October 1, 2016
History of American Technology & Culture--Spring 2013
Prof. McClurken's HIST 325
Place your comments about Pursell, 73-91, 102-105; Susan Danly, The Railroad in American Art, 1-50 (see Readings page) in the comment field below.
The Pursell reading was intriguing and insightful to work place accidents and its drive for better technology and laws. But McEvoy’s argument cannot stop at just work place hazards but hazards that threaten us everywhere are a driving force in technology. For instance if we look at Fire Safety Technology, we can see how dramatic fires over the ages have led to various invention in the public’s safety against fire. The Great Fire of San Fransico led to placement of a fire hydrant system through out the city. If you look inside any public building you will notice all doors leading outside swing outward and breaker bars on them, this is the result of numerous fires where people could not open an inward swinging door because of mad rush everyone mad to the exit at once. Hazardous conditions and ecology have influenced technology everywhere and are not just limited to workplace accidents, but it is always interesting to see what “accidents” invoked the invention of a new technology or law.
The Danly readings were interesting however, we can see the true dangers of technology in the Pursell readings. True, we can see the not only the beauty and what makes railroads so intriguing to people, but what it hides is the danger and industry behind it. The Pursell readings help cast a light into that industry, and we can glimpse a view of what truly happened.
I had known before the reading the working on the railroad was not exactly a pleasant experience, but I had no idea as to the extent of the problem. I knew conditions were harsh, but I had no idea that much of it was caused by employers dehumanizing their labor and trying to force as much as it was by mistakes in factories or in the field. The idea that responsibility for workplace safety was fell only shortcomings of their employees (i.e. depression or simply “inattentive”) rather than inhumane working conditions, long hours, poorly made machinery, and companies sitting around making excuses rather actually doing something about the problem and trying to improve workplace conditions is not only sickening from a moral stand point, but seems like very poor long term business practice. .
I thought Danly did a great job picking out which pictures to use and her explanations were very insightful. The pictures of the trains and landscapes were beautiful and would seem to be very influential in getting more passengers aboard the trains. These pictures were meant to bring in more people to riding the trains, so they wanted to show the beauty of the railroads. However, after looking through these pictures, none of which would show the downside of riding in the trains. As we discussed in class, life for the passenger could be very uncomfortable and rather dangerous. The pictures failed to show the trains derailment or the smoke and fire flying into the faces of the passengers. During its early time period, its not surprising that these pictures would only show the positives. The railroads were a big business, so their marketing would want to be a pleasant and wonderful experience, not a smoke-filled, dangerous ride.
In the Pursell reading I found it the point that was made about how every technology not only gives rise to a particular ecology but also how every technology engenders “a politics.” I often think of technology as how it affects people’s abilities to manage certain situations but not how those situations effect a political environment, especially in the case of the Pursell example, nuclear power. My question then is this: What technology has incited the most significant political change? While this answer may be moot, it is still something to speculate about.
I found this week’s readings in Pursell’s American Technology particularly interesting. I had never before thought of people, urban towns, or technology as something ecological, but in reading Pursell, I realize it is. As was stated in the book, people are no different than trees or animals. As humans are ecological factors, injuries brought about by technology are just as much an “impact on environment/ecology” as say, the ax and the arrival of colonists was on the forests in Colonial America. I thought this reading provided an interesting new perspective and helped me to look at the interaction between people and technology in a new way.
The Pursell reading discussed the issue of work-related injuries in the context of economic history, which is very interesting. It also put more weight on the two sides of the legal issues brought on by these work-related injuries. While it was not necessarily surprising, it is still shocking to see how little employers have actually cared about their workers throughout time. In the name of progress and profit, employers have done everything in their power to increase output which includes giving little attention to the safety of workers. On the one hand, there are various human errors such as inattention which may result in injury; however, especially in the 20th century, there were a great deal of errors on the part of the employer. Despite these errors, after the Farwell trial it was made virtually impossible for employers to be prosecuted in court. It is interesting to see how, in the course of about 100 years, rules and regulations regarding worker safety and worker’s compensation have constantly improved.
I like Pursell reading becasue it put a new perspective on the danagers of work accidents. I guess I always assumed that because labor was unskilled and population was high that there would be someone waiting in the wings to take an injuried man’s job. I was wonder at what point does saftely regulation come into play? Pursell says that some of the reasons why workers get injuried is becuase they are inattentive and depressed. Pursell makes it sound like it is the workers fault. However, I strongly believe that this “new” way of working (anonymity, unskilled, monotonous) causes the worker to be inattentive and depressed.
I thought Danly did a great job explaining how the railroad was perceived throughout its early history. Also how the railroad companies would employ artists to draw wonderful landscapes of trains and the scenic places they ran through. The thing that most of these artists left out was the fire and smoke that would flow over these places after the train went through, which made a lot of Americans think that railroads were just as amazing as the places they ran through. I think that these pictures are a big reason why the country had such different views about industrialization, they either saw the fire and smoke or they saw the paintings of grazing animals and thick forests next to where the train what passing through.
It was surprising that there was a ecological perspective of technology in the workplace. Usually it is assumed that technology and the environment are in direct opposition to each other. By putting the body in ecological terms rather than cultural terms, it diminishes the differences in cultural identity among different cultural groups. It was really significant to learn about the complex interactions between technology and the social/political world around it.
Just like we discussed in Tuesday’s classm Americans had either one of two views about the trains. Either the person hated the railroads or they loved them. The people who liked the railroads saw them as a triumph over nature. The people who disliked the railroads viewed them as a symbol of mechanization, dirt, and uncleanliness, perhaps destroying their lands and beautiful sceneries.
These two views are clearly displayed, in contrast, in Susan Danly’s readings. Although most people might argue that the artists were painting simply for a creative outlet or for financial needs, based off of the paintings in this reading, it seems the artist were trying to use them more as propaganda than anything else. Prime examples of this would be the George Inness and Andrew Melrose paintings. Inness’ painting is so clearly displaying how uninterrupted nature is due to the trains. How nature and the trains can intermingle without harming one another. “Inness could view the railroad as compatible with the landscape…in which cattle graze peacefully beside the tracks and a rainbow arches overhead. In this work the train becomes a symbolic pot of gold” (Danly 13). Where as Melrose’s painting is portraying the opposite idea, that it is impossible for nature and trains to co exist without one damaging the other.
Artists often use their painting as a way of expressing a person opinion, and hopefully inspiring someone else viewing their work to feel similar emotions. I wonder how much they were hoping to affect viewers with their work, or if they even thought it would be bought and displayed at all.
Nearly everyone has commented on the Triangle Fire and the idea that workers were naturally expendable. Susan Danly hinted in her last paragraph that humanity in its pursuit of “…power and freedom…” has barreled through only to look back and realize what that power and freedom cost. One of the messages I got out of reading the article was that industrialism and progress are seductive ideas which can cause us to lose sight of the sacrifices which are made to achieve them. Carrie mentioned that today we have organizations like OSHA which have improved the work environment and caused businesses to focus on the correct issues. However, as we look back at our past we must remember that in another 100 years the future may look back and wonder how we did not see things as they did. It shocks us to read about how injuries were an accepted part of industrialization, but we too often project ourselves on the past in some way. Nostalgia and sentimentality are comforting, but in order to really appreciate the past we have to see it through the eyes of those who witnessed those times. Susan Danly’s final paragraph reminds the reader that we must accept all aspects of the past in order to fully appreciate it.
The perspective that considers workplace injuries and fatalities as “natural and hence ineluctable” and corresponding to similar social problems resulting from industrialization (pollution, environmental decline, etc.) presents the question of what other aspects of industrialization listed above could also be considered as having the potential to be lowered if not completely prevented with the proper actions as is done with occupational safety laws? While the reading focuses primarily on the history of the workplace and its effects on workers could another such article be written and clearly demonstrate that the environment impacts of industrialization could also be reduced besides what is already present in today’s society (EPA, etc.)?
The Pursell reading opened my eyes to a whole new kind of history, environmental. I had only previously thought about history of the environment instead of environmental history. It does indeed have its own factors to study and analyze. While studying events in history, many people may not think of the environmental conditions or how they affect the situation. An example of this is during the Revolution and the winter at Valley Forge.
In the Pursell reading, I found it frightening that “accidents became a necessary evil” and that workers were seen as “appendages” to the overall machine. I remember watching a video once in some class about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and it was terrifying to think that employers could get away with locking their employees in while working. I was also surprised at how little action was taken after this incident, and that it still happens today (i.e. Pakistani Factory Fires). Furthermore, in the Pursell reading, it’s mentioned that employers weren’t held responsible because the danger was undiscovered and undiscoverable at the time, but what about when they do discover it? Factory conditions don’t seem to change very much even when everyone is aware of the injuries and deaths that occur.
I really enjoyed Pursell’s reading for this week. Pursell had good examples of factory injuries and surprisingly many were caused just by human negligence rather than the machine not functioning correctly. While humans were supposed to be adapting to the ever-changing and constant improvements on technology, companies and workers should have also been trying to improve work and safety conditions instead of waiting for tragic incidents to occur. Managers were more worried about profit rather than protecting their workers. Instead of seeing them as human beings I feel that the factories workers were looked at as organisms or property that had to adapt quickly.
After our class discussion today, I was excited about this week’s readings. In Danly’s reading and the pictures, I was interested by how some of the pictures placed the trains as part of the scenery and other scenes separated the two worlds. I enjoyed reading how some trains had cars dedicated to painting scenes from the train to lure the American public. This idea was brilliant and a good marketing strategy to try and entice those people who weren’t interested and supportive of the train. I did find some of the pictures to be too glorified and not realistic, such as the Theodore Kaufman’s Railway Train Attacked. This painting shows a group of native americans threatening the train on the tracks. Pictures like these are what kept racially barriers and stereotypes in place.
I really liked Pursell’s reading and found it a good contrast. I liked how she presented man and the work environment as one. She says the “biological heart is the worker’s body” and that really encompassed the work environment of the time. But as we all know, workers were mistreated. Why were they never able to assemble together and try to create better working environments. Was there something more they could have done to better the conditions?
I thought the reading by Pursell was particularly interesting this week. I am rather surprised that it took until the late
19th century for true reform to take place and people to become aware of this very important issue. This issue is still
relevant today, and although there is more protection for workers, the dangers of the workplace are still very much
alive. Throughout the reading a question arises in the case of a work related accident who should be truly
responsible the employee or the employer, and further how has this changed over time since the 19th century?
I thought the Danly article was very interesting in the way that some artists seamlessly incorporated the train into natural landscapes while others used the train as a dividing line between civilization and wilderness, industrialization and nature. After our discussion in class today, I began to wonder if maybe these two different ways of incorporating trains into American art were actually the two different views of trains and industrialization? One group saw industrialization as a natural process, while the other group saw it as infringing upon and changing nature.
I have always thought that workers comp would be something that evolved over time and that employers would consider the fact that it was a possibility. I was hoping the Triangle Fire was not the only way that people would “wake up” and realize that workers need some sort of protection. Not much has changed across the globe, with the power of unions constantly failing.
I thought the idea in the Pursell reading that work-related injuries were an integral, if unfortunate, part of the production process rather than accidents was very interesting; I hadn’t considered it that way before. I do wish he had gone into more detail about the outcome of industrial incidents like the Triangle Fire though. It made me wonder how, if at all, any of this has changed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries now that things like OSHA are very pervasive in American workplaces, and mass communication makes it possible for family and friends of workers to make their opinions widely known
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