Colloquia Series

Technology, Power, and Responsibility

Watch Recording

November 18

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

7–8:30 PM

Presented by Penn College faculty, Dr. Craig Miller.

At a college of applied technology, it is important to discuss and assess the responsibilities associated with technological innovation.

To illustrate this importance, the presentation will evaluate the technological, economic, environmental, and cultural issues that surrounded the construction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways, a massive undertaking that involved technological innovation, colossal financing, unique labor arrangements, and the displacement of Indians from Minnesota to California. This presentation revisits the challenges, costs, consequences, and benefits of the railroads with an eye toward the present and future.

“Choices have consequences” is a maxim that applies to the creation of the transcontinental rail system. Used throughout the presentation as a case in point, the rail system’s history offers the opportunity to examine a period of transformation from all angles and to see the unintended consequences of historical choices.

Previous topics in the Centennial Colloquia Series have focused on other aspects of technological change, such as the influence of the computer and matters of ethics and privacy. Recognizing the complex circuitry of choices within a complex, interconnected society – as previous speakers have indicated – improves our ability to make better, informed choices.


  • Bain, David Haward. Empire Express: building the first transcontinental railroad. New York: Viking Press, 1999.
  • Borneman, Walter R. Rival Rails: the race to build America’s greatest transcontinental railroad. New York: Random House, 2010.
  • Xavier Duran, “The First U.S. Transcontinental Railroad: Expected Profits and Government Intervention” The Journal of Economic History Volume 73 No. 1 (2013) pp 177-200.
  • The Transcontinental Railroad. The American Experience. Directed by Mark Zwonitzer and Michael Chin. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation; Alexandria, VA: Distributed by PBS Home Video, 2005.

Penn College Faculty: Dr. Craig Miller