Two one-week workshops on the construction of the Erie Canal and its economic, social, and cultural impact.
This workshop guides teachers through an in-depth exploration of the construction of the Erie Canal and the "larger themes of how advancements in transportation, communication, and engineering change not only the economy but the political climate, social interactions, and the culture of a people." The development of a commercial waterway in upstate New York that eventually spanned 363 miles began in controversy concerning funding, engineering, and labor challenges, but this did not deter Governor DeWitt Clinton, who realized the enormous economic advantage of constructing what was derided as "Clinton's Ditch." This background is covered by author Gerard Koeppel and historian Tamara Plankins Thornton (University of Buffalo), supported by readings from David Walker Howe's What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 and Koeppel's Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire. An Erie Canal trip originating in Lockport, NY, allows participants to experience first-hand the engineering challenges posed by elevation changes between Buffalo and Albany, and the technical innovations they inspired. Director Pierson Bell, a veteran teacher in the Niagara County School District, next teams up with Roger Hecht (literature, State University of New York, Oneonta) to examine the cultural impact of the canal through landscape painting, prints and drawings, and selections of writings by Twain, Hawthorne, and Harriet Beecher Stowe drawn from Hecht's The Erie Canal Reader, 1790-1950. Wednesday is devoted to group tours of the Erie Canal Museum, housed in the old "weighlock" building that provided a system for determining toll charges, and trips to Camillus Erie Canal Park and the Mile Creek Aqueduct. On Thursday, historian F. Daniel Larkin (SUNY Oneonta) addresses the rapid growth the canal brought to cities like Buffalo, expanding upon Ronald Shaw's Erie Water West: a History of the Erie Canal, 1792-1854. Professor Larkin stays the following day to share insights about various primary sources-maps, drawings, blueprints, and photographs-as teachers, working in small groups, develop their document projects and virtual archives. On Saturday, the teachers report on their projects and then gather for a late afternoon trip to Niagara Falls State Park.