The expansion of American railroading is a topic of great interest to me, mainly because of how it affected popular culture, material culture, politics, race relations, and the landscape. The second installment of "The Material Culture Minute" explores an object deeply tied (I will not apologize for that pun) to railroad history, a rail spike.
Below are two videos I've shown in class when discussing American rail culture. Both are the famous song about John Henry, the steel-driving man, but done in two completely different ways. The first is by George Pegram and is done in his traditional old-time way. The second is from the great bluesman, Mississippi Fred McDowell. I like students to listen to both and hypothesize why two different cultures embrace John Henry as an integral part of their folk music.
Remember, all TMCM episodes are available by selecting the link on the blog and are free to use with a Creative Commons Attribution license in your classroom, if you would like. Also, be sure to check out the TMCM #2 Resources for a transcript, links to accompanying resources, and class discussion questions. This is primarily a resource for use in my classroom next year, but you are welcome to use it to increase object-based history inquiry in your room as well.
Thanks and keep driving,