Northern Illinois University Press


Perspectives on American Labor History

The Problems of Synthesis

Edited by J. Carroll Moody and Alice Kessler-Harris

"A valuable contribution to American labor historiography. It offers an assessment of major developments in American labor history."Industrial and Labor Relations Review

"Accurately represents the evolution of the field over the past two decades and, therefore, will be of interest to scholars in numerous disciplines who examine the central issue of work in American life."Business History Review

The emergence of a new labor history has dramatically shifted the emphasis of scholarship in the past two decades as a focus on the working class has brought to center stage the social history of ordinary people. Featured in this volume are groundbreaking essays by well-known scholars developing a new approach to labor history that seeks to understand the experiences of working people in their private lives, workplaces, and communities.

Addressing the conceptual problems involved in arriving at a synthesis of American labor history, the essays together offer possible ways to integrate class relations, the state, and a shifting economic structure into labor history. The essays also provide suggestions for new forms of analysis that should open paths in rethinking the American past.

In his introduction, J. Carroll Moody describes the major trends in scholarship that precipitated this volume and discusses the possible impact of the new labor history on future scholarship. Mari Jo Buhle and Michael Reich address topics of race, gender, and class that are crucial to the work of labor and social historians. Sean Wilentz, Leon Fink, and Alan Dawley apply the new approach to particular places and times, discussing issues of labor history spanning more than two centuries. Wilentz outlines elements of the formation of the American working class in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; Fink discusses the issues of class, culture, and ideology in the late nineteenth century in a comparison of American and European systems; and Dawley examines labor, capital, and the state in twentieth-century America. Essays by David Brody and Alice Kessler-Harris conclude the study by assessing the difficulties and the interpretive framework involved in effecting a synthesis of American labor history.

(1989) 257 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-551-1
Paper $18.00

Table of Contents

Introduction: J. Carroll Moody
Looking Backward: Reflections on Workers' Culture and Certain Conceptual Dilemmas within Labor History: Leon Fink
Capitalist Development, Class Relations, and Labor History: Michael Reich
Gender and Labor History: Mari Jo Buhle
The Rise of the American Working Class, 1776-1877: Sean Wilentz
Workers, Capital, and the State in the Twentieth Century: Alan Dawley
On Creating a New Synthesis of American Labor History: David Brody
A New Agenda for American Labor History: A Gendered Analysis and the Question of Class: Alice Kessler-Harris

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-551-1
paper $18.00