Moral Influence of Steam" was a very interesting article. It not only put forward its own arguements but it also put forward those of its opposition and attempted to answer them. I particularly found the reasoning of the peaceful uses of steam quite good, and that if steam ever was misused it would be on the hands of men, and that they would have to fix it. - Brian Brown

The article "Railroads and Missionaries" was very interesting, especially when compared to the situation of events today. Today, religion and science are put at odds nearly constantly in both the media and schools. The article states that religion and science work together and that the advancements science has made evangelism more widespread and more successful. Additionally, the article put forward the claim that anything that brought up contension between the two was the work of the devil. -Brian Brown


Do not comment in this section. We'll use the following links during class, if we have time.--Dr. M

Week 4--RR in American Art
Week 4--Charles Dew article
Week 4--Primary Sources on Steam, Space and a New World Order