Railroad Writing Assignment

Professor Kurt Kinbacher

Spokane Falls Community College


Due: August 13

Railroads transformed the very fabric of American society in the nineteenth century. Your text suggests they “opened vast new areas of the American interior to settlement” while stimulating resource use, commercial farming, and manufacturing (Foner, 308). In a cogent essay, consider the following question:


How did the growth of Railroads transform the South and West between 1828 and 1877?

a. How did railroads influence settlement in both regions?

b. How did railroads influence the economy in both regions?

Your essay will be based on your explorations of the Railroads and the Making of Modern America website – link attached – and the Foner text. Chapter 9 and Chapter 11will perhaps be the most helpful.


Make sure you answer all parts of the question. Define your regions. West during the era could include the Mississippi River Valley and the Great Plains, not yet west of the Rocky Mountains.

Tips on using the website: I have prepared a virtual tour of the website that you can access through the following link.


Should there be access issues to the tour: The website is organized into “Views” that contain maps, graphs, charts, and written analysis from the site’s architect; and “Documents” contain primary sources including illustrations, diary entries, booster reports, and other accounts that may be of interest.

Possible Views to consider –

Northern Expansion in the 1850s”

Land Sales in Nebraska”

Technology and the Expansion of the US South”

The Growth of Slavery and Southern Railroad Development”

Southern Railroads and Freight Traffic”

Passenger Mobility in the 1850s”

SPECIFICS: Your finished essays should be 3 to 4 pages, prepared in Word 1997-2003; Word 2007; or Word Perfect 7 or later. Courier or Times New Roman preferred. Please include your name on the essay. No other information is required.

STYLE: A title is helpful. The first or second paragraph should contain your thesis statement -- you want to tell me the topic and scope of your essay succinctly. Paragraphs should develop a single theme. Spelling and grammar are taken into account in the grading.

CITATIONS: For our purposes, intent is as important as form in citing sources. Parenthetical citations are fine for this assignment. If you already use footnote form, you may continue to do so.

You will want to cite the author and page number for all quotations and important references from your text. For example, “People, ideas, and goods flowed back and forth across the Atlantic, knitting together the empire and its diverse populations” (Foner, 121). Citations should include paraphrased information. For instance: Foner suggests that loyalists, despite American treaty promises, were poorly treated following the Revolution. In places, they even lost their lives for their political beliefs (Foner, 225).

Citing the website will be a little trickier. If the “page” you are referencing has a title, cite that. When in doubt, the title of the View you are using will due as I am familiar with all content involved.

DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. In its extreme form, plagiarism amounts to taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. In this day of cut and paste it is easy to do, but it is neither ethical nor acceptable. If you are caught plagiarizing on this assignment, you will fail the entire class and be directed to the appropriate officials for further disciplinary actions.

Writing an Essay – A Primer -- History 136:

There are no hard and fast rules to writing a successful essay. If you have already found a successful method, by all means feel free to keep using it. If you are looking for a little guidance consider the following:

  1. Introduction—one or two paragraphs. (Good paragraphs contain at least three related sentences each. You should state an idea and then expound upon it.)

-- Get the reader’s attention. Sometimes a good quotation can be helpful.

-- Give an overview of what you plan on writing about. Place your essay within the scope of the course

-- Make a THESIS STATEMENT. In one or two sentences, describe the main point of your essay.

-- Be sure you are answering the question asked.

B. Essay Body: At least 3 well-developed paragraphs. Generally, the essay body will contain descriptive and analytical components.

-- Analysis. You are interpreting history in your essay by telling a story. The question will give you clues about how best to analyze the subject. For example, you may be asked to “compare” or make a historical judgment be assessing a particular event, idea, of group of people.

-- Description. Extrapolate on your thesis by making interpretive statements to support it. Specific historical facts and events support your analysis. You want to be selective. Choose examples that support your argument. Be accurate – dates and specifics are part of history. Include enough examples to make your case.

C. Conclusion—1 or 2 paragraphs.

-- Sum up what you have been discussing.

-- Bring the discussion back around to your thesis.

-- Broaden your thesis – where could it go beyond what you have written.

D. Tips on Writing.

-- State things using action verbs rather than asking questions and then answering them.

-- Your authorship is implied. Although the rules seem to be changing, traditionally historians avoid using “I,” “me,” and “in my opinion.” Similarly, “I think” is implied.

History 136

Railroad Writing Assignment Rubric

Thesis Development: Author makes clear thesis statement and effectively develops their essay around it. Author places discussion within time perimeters of assignment. (10 points.)

Analysis: Author constructs a cogent narrative that defines and analyzes four aspects of the assignment. (60 points total.)

--South: Settlement (15)

Economy (15)

--North: Settlement (15)

Economy (15)

Sources: Author appropriately uses Foner text and Railroads and the Making of Modern America website (20 points.)

Prose Style: Essay complete with proper punctuation, spelling, and evidence of proof reading. Narrative flow effective.

(10 points.)