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The American Transportation Revolution

A Social and Cultural History

Aaron W. Marrs

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A history of steamboats and railroads in the United States prior to the Civil War.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, transportation in the United States underwent an extraordinary transformation. Steamboats and railroads turned long-distance travel from an arduous undertaking into a regularized commodity: travel became something that people could purchase. Historians have long understood the economic and political ramifications of improved travel, but the social and cultural dimensions of early steam transit are less studied. In The American Transportation Revolution, Aaron W. Marrs...

A history of steamboats and railroads in the United States prior to the Civil War.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, transportation in the United States underwent an extraordinary transformation. Steamboats and railroads turned long-distance travel from an arduous undertaking into a regularized commodity: travel became something that people could purchase. Historians have long understood the economic and political ramifications of improved travel, but the social and cultural dimensions of early steam transit are less studied. In The American Transportation Revolution, Aaron W. Marrs explores the cultural influence of steamboats and railroads, which fascinated Americans across the country.

Demonstrating the wide cultural reach of steam transit, Marrs draws from an eclectic set of sources, including children's books, comic almanacs, musical works, sermons, etiquette guides, cartoons, and employee rulebooks. This rich tapestry of cultural production helped "naturalize" steam technology for Americans before they ever encountered steam transit in person. Before ever seeing a railroad, Americans could read a novel that took place on a railroad, see an image of a train on currency, or purchase piano music imitating a train. These cultural artifacts made these new forms of transport feel familiar and natural.

Marrs examines how cultural norms about travel emerged through the prescriptions of etiquette authors and the actions of travelers themselves, how enslaved people made innovative use of transportation networks to escape from slavery, and much more. Marrs convincingly demonstrates steam transportation's broad cultural impact on the United States, and how Americans, in turn, imprinted their own meaning on this new technology.

Reviews

Reviews

The adoption and spread of steamboats and railroads rapidly and profoundly influenced antebellum American culture and experience. From published and private sources, Aaron Marrs traces their effects on language and the arts, on race and gender, and on religion and childhood, offering an important account of the implications of technological change.

Incorporating an expansive range of primary source material, Marrs captures the transformative power of steam transit in the antebellum period. The result is a rich account of how the impacts of new technologies are shaped by complex webs of experience and meaning-making. As stream transit remade antebellum American culture, American culture—in a variety of forms and with a diverse range of voices—pushed back.

This new book about the transportation revolution is truly fresh, smart, and fun to read. Aaron Marrs imagines steam transportation as a holistic phenomenon that profoundly reshaped the lives of antebellum Americans. He has scoured the archives through seven topical lenses, producing lively reports from an extraordinary sweep of sources. Marrs's approach infuses an old story with something of that urgency and human interest that contemporaries knew firsthand.

The development of steam power induced a profound change in human mobility. With detailed analysis and lucid prose, Aaron Marrs shows how steam became interwoven with every aspect of American society and culture. In children's books, slave narratives, religious tracts, and casual conversations, Americans came to terms with the new technology and made it their own.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
280
ISBN
9781421448497
Illustration Description
16 halftones
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1: Community Relations
Chapter 2: Travel
Chapter 3: The Arts
Chapter 4: Religion
Chapter 5: Black Passengers
Chapter 6: White Women Passengers
Chapter 7: Children
Conclusio

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1: Community Relations
Chapter 2: Travel
Chapter 3: The Arts
Chapter 4: Religion
Chapter 5: Black Passengers
Chapter 6: White Women Passengers
Chapter 7: Children
Conclusion
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Aaron W. Marrs, Ph.D.

Aaron W. Marrs (WASHINGTON, DC) is a historian at the US Department of State. He is the author of Railroads in the Old South: Pursuing Progress in a Slave Society.