Editorial: Railroads and Society, the Visual Record

As the larger field of railway heritage grows and evolves, it becomes more and more important for organizations to both take the lead in their own areas of expertise and collaborate with others to move projects forward. that is the situation the Center finds itself in today.

Indiana University Press, along with several other academic presses throughout the United States, has made a commitment to publish both scholarly and trade books on railroad subjects. These respected publishers have realized that there is a market for quality railroad books, and that such works are important contributions to the growing literature of railroading.

One of the most important works IUP has in the works is a comprehensive encyclopedia of North American railroading, being assembled under the general editorship of William D. Middleton and George Smerk. The encyclopedia will involve hundreds of authors, almost a million words, and several years of effort.

The result will be the first truly comprehensive source on railroading ever produced in this country. It will be an important resource for libraries, scholars, and anyone interested in railroad history and heritage. There will be the usual short entries on the usual subjects. But the encyclopedia’s editors hope also to include many forgotten and obscure topics and to correct some of the myths and misunderstandings which have crept into railroading’s vast literature.

One of the primary objectives of the Center is to document the history of railroad artists, photographers, and the use of imagery throughout the industry. Recognizing that expertise, John Hankey, editor of the encyclopedia’s section on railroads and society, approached the Center about collaborating on a series of encyclopedia articles treating its area of expertise–railroad art and photography.

This is just the kind of collaboration which benefits the center, the encyclopedia project, and the larger goal of presenting a complete and accurate story of North America’s rich Railroad Heritage. It represents a common sense approach – the Center has a large and growing database and the ability to solicit high-quality articles from people knowledgeable in its field of interest.

But it also represents the fruits of our efforts over the past few years to create an active and useful organization. The fact that Hankey reached out to the Center for its participation – and that he, as one of the editors, recognized the importance of railroad art and photography – is evidence that the Center is on the right track.

The details remain to be worked out. But we are pleased to be part of the Indiana University Press railroad encyclopedia project. We look forward to giving the men and women who created the visual record their due.