Last night there was informal junior faculty mixer at a local restaurant in the old train depot that’s near our campus. Since I do love me some trains, I was thrilled with the venue. And at one point in the evening when my social veneer had dropped a bit, I began to reveal just how fascinated I am by railroads (for those of you who don’t know me, let’s just say that when I bought my kids a toy wooden train set it was probably more for me than for them–and I won’t reveal here how much I enjoyed setting up elaborate railway systems around our living room)…
In the midst of my railroad enthusiasm a colleague mentioned to me that I should construct a ‘travel course’ around the theme of 19th-century American railways (my university offers many very popular travel courses during the interterm and summer) with Chicago as the ‘hub’ of the course. In that vein, here’s my idea:
We would take the train into Chicago, following in the footsteps of so many Americans during the 1890s who were using that mode of transport to get to the ‘big city.’ Depending on time constraints we might take the Coast Starlight up to northern California and then the California Zephyr all the way into Chicago. If that was too much train-time, we could fly to Denver and take the train from there.
We’d use HistoryPin to map historical happenings and perhaps also Hypericities (which I’m hoping will have a mobile-device component soon) to drill down through layers of spatial history as we navigate the contemporary spaces.
My questions for you:
Do you have any suggestions of readings or of tools that I should use for this hypothetical class?
If you were leading a travel course where would you take your students?
What advantages can you see of actually going to the place that you’re studying rather than simply learning about it within a classroom setting?