The Old World and the New

Original Title: American man overlooking the newly completed transcontinental railroad in Nevada, ~1868.

Hart, Alfred A. American Man Overlooking the Newly Completed Transcontinental Railroad in Nevada, ~1868. Digital N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2014.

Format: Photograph

Date: 1868



Europeans first began immigrating to the New World in the early 1600’s and, just over two centuries later, had succeeded in dominating the entire country. Native Americans were denied their traditions, land, and culture, as the whites attempted to ‘civilize’ the previous inhabitants of the United States.

I was fascinated when I came across this photo. Although the photo is a powerful display of the divide between the new country and the old, I am intrigued by the photographer. Who took this photo, and why? In an era of colonization and unprecedented cruelness towards Native Americans, a (lone?) photographer captures an irreplaceable moment to be documented into American history forever. The image perfectly captures civilization and modernization as technology was pushed, literally and figuratively, further and further into the country. What motives did the photographer have for taking this? I assumed the photographer was white, as Native Americans were typically poorer and more traditionally oriented and therefore wouldn’t own an expensive camera. Did the photographer support the Native American’s culture and reject industrialization? It appears he purposefully included both the Native American and the railroad in the image, as the picture is positioned to perfectly capture the Native American. But who is the mastermind behind this piece?


6 thoughts on “The Old World and the New”

  1. This image is very powerful in my opinion. I believe that it is a statement on the rapid industrialization of America. After the Civil War the country had begun on a rapid pace toward industrializing from coast to coast. Business moguls like Carnegie and Rockefeller monopolized their respective businesses and took charge of industrialization. I believe that the railroad appears so massive in comparison to the man for a specific reason. It is quite possible that the photographer was trying to suggest that the industrial revolution had dwarfed humanity and that the country was no longer Thomas Jefferson’s hope of a agrarian society. He could be suggesting that close human relations no longer existed and instead the country was focused primarily on the expansion of its industries.

  2. This photograph is a beautiful dichotomy. An American looks on to how civilization and modernization pushed itself in. In addition, this photo reminds me of current living conditions of Native Americans. As civilization destroyed their land they were forced onto reservations. Their values and culture were denied and looked down upon. Ultimately, this picture is powerful and captures the perfect moment of someone stuck between the past and the future.

  3. You definitely have to observe the stance of the American as well in the photograph. The American is looking out in awe and admiration at this newly established railroad trajectory. I immediately thought this person must have been thinking something like, “Wow, what a beautiful country this is and what a beautiful country it will turn out to be!”

  4. I tend to think that the photographer was trying to promote the new industrialization of the west. The fact that he chose a setting like this to shoot the photo make me think that he tried to show that although they were creating these railroads, they were not completely destroying the landscape. The river beside it and the mountains around it look untainted, so maybe the photographer was trying to both people that supported industrialization and those worried about the natural beauty of the west.

  5. I think it is significant to note that the person in the photograph is a Native American. Native Americans were typically very traditionally-oriented and placed great value in their old customs and culture. I therefore think the Native American man in the photograph would not have been looking out in awe and admiration at the railroad, instead, with internal sadness and the realization that the whites were forever going to push his culture away.

  6. As many people have pointed out, I believe that the Native American in this photograph looks at the land with bitterness. I can envision the Native American remembering the land when it had trees and other plants on it. The land looks barren and lifeless, except for a little grass, and the water looks stagnant. This is not what the Native American would like to see or is used to seeing.

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