Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2
This session moves the transcontinental railroads beyond the U.S. context in which they are usually studied and discussed. By bridging indigenous history, global history, settler-colonial studies, Asian American studies, and the history of technology, this panel recovers the U.S. transcontinental railroads as manifestations of imperial infrastructure. These railroads reached into indigenous nations within North America as they reached out toward the Pacific Ocean and Asia. They resembled colonial railroad projects elsewhere in the world. And they left a legacy of violence and erasure that Chinese and Chinese-American people have recently grappled with through historical and artistic re-enactments.
By emphasizing the global and indigenous dimensions of the transcontinental railroads, as well as their long historical shadows, the four papers on this panel depart from traditional narratives centered on the United States. Taken together, these papers show how critical evaluations of the U.S. transcontinental railroads can illuminate other aspects of U.S. history, from indigenous dispossession to globalization to memory and remembrance. This panel invites scholars to consider connections between steam technology, mobility, sovereignty, and violence, in both the past and present.