Today was the final day of the American Studies Seminar. I gave my presentation on my project last week, and the final six members of the class still needing to present did so today. At the end of class, I handed in my final project! I chose to focus on the innovation of the railroad in the 19th century, focusing on its technology, economics, and regulation. The following excerpt from my paper, which appeared as the introduction, gives great insight into what my project contained:
The addition of the Railroad to society incited some of the most drastic changes to the world in the 19th century. It took a world in which people traveled at lethargic paces by power of foot, horse, or boat, and sped up their pace exponentially. The transition from these forms of transportation to the stereotypical usage of the train was not a smooth one though. To start with, the technology necessary needed to be invented and perfected. For example, without the power of the locomotive, the railroad would not have had nearly the same effect on transportation, economics, and society. Additionally, society as a whole had to make the decision to implement the railroad as the main means of transportation. Though in retrospect it seems like this should have been a straight forward decision, there was a heated debate amongst the general public when deciding whether to implement the canal or the railroad. At the same time, the issue of railroad funding came into question. People openly argued between the railroad being funded and operated by the government or private firms. Finally, after the railroad actually came into use, various problems arose along with the positive effects it resulted in. The railroad greatly improved commercial endeavors, but also raised vast economic concerns such as price discrimination, monopoly, and other railroad abuses. Though some of these concerns, such as monopoly, were misconceived as problems by the public, some actually were issues and as a result warranted regulation. Thus, the final stage of implementing the railroad was how these issues came to be, or should have been, regulated by the government. As will be demonstrated via various primary and secondary sources, the railroad followed a bumpy path, begun by technological advance, to altering the economic and political aspects of society. This started with its early history and technological advances, followed by the widely debated choices about its implementation and funding, and the eventual issues that arose and needed regulation.
As the final paragraph of my paper shows, I came to the following conclusions:
In conclusion, the railroad has a long and winding history. It started as something incapable of functioning as society wanted with the tram-road, and, with the help of technological advancement, became a society altering entity once it was chosen over the canal as the future of transportation. This brought about an immense amount of positive effects both in society and commerce, but it also brought about issues such as the debate over subsidization, concern with monopoly, and price discrimination from too much competition. In the end, the government needed to step in to solve the railroads problems, but it largely failed. Instead of realizing that pooling and monopoly were the perfect means to stabilizing the railroad industry, it attempted various other types of regulation. But, in the end, pooling was the perfect answer to solving many of the issues with railroad despite the issues this presents in terms of economic theory.
I used many fantastic sources from the AAS, many of which were pamphlets written at the time these events were occurring. These helped me to come to these conclusions. Overall, the experience of participating in this seminar was both enjoyable and extremely educational. I thoroughly enjoyed my research into the railroad as it allowed me to utilize both my history and economics majors, while also finding interesting and intriguing primary sources. It was definitely cool to be able to research my topic from original primary sources. Overall, my experience with the AAS American Studies Seminar could not have been any more enjoyable or academically interesting and beneficial. I am very happy to have participated in and experienced it!
Best, Jason Duke