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2 minutes to read Posted on Thursday October 10, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Bridget Martin

Bridget Martin

History teacher , EUROCLIO - European Association of History Educators

portrait of Georgia Evans

Georgia Evans

Senior Editorial Officer , Europeana Foundation

Europe at Work: Railways and their role in the classroom

Europe at Work brings stories of our personal working lives together with archive material on industrial and labour-related heritage. Looking at our working lives, we can show students and learners that the working world we inhabit today is rich and varied, and tells the story of technological and societal changes over time.

In this series, we look at how EUROCLIO is using industrial heritage material to create learning resources for educators on their Historiana portal. First, we look at their Railways and Connectivity source collection, which helps students explore the development of railways over time, consider the different ways in which they were used, and evaluate their impact.

main image
Travelling on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Hughes, S.G. (werkz. XIXA)Shaw, I. (werkz. XIXA)Ackermann, R.
Teylers Museum

Why teach about railways and connectivity?

Railways and connectivity offer a rich opportunity for students to examine the impact of technological change on societies throughout history. With a source collection ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries, this topic offers valuable examples for teachers seeking to develop students’ historical thinking in the area of continuity and change. The study of railways and connectivity can be easily incorporated into studies of the Industrial Revolution(s), globalisation, or discovery and innovation.

The subject also provides an excellent opportunity to develop student learning in STEM areas, which many curricula increasingly emphasise. The source collection includes examples of the first passenger rail service, and continues on to the development of steam-powered railways and even bullet trains. 

Railways also provide a useful springboard for an analysis and evaluation of the use and misuse of technologies and their diverse impact on societies. The sources, for example, highlight various positive and questionable uses of railways from economical exploitation, to war, to tourism, to the delivery of aid.

A Red Cross hospital train from the Boer War
Boer War: Red Cross hospital train arriving at Durban.
F.C. Harrison
Wellcome Collection
United Kingdom
A Red Cross hospital train from the Boer War

How do you teach about railways and connectivity?

There are countless ways to approach the teaching of this topic and it is essential to choose strategies that suit the classroom context.  Some possible methods include: 

  • Using Historiana´s ready-made and adaptable railways eLearning Activity. Students examine the entire source collection and develop a virtual concept map. They reposition and resize images to show similarities and differences in the impacts of different railways, as well as their relative importance. Students then summarise what they consider to be the most significant impacts of railways since the Industrial Revolution. Students can compare their responses with a partner to see if they arrived at different conclusions.

  • Printing the source collection, with images on one sheet and the relevant information on the other. Students have to match the correct caption and image before correctly placing the sources on a timeline, to aid in their examination of continuity and change. 

  • Assigning each student, or pair of students, a different source to research. Students must explain how the railway depicted in the source functioned, how it was used, the impact that it had on different people, and what the railway is used for today.

Explore industrial heritage on Europeana Collections and find more  teaching resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website.