Week 4 Questions/Comments

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19 responses to “Week 4 Questions/Comments

  1. I found this quote on page 75 in McEvoy’s article to be particularly interesting, “Environmental history portrays nonhuman nature as an active player in human history”. McEvoy is stipulating that humans cannot exist without the nature around them. He also introduces the idea of nature as a progressive entity. This means that there is a progression from “natural ” to “built” environments. This is difficult for some, because they value the idea of nature above all else. It then becomes more about industrialized nature rather that a natural environment. Similar to most issues, politics can be an important factor in trying to manipulate the surrounding environment.

    I also found the Bowers article to have a very compelling argument. Even though labor was needed to run machines it was interesting to see how much accidents could actually cost. The machinery being used was extremely dangerous, but to some employers, workers were not seen as indispensible and instead dispensable.

  2. I found both stores, McEvoy and Bowers very interesting with talking about injuries in the workforce and how many problems they can cause. As McEvoy states on page 77, “In many fields, it seems, accidental events and unforeseen consequences of planned activities have taken on new importance in our understanding of the world.” As incidents are occurring it is costing money, and raising many new questions. As a result, around the turn of the century legal documents, and workers’ compensation was brought about I found it very interesting how injuries in the work place were not looked at differently and people weren’t to think of the injury rates as “normal” anymore.
    Edison Bowers entry made me stop to think as he explained how expensive injuries really were. He mentions on page 102 about the many causes for injuries such as to say, “certain part of the blame is due to the negligence of the employee; another part is due to the failure of the employer to provide proper working conditions, tools and equipment, and so forth; and all injuries not thereby accounted for are thought of as being nobody’s fault.” This made me wonder many questions such as how did they come up with their standards? What were some of the goals they had on lowering the injury rate, and how were they going to go about doing so?
    With setting just high limits and expectations its makes me wonder how it was all brought out and what some of the questions were that were asked and agreements were made. Bowers talks in his documents about changes that were being made, and how it was going to reduce accidents however, he does not go into much detail.

  3. The article on railroads in art was very interesting because it documented and actually showed how the depictions of trains in art have changed since they were first introduced. At the beginning, trains represented great progress and the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny. The landscapes the trains passed through, as well as the trains themselves, were romanticized. Even the negative aspects, like derailments and hunting buffalo to extinction, were well documented in art and photography. (In fact, to this day the city of Danville has a mural depicting the the Old ’97.) As time passed, rail roads were depicted as less of a symbol for progress and more of a nostalgic reminder of past times.

  4. As the descendant of immigrants who made their way in America by working in the rail yard of Altoona, I found Danly’s exploration of the railroad in American art especially interesting and relevant. Besides dolls, miniature trains were my and my siblings’ first toys, and I had ridden a train several times before ever finding myself on a plane. Trains continue to fascinate me and my family in a way similar to what Danly described as sentimentality for a “simpler” time. Visiting my family in Altoona, there was always something quaint about the rail town, as if it were trapped in the past, and I found the track-marked mountains endlessly poetic.

    And yet, as Danly illustrates with several examples, trains were hardly an example of pastoric art. Especially in the 20th century, trains and the rail industry were portrayed in conjunction with scenes of grim destruction or lonely dislocation. Sometimes, they were a symbol of the dangerous, unstoppable human urge to conquer and destroy nature, instead of coinciding harmoniously.

    The artistic representation of the trains are also cultural representations of the technology, showing how attitudes and social perceptions can change along with evolving technology.

  5. I really liked the sentence McEvoy used to describe the relationship between humans, technology and nature. As he wrote, “Technology is the tangible instrument of the process: it is the point of interaction between the human and the natural” ( McEvoy 76). This idea that technology is what helps link us to the natural world is an idea I wholeheartedly agree with. As people we can surround ourselves with nature to but actually interact with it and immerse ourselves we need to a tool to bridge the gap. Technology in this case is the answer to how to better interact with the environment and has helped us come a long way to understanding how it works. With that said I do think it is important to emphasize the overall point that when used incorrectly or without care accidents can and will happen. We need technology to better understand certain things but with that we also must learn to respect and appreciate the way technology works.

  6. “The Workplace as an Ecological System” was a title that excited me, for I’m an environmentalist and also get excited by weird analogies and comparisons. I was hoping for something along the lines of “if one cog doesn’t turn right, nothing will work and productivity will end,” but instead, the article was much more about the worker’s body’s and industrial accidents. I’m all about stopping those, but I was a tad disappointed about the different subject of the article. I do have to say that an important topic touched on in this article was how we constantly separate ourselves from nature, as though technology and the natural world are two completely different concepts. In reality, they completely shape each other; if there were no trees, we wouldn’t have created the axe in the way that we did. If we didn’t have natural resources, we couldn’t create the axe itself.

    Moving on to the Danly article…paintings are pretty. I was intrigued by the painting and the section that depicted the railroad obscuring the Native Americans view of wilderness. That seems like a really shitty consequence that of course they had no control over. It always seems that our advancements always come at a major price to some group of minorities and that’s just a shitty thing to have happen. Our idea of progress should begin to evolve to include the happiness and wellbeing of others. Most of these paintings depict a change to an industrialized nation, but not all are necessarily negative. It’s easy to see that many people would have many different opinions on this new form of transportation and what it means for their way of life.

  7. In the Purcell reading I was most interested in the two sections that focused on workplace accidents, by McEvoy and Bowers. Specifically I was intrigued by Bowers’s section, which focused on who is the source of blame for accidents. The articles short anecdotes really helped me understand the ways that the blame could be attributed.
    However that all said the article by Danly was also very engaging. I had known about quiet a few of the paintings before reading the article, but had never considered them in their real context as Danly presents it. The article forced me to analyze the importance of how railroads were depicted for a sort mass media in a way I had simply not considered before.

  8. Alli Leibowitz

    I enjoyed reading the article on how trains are represented in art. I found it interesting how the representations of trains have changed so much over time. I was also surprised to read how trains were most prominent in art during the early 20th century. I had the impression that trains would be more popular in art during the mid-late 19th century. I felt like this article also exemplifies how important examining art can be from a historian’s standpoint. Trains in art were used to represent and promote a variety lifestyles–whether it be the busy city life or a more pastoral train ride through the untouched wilderness of the west. The art selected also showcases the change in the use of trains over time.

  9. The Danly article was interesting because most people don’t often think about the historical importance of what is featured in art. I found the quote about paintings of trains being an embodiment of Manifest Destiny a good way to describe how pivotal art is in capturing a time period – both with images and by capturing the spirit of the times.
    In the McEvoy articled, I loved the quote about technology allowing us to interact with nature. It often seems like people view technology and nature as two completely seperate entities that cannot coexist peacefully. It’s better to think of technology as a way to better understand our environment and to use technology to protect nature (unlike we tend to do.)
    Bower’s appeal to cost seemed like a way to entice factory owners to care more about safety, but I’m not sure how well that actually worked since safety regulations were sketchy at best for a long time.

  10. Andrew Boswell

    This week’s Pursell reading on the working conditions reminded me of a certain phone app that I had to play for the Intro to Digital Studies. This app was called Phone Story and it showed the process of creating a smartphone. One of stages the app involves you having to catch workers that are trying to jump of the top of their work place a trampoline. Once you save the workers, they end up going back into their work place and try to commit suicide again. This specific stage really shows how “important” the employees of labor are to each business and as stated in the Pursell reading, injuries/“accidents” are costly and they cause a loss of billions of dollars. It seems like no matter what, there will always be factory employees that will be treated unfairly and over worked.
    If you are interested in seeing this game yourself go to phonestory.org

  11. I love how Danly’s selection of artwork not only reflects perceptions of the railroad, but also the broader culture. I find it particularly striking how the train symbolizes civilization or mediates between the wilderness and civilization in works of the 19th century. The train embodies period understandings of Manifest Destiny and the evolution of societies from savagery to civilization. I also find Danly’s inclusion of Burchfield’s “Gates Down” unusual as it is the only 20th century piece she selected that foreshadows futurism with its emphasis on masculinity, machinery, and speed. This contrasts many of the other 20th century works that depict man-made creations like the railroad from forlorn to hellish.

  12. I was not aware of how big of an impact trains had on the entire culture of America. Immigrants that were coming over were helping trains evolve and helping them become the best way to travel from the east to west coast, which in turn really pushed America’s “manifest destiny” feeling. Trains were also considered to be art in this time period, something I did not know at all and the reading explained as being very popular and a huge part of the unknown that was the west. Technology helped link the east and the west together, connecting the environment to the people who were not only building it but riding it. These readings heaped explain these points in a way I had not thought about before. Were Immigrants immediately put to work on the trains when they got here? What about if they did not speak english, how were they able to understand how to build tracks? Did they help standardize the train system?

  13. Mercia Spicer

    I really the Danly article because I liked the devil’s advocate she was playing. Railroads are have always been taught to me as such an innovative thing and ignored all the destruction it put on the environment as well as people. It was interesting to read about a new perspective. I also really enjoyed the Pursell readings though, mostly because I have never been in an environmental history class and therefore didn’t fully understand the definition. But again I thought many good points were raised that I hadn’t thought about before. For one it is interesting to make the human the environment. It was really crazy to me that company’s would just blame workers for an injury that occurred. I do agree that sometimes injury are inevitable but the fact that employers are blaming workers for being “careless” rather than realizing it is their fault really bothers me. I thought it was also interesting that the reading mentioned accidents are not always the result of the new technology but more the fault of the organization of the work place. In addition I thought it was interesting that union members give more priority to health and safety rather than wadge and benefits as the story is always told. It makes me wonder if possibly giving higher wadges and such is less costly than creating a safe work environment.

  14. Susan Danly
    I thought the railroad in America was good, considering I’m not really a big art fan, but even I thought this article was good. It was intresting to read about how pictures of the landscape of America and the railroad, really reflect what people of the time thought about the railroad and American expansion. We see portraits showing the railroad coming and bringing new technology for America and it people, we also see it as a show of American progress. Then how some artists decided to use their portraits to help fund the railroad and attack people like the Native Americans, by portraying them as people against progress, on the other end their where artist who painting the railroad as evil, like killing all the buffalo.
    The reading in Pursell was very interesting I did not even think you can look at how are societies and are work place could be an ecosystem. It is a fresh way to look at history. I also thought it was interesting that he was using the fact that is the conditions of the factories were not so bad, that we would not have improved on technology like we have today. That it was also mind blowing that by looking at peoples death in the factory we can find out things like the cost of mechanizing technology or the relationship between worker and manager.

  15. Author Arthur McEvoy believes environmentalism is a valid methodology one can apply to modern historiography. McEvory exemplifies “complex interactions between subjects and contexts. . . A particularly significant locus of contingency in the history of technology is industrial health and safety.” McEvoy next asserts occupational injury is as welcome as pollution. How exactly are these two presumably separated ideas easily connected?
    Environmental history, McEvoy argues, “portrays nonhuman nature as an active player in human history. Its fundamental insight is that nothing that people do is without causes and consequences . . . Technology is a means of interacting with nature therefore technology distinguishes humans from other animals.”
    Essentially, McEvoy is trying to draw a comparison between the unpredictability, limited understanding, and dangers found within nature to the misfortunes of the early industrial workplace. McEvoy claims three ways technology “structures the ecology of the workplace:” 1. posing hazards directly, 2. shaping the social organization that exposes workers to risk, 3. influencing society’s awareness of danger to its working population. These three points additionally describe interactions humans may have with the natural elements.

    Both nature and machinery pose direct threats. McEvoy alludes even natural disasters are less frequent than work related accidents. Technologies, both industrial and knowledge about the environment shape social organization by stratifying the society into risk takers and non risk takers. For example, some workers are willing to do factory work and others are inclined to wale hunt in stormy weather. Finally, a society could declare the safety disagreements however; we all know how stubborn individuals can be. Just as some try to surf the biggest wave in nature, others are willing to risk machinery work.

    -The “RR in American Art” collection displays technology within the environment. The connotation of these illustrations creates a feeling of despondent with ideas generally associated with encouragement. This means, technology is often thought of as the gateway to opportunity. In the portraits, opportunity is represented by the distant, lush, undeveloped land. The image of the train dejecting soot into the otherwise virgin environment is hard to analyze and draw conclusions of heartiness within society.

    -My Question:
    I believe one flaw with this argument is that animals use technology. Monkeys use rocks to open nuts… is this animal technological use because the monkey is interacting w/nature? what about beavers- is their dam architecture not technology? what is different about human technology and animal tech?

  16. I really enjoyed the Susan Danley reading on trains and art. It is common for artists to focus on current events, issues, and trends in their work, but this is something I think most of us tend to associate with contemporary artists, rather than historical artists. The reasons for artists including trains in their paintings, however, were much deeper than simply artists “painting what they saw.” For many of them, painting trains was a means of displaying both American identity and dominance, a popular ideology of the day. The reading shows that historical artwork can be equally as beneficial as other historical sources, because understanding why an artist chooses to portray something can give background and context to historical ideas and beliefs.

  17. This week’s readings were pretty much a reaffirmation for me in regards to how I feel about the history of the United States and how the railroads played such a huge part in that. You always have the people that don’t want things to change and fight to keep them the same and then you have the people that want to change to be a place that other countries want to emulate or keep up with. You could see that in the Fanny Frances Palmet painting on pg 18 where it shows the railroad chugging off into the bright blue sky with excited people watching it go by versus the Andrew Melrose painting on pg 19 where it was dark and the deer were trying to cross the train tracks to go into a forest that no longer exists as an oncoming train is dangerously close to them. It’s like the people fighting the change weren’t ready for the impact that railroads would make and people are scared of change because of the unknown.
    Not to mention that the railroads were essential to the “American Dream” under the guise of manifest destiny in that they allowed men to build financial empires in the United States but at the same time that dream was built by exploiting workers and consumers. It’s something seen over the course of U.S. history time and time again. The automobile industry and the music industry empires were also all built on the exploitation of workers and consumers but they had a great model to follow in the railroad industry. I think that the railroad industry is why our capitalist society is the way it is even today.

  18. I liked Susan Daly’s reading a lot actually. I never really thought about how railroads were depicted in art. I’ve always enjoyed looking at different artwork and this was nice because the pictures broke up the readings which made it flow easier. And the paintings varied throughout the reading. The paintings weren’t just of a train, they were landscapes with a little notion of a train but they were also just of trains. All of the paintings were so beautiful and great depictions of railroads.

    McEvoy’s essay was interesting as well. He brought out another issue that I never really thought about. Now I realize that accidents in the workplace were such a big deal. Today we have so many law that deal with workers’ rights but before all this regulation there wasn’t much. One particular accident that stuck with me was where the man was impaled in the steel industry because his boss wouldn’t buy the brakes for the cart. Throughout the essay he brings up good points about the changes in industrial safety since industry first began.

  19. The article with the paintings shows throughout history the impact transportation had on the American landscape. There are changes in the scenery and the colors used in the paintings.