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Investigating the role that steam locomotives played in slavery and colonialism


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The National Museum in York is launching a research project to include the links between steam power with slavery and colonialism for the locomotives in its collection.




I don’t think this is a crazy idea. Railways were an important part of the economic and colonial expansion of the US and Europe. I don’t think it hurts to acknowledge these connections in historical display. 

a couple of examples:

The article features a photo of the Chinese KF7 at York, originally built as reparations for the Boxer Rebellion.


C56-31 was the first official locomotive that ran on the Japanese-built Burma Railway in Thailand. It is currently displayed at the Yūshūkan Shrine, which doesn’t mention any of the atrocities committed during the construction of the railway.


One of my favorite locomotive classes is the BR52 Kriegslokmotiv, which ended up all over Europe after WWII. The locomotive was built to support the German war effort and like the Reichsbahn, played a direct role in the Holocaust.


History is not comfortable and while this is a hobby, I think that for historians to recognize the role that railways played in atrocities is appropriate. 

Edited by Szdfan
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  • Szdfan changed the title to Investigating the role that steam locomotives played in slavery and colonialism

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