November 29, 2011

Railroads and the Making of Modern America

Word Cloud of Official Correspondence of William T. Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign from Railroads and the Making of America.

I received a notice that the Yale University Press has published a new book called "The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War and the Making of Modern America" by Professor William Thomas. I will review the book after I get a chance to read it. In the mean time, Professor Thomas has put together a companion site at The University of Nebraska called Railroads and the Making of Modern America that is worth a look.

The University of Nebraska site has a great collection of data, maps, letters, photos and articles on the role railroads played in U.S. history from the earliest inception of railroads to the post civil war development. It has several interesting animated graphics that exploit the dynamic attributes of on-line presentations compared to static print.  For example you can watch the progress of the railroad construction in Nebraska as a function of time.

Some of their conclusions are surprising, especially about the role of the railroad in South's development. For example the site has a graphic that shows southern railroads at the time of the civil war reached more of their population, as measured by having a railroad within ten miles, than the northern states.

They have an excellent topic discussion on the USMRR. They really delved into the labor arrangements for the USMRR construction Corps, which is a subject I had been wondering about too. The timeline and accompanying map found at this page is pretty neat as it logs in time and place. An excellent use of web based graphics display.

Some of the graphics do appear to be done just because they can and not for their research value. There are some animated nodal diagrams that didn't convey much new information to me in spite of their animated aspect. But many were downright fascinating. I found the  "word clouds" particularly intriguing. Check out this one depicting Official Correspondence of General Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign. It gives you an immediate view into Sherman's state of mind.

Professor Thomas' website is well worth checking out if you have any interest in early railroads in America.

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