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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lessons on Railroads and their Impact

Remember that survey many of you took to identify the top ten events in Montana history? When I asked folks to take the survey, I promised that I would write up blog posts on resources for teaching some of our collective top tens. So, as promised, here's the first installment on teaching resources--this one on the railroads, which tied for first place with the discovery of gold with sixty out of eighty votes. (More on the results here.)

As always, a good starting place for lesson plans is the Montana: Stories of the Land Companion Website and Teachers Guide, where we've not only posted free PDFs of every chapter of our award-winning middle school textbook, but have also posted worksheets and links to lesson plans and other interesting web resources. For railroading, you'll want to see Chapter 9: "Railroads Link Montana to the Nation, 1881-1915."

My favorite lesson plan associated with this chapter is a PowerPoint lesson we created called "Railroads Transform Montana," which emphasizes the how trains affected the social, economic, and physical landscape of Montana.

Railroads are important for many reasons, including their effects on Montana tribes. Most of the treaties and agreements negotiated were negotiated by the government on behalf of the railroads. A worksheet that emphasizes this can be found in the Chapter 9 material. The American Memory Project has put up maps that document the Indian Land Cessions from 1784-1894 (U.S. Serial Set 4015). You can browse by tribe or by state/territory. I've never had much success using these maps--but you might be more technologically adept than I am (and more map literate--maps are a weakness of mine.)

Looking for information on some of the Chinese and Japanese workers who constructed much of the railroad? The Mansfield Center for Pacific Affairs created a 29 minute video, From the Far East to the Old West: Chinese and Japanese Settlers in Montana. If you can still play VCRs, check your library. Copies of the video and study guide were distributed free of charge to all Montana public schools.

The Mansfield Library created an online exhibit called  Immigrant Montana. In the section "The Iron Horse Cometh," it included many railroading relating documents, from pamphlets to payroll accounts.

Another reason the railroads were so transformative is because of its promotion of homesteading. Here you can find a link to the full text of a Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Montana Homesteading Brochure (plus some background information), and here you can find Great Northern "Map of Montana's homestead lands: taken from records of United States land offices at Glasgow, Havre, Great Falls and Lewistown, January 1914" (which is half informational map/half sales brochure).

Of course, railroads were essential to the development of the mining industry. I haven't been able to find a lesson plan on this specifically, though we do touch on it in the "Railroads Transform Montana" PowerPoint.

Often overlooked when talking about railroads are the short lines. Jon Axline's article, "Something of a Nuisance Value: The Montana, Wyoming & Southern Railroad, 1905-1953," published in Montana The Magazine of Western History's special Transportation Issue, looks at the history of one Montana shortline. And we've even created discussion questions for it to make it easy to use in a high school class.

Are there any great resources I've missed? If so, send them my way and I will share in a later post.









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