The Railroad Journey and the Industrial Revolution: Crash Course World History 214


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course
World History and today we’re returning to a subject that, could have an entire Crash Course
series all of its own: the Industrial Revolution. Mr. Green, Mr. Green, are you going to do
a whole series on the Industrial Revolution? Because that actually sounds really boring. Yeah, Me From the Past, no. I’m a little bit
busy. I’ve got this movie that’s about to film. So yeah, no. But, uh, we are going
to talk about like a specific and essential slice of the Industrial Revolution, that also
like pleases my four year old self a lot: Railroads! Choooga chooga choooga chooga choo choo! We’re going to be talking about a small book by
Wolfgang Schivelbusch called “The Railway Journey.” So in this Crash Course World History series
we’re talking a lot about a lot of different history books so that we can approach subjects
from a variety of angles. We want to try to introduce you to how exciting
history can be and also how unsettled it is. How many arguments there still are. So to be clear, I’m not saying I agree with
everything in this book – it’s one interpretation of a series of events. But it contains a ton
of interesting ideas, and it’s one of those books that makes you think differently about
the world. And it’s vitally important that we think
about the role technology plays in our lives including the technology of railroads. So railroads were these big, loud machines
that people hadn’t seen before, which makes them a pretty good metaphor for industrialization. Also, since not everyone worked in factories,
railways were one of the few places that both middle and upper class people came face to
face with industrial machinery. You know, if you were a factory worker that
stuff was around you all day everyday slowly killing your soul. But if you were, say, a
mortgage broker your work life hadn’t changed – it’s not like you had a computer. But the presence of railroads reminded you
that you were in a different world from that of your parents or grandparents. It wasn’t
just locomotion though, the railway itself changed the idea of an industrial machine
to include its surrounding infrastructure, right? You needed rails and these huge engines. You
needed timetables and organization. That encompassed everything that industrialization was about. And since railways changed the lives of middle
and upper class people, who tend to write a lot, we know a lot about them. And the change was definitely seen as radical.
For instance the phrase, “annihilation of time and space” was a pretty popular one
when talking about railways. This wasn’t just a fancy way of talking
about how railways sped up travel, but also the way that the railroad destroyed traditional
relationships with nature. I mean sometimes nature was literally annihilated
as when tunnels were cut through hills and depressions were graded to make the railroad as
straight as possible, “as if drawn with a ruler.” But railroads also shaped space and time in
a manner totally unprecedented in human history by, for instance, speeding up travel times
which shrunk the world. And then they expanded space by creating suburbs
and new towns. In a positive development for 99% of the population,
railroads changed space too by opening up previously inaccessible like vacation spots
of the wealthy. Then the wealthy migrated further away to
places only accessible by air travel like, I don’t know, Ibiza. But now Ibiza’s full
of Eurotrash because of inexpensive airlines. Where will the 1% vacation! Poor rich people that have to go to the Hamptons
which aren’t even that nice, they’re just really expensive.
And then there’s the fact that railroads literally changed time, or at least created
the standardization of time. Like before railroads, time in London was 4 minutes ahead of Reading,
and 14 minutes ahead of time in Bridgwater. Then in 1847 The Railway Clearing House – an
organization established to regulate rail travel – established Greenwich mean time
as the standard time on all rail lines, and in 1880 it became general standard time in
England. So to be clear, time as you know it is about as
old as the oldest living person in the world. But, the most obvious way that railroads changed
things was travel. Until railroads, all travel was powered by muscles – either animal or
human – so we had a sense of distance as defined by fatigue. Like when your horse died,
you had gone a long way. Or your horse like sprained a leg going down
a hill and you had to shoot it. Point being, for 250,000 years all power was
muscle power and unless you could like ride a cheetah you weren’t going to go faster
than about 20 mph. So babies could go really fast because they
can ride cheetahs, but adults, there’s no way, cheetahs weigh like 20 lbs. As Thomas
De Quincey put it: “When we are travelling by stage-coach at
the rate of eight or ten miles an hour, we can understand the nature of the force which
sets the vehicle in motion … and in the course of a day’s journey we can appreciate
the enormous succession of efforts required to transport a loaded vehicle from London
to a distant town.” Although to be fair, De Quincey’s ideas
about enormous effort may have been a bit skewed as he also wrote Confessions of an
Opium Eater Anyway, People were so comfortable with horses
that some even argued that horsepower was superior to mechanical locomotion because
horses relied more on renewable and easily obtained fuel. By the way, as you may see in comments there
is still a debate about whether horse power or railroads are more carbon efficient. Anyway, the romantics at the time saw railroad
travel as a “loss of a communicative relationship between man and nature.” And some also saw
the old technology – horses – as having like more soul. Mechanical travel was generally seen as a
definite economic win since it “rendered all transportation calculable,” and economists
love to calculate. Railroads also changed the way we looked at the world, like literally
through a window, with nature being this blur. And you can argue that like watching the world
go by through a static window kind of prepared people for motion pictures and television
where we stare at a screen that doesn’t move and watch a world that does. Now these noisy, coal powered trains affected
all the senses, but especially vision. As Victor Hugo described it in 1837, “the flowers by the side of the road are
no longer flowers but fleck, or rather streaks of red and white; there are no longer any
points, everything becomes a streak.” So many people experienced this landscape
as a monotonous blur, but for others it was something new and exciting. For Benjamin Gastineau,
the constantly changing view was thrilling: “in quick succession it presents the astonished
traveler with happy scenes, sad scenes, burlesque interludes, brilliant fireworks, all visions
that disappear as soon as they are seen.” That sounds like a great movie. All I see when I
look out the train window is the infinite abyss of meaninglessness, and then I pull out my phone and
open Floppy Bird and everything is okay again. And railroad travel also changed human behavior.
Okay let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Since looking at the landscape was no longer
the same experience, and, according to the medical journal The Lancet, “The rapidity
and variety of the impressions necessarily fatigue both the eye and the brain.” many
people turned to reading books on railroads. For starters, reading was a way for upper
class passengers to avoid having to talk with each other. European first and second class
rail cars were designed to mimic stage coaches, with passengers facing each other. Now, in
pre-railroad travel, you knew you were going to be stuck with whoever else was in your
stagecoach, so it was important to try to be nice and strike up a conversation. But
the short duration of railroad journeys discouraged the formation of rapport between travellers,
changing our habits and turning reading on the train into a necessity.
Rail travel also brought new fears, like when travelling at the speed of a cannonball, it
was hard to overcome one’s terror of a possible derailment. As Thomas Creevy put it: “It is really flying, and it is impossible
to divest yourself of the notion of instant death to all upon the least accident happening.” So that’s why I’m afraid of flying. And
to be fair railway accidents were common enough that physicians began to document cases of
“railway spine” a condition suffered by people who had come through railway accidents
with complaints of pain, but few or no signs of physical injury. By the end of the 1880s,
however, railway spine gave way as a diagnosis to “traumatic neurosis” reflecting new
ideas in psychology. Eventually, pathological explanations for what looks a lot like nervous shock
slipped away and only the psychological ones were left. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So new technologies
often bring new anxieties because change is terrifying. Remember how the internet was
going to bring an end to reading books? Remember how “e-learning” was going to
replace classrooms and there were going to be all of these “e-teachers” who would
replace your real teachers? But yeah, no, it turns out that real life
teachers are pretty great. Like Heinrich Heins wrote that railroads produced “tremendous foreboding such as we always
feel when there comes an enormous, an unheard-of event whose consequences are imponderable
an incalculable.” Fortunately, our new industrial world view
associated change with progress. Like this notion that humans move forward,
that children will have a better life than their parents did – that’s new. As… oh it’s time for the Open letter! But first let’s see what’s in the globe
today – oh no, it’s change. I hate change. An Open Letter to Progress: One of the reasons,
I think, we’re afraid of change is that change doesn’t really mean progress. For the vast majority of human history the
lives of children could be much worse than the lives of their parents. It depended on disease and
weather and kings – mostly on disease and weather. There was no idea that moving forward also
meant moving up. And I would argue that certainly innovation
has given us much to be grateful for, but there’s something to a reluctance to change. I love you progress and you have given me
much to be grateful for, but a gentle reminder: change doesn’t always mean progress. Best wishes, John Green. So as Schivelbusch puts it “new modes of
behavior and perception enabled the traveler to lose the fear that he formerly felt towards
the new conveyance.” “The sinister aspect of the machinery that
first was so evident and frightening gradually disappeared, and with this disappearance,
fear waned and was replaced by a feeling of security based on familiarity.” Huh, that sounds precisely like my relationship
with a phone that always knows where I am. New technologies often change the way people
live and perceive the world. Like one example would be the printing press. It made knowledge
and information available as never before. But it only really affected a small segment
of the population, at least initially. Industrialization was different in that it
had a profound effect on large numbers of people in a very short time. And since the
dawn of industrialization, the pace of this change and the enormity of its impact has only
increased like, well, like a speeding train I guess. Except it’s like a speeding train that gets
faster and faster until it reaches the speed of light – oh my gosh what a wonderful idea.
Somebody call Elon Musk. So for most of us the Internet is a technology
very much like the railroad. Like the railroad, the Internet in its earliest stages was both frightening
to detractors and exhilarating to its boosters. And like railroads it has both shrunk the
world, enabling me to communicate with you via, you know, the tubes – I don’t really
know how the Internet works. And it’s also changed our perception of time. Think about how much sooner you expect a response
to an email or text message vs a letter or even a phone call.
Think about the fact that you can order a phone from China and have it arrive at your door in a
week and that still feels like kind of a long time. In the age of the railroads to get a phone,
which didn’t exist, from China to Indianapolis would’ve taken months. To get that same
nonexistent phone from China to Indianapolis in 1700 would’ve taken more than a year.
And then you turn it on and there’s not even a cell network. And you’re like “This
is essentially just a brick. I waited more than a year and I can’t do anything with
it!” And once the battery dies you’re going to go to plug it in and oh right there’s
no freaking electricity! So yeah, the world is different. Now like
railroads there’s plenty of nostalgia about the time before the Internet when people supposedly
consumed less and talked to each other more because they weren’t constantly on their phones. But if railroad reading is any indication
we’ve been looking for ways to use technology to avoid interacting with each other in real
life for a long time. And we shouldn’t forget that railroads made
travel easier and opened up new vistas and made goods less expensive and brought people
closer together. And they also helped create the idea of nostalgia.
I mean without industrial production the nostalgia for pre-industrial methods of travel and manufacture
couldn’t exist. One of the best things about books like “The
Railway Journey,” is that they help us to draw parallels between the past and the present
and get us to focus on overlooked aspects of history, like what it meant for people
to ride on trains for the first time. Now our study of history shouldn’t be focused
too much on what we in the present can learn from the past, but trying to glimpse innovation
and change as those who lived through it saw it, well I think that can be very useful to those of us
living through a new technological revolution. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad and
Stacey Emigholz studio in Indianapolis, it’s possible because of all these nice people
who make it, and because of our Subbable subscribers. Subbable is a voluntary subscription service
that allows you to support Crash Course directly so we can keep it free for everyone forever.
Also you can get like, I don’t know, Mongol t-shirts, posters, DVD’s if you want to
support us. Regardless, thanks for watching and as we
say in my hometown, “thanks for being awesome. Wait, no, we say, “don’t forget to be
awesome.”

100 Replies to “The Railroad Journey and the Industrial Revolution: Crash Course World History 214”

  1. CrashCourse,
    You should expand this topic of industrial revolution into the automobile and road ways and examine how this tech affected everyones lives, including the ecosystem as well.

  2. "When studying history we shouldn't be too focused on what we in the present can learn from people in the past"

    I had to re watch this part to make sure I wasn't mishearing it. Isn't that the entire point?

  3. Does anyone else find it interesting that John Green has a grudge against rich people who read? A little ironic, since he's an author and has become VERY RICH off of people buying and reading his books. This guy is a liberal tool.

  4. So I am one of those "E-Teachers". Does that mean I am not a real teacher Mr. Green? Honestly, that was pretty offensive.

  5. To crash corse, the internet is a series of complex coding similar towards the ye olde tubes and no single man claims to make the internet, for we ALL have.

  6. The AP World History exams are over! Whooo! For any who have taken the exam you know exactly why I'm here.

  7. For my DBQ in just recited this video word for word, starting from "Hi, I'm John Green" and ending with "Best wishes, John Green." I think I got 7/7 🙂

  8. Why didn't anybody use wind for overland travel, like… giant carts with big sails? Is it as bad of an idea as it sounds?

  9. the train getting faster and faster till it reaches the speed of light is an old old thought. Physicists for years used this to try and explain a form of time travel

  10. I know this is a bit late, but really, John, that hair? I say this in good certitude that three+ years on you are appropriately ashamed of it, but if you aren't, we need to talk.

  11. Trains and other mechanized transportation have benefits, but they're one of many ways our species is poisoning the air we all breathe.

  12. Why do humans always try to isolate themselves whenever a new thing is invented like books were used by people to isolate themselves from others and today we use smartphones for the same purpose

  13. And who built those railroads John? Wich kind of labor was used? Put some balls on and tell the small but important details, this "progress" have their cost. CONTEXT FOR GOD SAKE

  14. Anyone noticed PewDiePie's brofist logo in the newspaper at 6:27?? John Green, I salute you. Sub to pewds

  15. 6:26 OMG 😱
    if you look at the news paper the man is reading, you will see that it has Pewdiepie's logo on it

  16. Late reply here, but if there had been better planning early on (and less political influence), we could have had better rail routes and possibly fewer abandonments here in the U.S.

  17. Regardless of carbon-efficiency, which for trains will improve with technology, horses are slow, smelly and expensive

  18. Trains are technically big loud machines, but they are faster than horses. But, they make my head hurt if i look out the window. Horses are better. XD

  19. from grade 3 to 8 all my teachers and classes were recorded onto VHS tapes, and I learned via the TV. id say it was a pretty successful program, at least enough to validate the idea.

  20. The old die (thank God) and the young press on. Nostalgia is a disease for which there is only 1 cure.

  21. 11:07 "But if railroad reading is any indication, we've been looking for ways to use technology to avoid interacting with each other in real life, for a long time."
    AHAHAHAHAH SO TRUE

  22. And now, we again face a generation that will likely have it worse off than their parents. Not because of disease or "not enough iphones", but because of greed, debt, and economic inequality.

  23. I have Financial Management paper tomorrow and it's totally unrelated with World History. But, still here I am, binge-watching WH2 just for the love of HISTORY.Sometimes I wonder why did I took Accounting as my major and not History..

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