Great American Railroad Journeys – BBC 2


Word PressThis 15-part series didn’t start off very promisingly, but got better and better as it went on.  I was originally expecting some sort of epic coast-to-coast trip, but I suppose that would have been too much train time and not enough sightseeing time.  It started off with three days in New York, which, whilst New York is a very interesting city, was hardly very original.  We see more than enough TV programmes set in New York, surely!   And the historical talk, as far as it went, was mainly about the Gilded Age, which isn’t my thing.  Then several more days in New York state.  He finished that leg of the trip at lovely Niagara Falls, which is spectacular and always worth seeing shots of (although I wish he’d mentioned that the American town of Niagara Falls used to be called Manchester, something that hardly anyone seems to know!), but, from a historian’s viewpoint, the series only really got interesting when he then headed south.

First up, and still north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia!  Gettysburg!  Two places of which I have very cherished memories of visiting, two places steeped in history.  And the fascinating Amish country.  Then south to Maryland and Washington DC.  I’m so glad I’m not the only person who felt that a trip to Washington DC wouldn’t be complete without visiting Ford’s Theatre!  And then to wonderful Virginia.  Mount Vernon!  And I’m so jealous that he went to Manassas Junction!  And I note that the term “Bull Run” was never used once.  Then to Richmond, capital of Virginia and one-time capital of the Confederacy.   Such a stupid, stupid idea to have the Confederate capital so close to the border, but anyway.  And then moving back in time, to Williamsburg and, finally, to Jamestown.  Much more my sort of thing than some Gilded Age art gallery!

This isn’t specifically meant to be a historical series, but a few interesting points came out of it.  One was the way that the Civil War/War Between The States is spoken of as being a war about slavery.  It wasn’t!  It wouldn’t have happened were it not for the issue of slavery, and, thankfully, it brought about the end of slavery in the United States, but war was declared by the Union in order to force the eleven states of the Confederacy back into the Union against their will.  How is that any different from Serbia bombing the hell out of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to try to force them back into Yugoslavia?  If, following the last general election, in which the Tories won an overall majority but got only one seat in Scotland, Scotland declared independence, David Cameron sent the British Armed Forces to invade it, four years of brutal killing and devastation followed and Scotland was then put under martial law, would that make David Cameron the greatest Prime Minister of all time?  I’m not trying to be controversial: I just have a lot of problems with the whole thing of “saving the Union”.  It wasn’t under external attack.  Some states just wanted to declare independence.

OK, rant over!  What else?  Well, as Michael Portillo said to a local historian, the way in which the story of the Pilgrim Fathers and the settlement of Plimoth has become the founding myth of what became the USA, with Jamestown, which was very definitely there first, largely ignored.  Is that all about the Civil War/War Between The States?  That’s certainly what the local historian seemed to think.  The reverence shown for the great George Washington.  And, sadly, the way in which both racial segregation and vast socio-economic divides still exist in the US.

As I said, not the best of starts, but it turned into a very interesting series.  I don’t think anyone’s quite sure if this is meant to be a history programme, a travel programme or a programme about railways, but, whatever it’s meant to be, it works well.  Great British Railway Journeys is back next week, but it’s going to be four weeks of repeats.  Fingers crossed for a new series, whether in Britain, Europe or the US, very soon!





6 thoughts on “Great American Railroad Journeys – BBC 2

  1. Chris Deeley

    Another most interesting review! I assume that the majority of Americans are pleased that slavery was abolished. When I was there is 1963 there was still entrenched racial segregation in the “Deep South” and there remain significant racial divides today. I wonder whether it would have made a difference if the slave owners had been offered compensation, as they were in the British Empire? Overall, I’m not a fan of the USA for a range of reasons.


    • I love US history and I love visiting the US, and I’m sure no-one now thinks that slavery was anything other than an evil, but I just do not see why states shouldn’t be allowed to secede if that’s what their own legislatures vote to do. Yugoslavia broke up, the Soviet Union broke up … it happens! Self-determination and all that!


      • Chris Deeley

        You will love this one . . . What about Hawaii? No treaty of secession; just a plebiscite asking “do you want to become a State or remain a Territory?” No mention of a third possibility (which I suspect would have won): “Would you like to revert back to an independent nation state (possibly in the form of your traditional monarchy)?” Hawaii is about half-way between China and the USA, which could have huge significance in the future when China calls in its American debts.


  2. mrsredboots

    It is a lovely series, but it suffered from the huge disadvantage that it was shown at 6:30 pm and we don’t normally watch television so early (family rule is only sports during the day, and only sports in which we are really interested, like ice-skating or road cycling). I hope it will be repeated soon.


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