Railroad Empire across the Heartland: Rephotographing Alexander Gardner's Westward Journey by James E. Sherow, with photographs by John R. Charlton, won the 2015 Hamlin Garland Prize from the Midwestern History Association. The association announced the winners of the Garland Prizes for 2015 and 2016 this month. The Garland Prize is awarded to projects that represent the best in popular history writing about the American Midwest.
Best known for his Civil War photographs, Alexander Gardner also documented the construction of the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division (later the Kansas Pacific Railroad), across Kansas beginning in 1867. Railroad Empire across the Heartland presents recent photographs by Charlton of the scenes Gardner recorded, paired with the Gardner originals and accompanied by Sherow’s discussion. Like most rephotography projects, this one provides fascinating information about the changes in the landscape over the last century and a half.
The book presents 90 pairs of Gardner’s and Charlton’s photographs. In all of Charlton’s photos he duplicates the exact location and time of day of the Gardner originals. Sherow uses the paired images to show how Indian and Anglo-American land-use practices affected the landscape. As the Union Pacific claimed, the railroad created an American empire in the region, and Charlton’s rephotography captures the transformation of the grasslands, harnessed by the powerful social and economic forces of the railroad.
Sherow is a professor of history at Kansas State University. A specialist in the environmental history of the American West, he is the author of The Grasslands of the United States: An Environmental History and Watering the Valley: Development along the High Plains Arkansas River, 1870–1950. He is also the editor of A Sense of the American West: An Environmental History Anthology (UNM Press).
Charlton was for many years a photographer with the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas. He provided the rephotographs for Donald L. Baars’s and Rex C. Buchanan's The Canyon Revisited: A Rephotography of the Grand Canyon, 1923/1991.