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State of Alabama. October. 2nd. 1866.

[Detail] State of Alabama. October. 2nd. 1866.

The primary source materials of Railroad Maps, 1828-1900 provide students with first-hand evidence of several important aspects of nineteenth-century American history. Students can explore the development of railroad transportation, military campaigns, the growth of the nation, industrialism, and tourism. Because students can find evidence of these historical topics for themselves in the collection's maps, they will gain a lasting comprehension of what they discover.

1) Railroad Transportation

For a good introduction to the collection, students can study the introduction of railroads to the United States and its impact, from its most fundamental significance to its more sophisticated meaning.

Trains introduced new innovations in the continuing search for the easiest way to move large loads of passengers and goods quickly and efficiently from one place to another. The train linked together several cars or vehicles into one long caravan. This linking was made possible by the use of tracks or roads of rail to guide the train behind the pulling engine. The locomotive was thought of as concentrating the pulling power of many horses into one entity, and thus rated by degree of "horse power". Students can better appreciate these and other changes introduced by the railroad, by examining maps of their choice from the collection's Title Index. They can also search on the name of their home town or state, or on the name of major American cities to find maps of places with which they are familiar. Ask students to find basic information from the maps such as:

  • How many rail lines are depicted on the map? Are they all operated by the same company?
  • Where do rail lines start and end? Through what cities do the trains travel?
  • Noting the date of the map, what types of trains possibly ran on the routes shown? For example, were they likely to be steam powered or electric?
  • What other forms of transportation are depicted on the map?
  • Do the rail lines depicted on the map still exist today?

Then students can look with more depth to find evidence of

  • How railroads were used
  • How widespread their use and impact was
  • The creation of railroad companies
  • The relationship between railroads and urbanization patterns

For additional transportation maps, students can browse the Title Index for the Transportation and Communication section of Map Collections: 1500-2004.

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