Using the railroad as a common point of reference, this workshop will expand your understanding of Gilded Age history and culture. We will explore how the Transcontinental Railroad inaugurated a national transportation and communications network, a truly national marketplace for the passage of goods, a much larger-scaled industrial capitalism than ever before, and a larger-scaled labor movement to oppose it. 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. The 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. We will come to see the railroad as the connection between economic, social, environmental, and cultural systems, and as a useful device for teaching the era.

Each session of this NEH Landmarks workshop will begin on a Sunday evening with a reception and tour of the Sacramento History Museum and conclude Friday afternoon after a week of stimulating workshops, talks, and field work. Over the course of the six days, academic historians, museum professionals, and educational leaders associated with The History Project will lead NEH Summer Scholars on an investigation of the transcontinental railroad from its conceptual origins, through feats of labor and engineering, and on to its social, political, and economic impact during and after the Gilded Age. Historic Old Sacramento, a unique 28-acre National Historic Landmark District and State Historic Park located along the scenic Sacramento River, provides an incomparable backdrop for our workshop. The California State Railroad Museum will host much of our work. Other sessions will be held at the Crocker Art Museum and the Leland Stanford Mansion. We will also take two day trips: the first following the tracks of the first transcontinental railroad into the Sierra; the second to UC Davis to explore their Special Collections and research in the archives.

Although we’ll use an online learning platform to collect, share, and discuss resources, no previous experience with educational technology is required. Consider this an opportunity to experiment online in a supportive environment. Together, we’ll assemble a collection of images, text, video, and your own writings. This archive will become an increasingly valuable as you work to transform the workshop experience into curricular activities using materials and concepts from the workshop. You’ll leave Sacramento with these plans well underway and then polish them in the month that follows. Check out a few of the curriculum projects developed by NEH Summer Scholars in 2013 and 2015 here.