Unit 6 Study Materials

American Pioneers on the Move (1810-1880)


Imagine being a pioneer setting out in a covered wagon on journey of 2,000 miles across endless prairie and towering mountains. A quarter of a million people set out on just such a journey on the Oregon Trail between 1843 and 1869. It is just one of a series of notable migrations in America’s history, some taken voluntarily by people seeking new opportunities and some taken by people who were forced to abandon their homes.

Longfellow tells the story of the tragic expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755. Many of the Acadians were resettled in Louisiana, but others were dispersed to numerous locations. In Longellow’s tale, a young woman named Evangeline seeks her beloved for a lifetime only to find him at his death. Longfellow’s version of the story became one of America’s most beloved poems.

Pioneers were inspired to move West for a variety of reasons, but we can see the vision and the rationale expressed in the writings and art of the early and mid 19th Century.


Emile Berliner

Frederic Church

Thomas Cole

Thomas Edison

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Edgar Allan Poe

Henry David Thoreau


Choupique Accordions, Port Allen, Louisiana

Acadian Memorial, St. Martinville, Louisiana

Pioneer Woman Museum, Ponca City, Oklahoma

Things To Consider

A. The “Romantic Period” in music stretches from the early 19th Century to the early 20th Century. It many ways it was a response to the devastation in Europe from the Napoleonic Wars, which followed on the heels of the French Revolution (1789).

  1. America was founded in the Age of Enlightenment, sometimes called the Age of Reason.  Enlightenment thinkers generally held that knowledge and reason could order the affairs of men. Much of Enlightenment thinking was in opposition to established political and religious authority.
  2. Consider the different consequences of the American Revolution and the French Revolution.
    • Why did the democratic ideal succeed in America and fail in France, which restored its Monarchy?
    • How were the political structures of America and France different before their revolutions?
    • How were the religious structures of American and France different?
  3. The Romantic Era’s emphasis on individualism took many forms. Discuss how these examples embody “individualism”:
    a. Napoleon as emperor and conqueror
    b. Beethoven as artistic hero
    c. The Lewis and Clark Expedition
  4. A major shift occurred in the 19th century as the long-time patronage of the arts by royalty and the church weakened. New financial support had to be found in the popular marketplace. Artists learned how to create their own audiences and to market their individual talents. Consider phenomena like
    a. the P.T. Barnum Circus.
    b. the burgeoning book trade in the early 19th Century.
    c. establishment of Peabody Institute and other music conservatories in America.

B. Consider the ways in which art got bigger.

  1. Certain types of paintings got lifesize or bigger, so that the viewer had difficulty taking it all in.
  2. Musical forms became longer and required more instruments.
  3. Epic themes became popular in literature.

C. Westward Migration

  1. Americans left many things behind when they left Europe, and they left much behind when they set out across the American prairie.
  2. The musical instruments of America tend to be portable. There was no room for a piano in a covered wagon, so a fiddle or harmonica would have to do.
  3. Look at the supplies a pioneer family needed to put in their wagon.
  4. Think what it must have been like to cross the prairie in a covered wagon. Read about the hardships of such a journey.
  5. What does it mean to be a “pioneer”? How is it different from being
    a. an explorer
    b. a settler
    c. a frontiersman
  6. What motivated the pioneers to want to travel all the way to Oregon?

Things To Explore

Grand Central Station

Gold Rush and here. Our intrepid student Connor recommends this site, which is a nice compendium of materials on the Gold Rush.

Transcontinental Railroad

Hudson River School and here

Longfellow’s Evangeline

The Acadian Explusion

Short history of the Gramophone

Piano rolls

The Oregon Trail

Pioneer Woman Museum