On the morning of May 10, 1869, the rail lines of the Union Pacific Railroad joined those of the Central Pacific to form a single transcontinental route. As he commemorated the moment in poetry, Bret Harte wondered:

What was it the Engines said,
Pilots touching,–head to head,
Facing on the single track,
Half a world behind each back?”

Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

If those Engines had any foresight, they were talking about the ways in which the transcontinental railroad, and the entire railroad network, inaugurated a national transportation and communications system, a truly trans-continental marketplace for the passage of goods, a much larger-scaled industrial capitalism than ever before, and a larger-scaled labor movement to oppose it. They were discussing the various groups whose lives were transformed and in some cases destroyed by the railroad: immigrant railroad workers and settlers of the West, Plains Indians, bison, and captains of industry. That rail line made possible the mass settlement of the West, and, as those who conceived it may have predicted, it changed the course of American history.

At each of the summer 2017 workshops, participants will study the significance of the transcontinental railroad through historic sites in Sacramento and day trips to Donner Pass (90 miles east of Sacramento) and to the San Francisco Bay Area with visits to Stanford University (117 miles west) as well as San Francisco’s Maritime National Park.