Bringing us together: Railways and Connectivity in the classroom

First steam powered inter-city railway for goods and passengers.
Source: Travelling on the Liverpool and Manchester railway (pt.1), S. G. Hughes, I. Shaw & R. Ackermann, 1833, Teylers Museum via Europeana.

This article is the fourth of an ongoing series from EUROCLIO and Europeana providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series on .

In an era dominated by plane travel, it can be difficult for students to fully appreciate the significant role railways have played in bringing people, goods, economies, and societies together. EUROCLIO has recently produced a source collection to help students explore the development of railways over time, consider the different ways in which they were used, and evaluate their impact. A ready-made (adaptable) eLearning Activity to support students with this process is also available on Historiana. This activity provides just one possible way to aid students in their discovery of how railways helped to shape the modern world by increasing connectivity. Read on for further ideas on teaching Railways and Connectivity in your classroom.

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. For teachers seeking to develop students’ historical thinking in the area of continuity and change, this topic offers ample opportunity with a source collection straddling the 17th to 20th centuries. The topic can be easily incorporated into studies of the Industrial Revolution(s), globalisation, or discovery and innovation.

The subject also provides an excellent opportunity to incorporate student learning in the area of STEM, an increasingly emphasised topic in many curricula. The source collection includes examples of the first passenger rail service (pictured below), 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 impacts 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.

The first passenger rail service, known by locals as the “Mumbles Train”, was first built in 1804.
Source: Title Unknown, Creator of the Source Unknown, 1870, Wales.

How to teach about Railways and Connectivity?

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

  • Using the 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 important impacts of railways since the Industrial Revolution. It may be useful to have students compare their response with a partner to see if they arrived at different conclusions.
  • Print the source collection with one sheet containing the image and another containing the relevant information and distribute these amongst members of the class. Students first 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.
  • Assign 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 for different people, and what the railway is used for today.


Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyond, and the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.


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