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ILWCH: Forty Years On

  • Geoffrey Field (a1) and Michael Hanagan (a2)


This issue celebrates the fortieth anniversary of International Labor and Working-Class History. A relative youngster, it was a product of the second of two waves that resulted in the foundation of many labor history journals and societies.1 The first wave, between roughly 1956 and 1962 included the Dutch-based International Review of Social History; 2 the Feltrinelli Institute's Annali in Italy; Le mouvement social in France; Labor History in the United States; the British Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History;3 the West German Archiv fur Sozialgeschichte; and Australia's Labour History. These journals developed at a time when organized labor and left-wing politics were strong and confident of their future,4 although many who were active in these journals were highly critical of the political strategies of the existing Left and, in Eric Hobsbawm's words, viewed them “as an attempt to find a way forward in Left politics through historical reflection.”5 The second wave of journal creation in labor history took place in the 1970s and included not only ILWCH (1972), but Radical History Review (1975), Labour/Le Travail (1976), and History Workshop Journal (1976). These journals were especially shaped by the radicalism of the 1960s—the Vietnam War, the Cuban revolution, and the wave of student, feminist, and left-wing unrest in Europe and the world in 1968 and subsequently.6 The new journals were more transnational and more comparative; malleable youths, these journals were more susceptible to the influence of the social movements evolving around them. They were more attentive to the relationship between metropole and colonial territories and more focused on the burgeoning fields of black studies and women's history than was true earlier. Drawing upon the work of sociologists, political scientists, and demographers, they were also animated by the tremendous explosion of social history in the 1960s and 1970s and new research underway on social protest movements, race, and social conditions.7



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1. For a much fuller analysis, see Allen, Joan, Campbell, Alan, McIlroy, John, eds., Histories of Labour: National and International Perspectives (Pontypool, Wales, 2010).

2. Though founded in 1934, the International Review of Social History was completely revised and remodeled in 1956.

3. The Bulletin began in 1960 and changed from a bulletin to a more conventional journal, The Labour History Review, in 1996.

4. AFL-CIO president George Meany and James P. Mitchell, Eisenhower's secretary of labor, both sent greetings to the first issue of Labor History.

5. Hobsawm, E.J., “Looking Back Half a Century,” in Histories of Labour: National and International Perspectives, 5.

6. Klimke, Martin and Scharloth, Joachim, eds., 1968 in Europe: A History of Protest and Activism, 1956–1977 (New York, 2008).

7. For the optimism of these years when social history (with a strong labor and working-class emphasis) seemed like a totalizing project, capable of subsuming other parts of the discipline and envisioning the history of society “as a whole,” see: Hobsbawm, E.J., “From Social History to the History of Society,” Daedalus 100 (1971).

8. The Group's first executive committee beyond Wheeler included Victoria de Grazia, Nicholas Papayanis, Martin Miller, Ralph Desmarais; the Newsletter editors were Eileen McDowell, Jean Quataert, and Bob Wheeler.

9. ILWCH 13 (May 1979): 5.

10. Thompson had founded the Centre for the Study of Social History at Warwick, but soon he and the students became embroiled with the University leadership. Montgomery was also involved when students discovered a “strictly confidential” document to the effect that a member of the university council had sent a corporate legal expert, accompanied by a security officer, to a meeting of the Coventry Labour Party, which Montgomery addressed, apparently to ascertain if the talk provided grounds for prosecution under the 1919 Aliens Restriction Act.

11. A 1973 Rutgers conference enabled many young American researchers to hear for the first time papers given by Thompson, Gareth Stedman Jones, Lenore Davidoff, and Eric Hobsbawm, as well as American labor historians Herbert Gutman, David Montgomery, and Alfred Young. See the report on this conference by R. Sopenoff, “Rutgers, April 1973,” ILWCH 4 (Dec. 1973): 7–10: “It was E.P. Thompson, the master of English working-class history, that many waited to hear.”

12. Gruber, H., Red Vienna. Experiment in Working-Class Culture 1919–1934 (Oxford, 1991).

13. See the reports on two of these colloques: Ross, Ellen, “Sociabilité of Workers and the Working Class in Comparative Perspective 1850–1950,” ILWCH 29 (March 1986); Cohen, Lizabeth, “Tradition and the Working Class, 1850–1950,” ILWCH 42 (Fall 1992).

14. ILWCH 46 (1994) “ILWCH Roundtable: What Next for Labor and Working-Class History?” with responses to Katznelson by L. Cohen, G. Field, H. Gruber, M. Hanagan, B. Levine, D. Montgomery, M. Nolan, A. Rabinbach, J. Stein, and S. Wilentz.

15. Joyce, Patrick, Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class, 1840–1914 (Cambridge, 1991) and Steinberg, Mark, Fighting Words: Working-Class Formation Collective Action, and Discourse in Early Nineteenth-Century England (Ithaca, NY, 1999).

16. ILWCH 57 (Spring 2000) “Scholarly Controversy: Farewell to the Working Class?” with replies to Eley and Nield by D. Kalb, J. Stein, S. Kotkin, B. Weinstein, F. Cooper, J. Scott. See also Eley, G. and Nield, K., The Future of Class in History: What's Left of the Social? (Ann Arbor, MI, 2007).

17. ILWCH 63 (Spring 2003) with contributions by S. Rose, E. Boris, L. Tabili, L. Frader, E. Weitz, T. Klubock, J. Olcott, S. Gauss, M. Fernandez-Aceves, and H. Fowler-Salamini.

18. While here and elsewhere we speak of the “editorial board,” it should also be noted that members of the Consulting Board have also played a large role, contributing ideas, articles, and, in some cases, provocative “controversy” pieces. One thinks especially of the continuing involvement of, for example, Nelson Lichtenstein, Eric Arnesen, Geoff Eley, and Neville Kirk.

19. See, for example, the essays in ILWCH 69 (Fall 2006) on “Working-Class Subjectivities and Sexualities,” which began as a spring 2004 conference at the Rutgers University Institute for Research on Women, directed by Dorothy Sue Cobble.

20. For example, “Frank Tannenbaum Reconsidered,” ILWCH 77 (Spring 2010).

21. For example, Carolyn Brown, Mae Ngai, Prasannan Parthasarathi, Renqiu Yu, Kate Brown, Jennifer Klein, and Michael Denning.

22. Respectively, ILWCH 79 (Spring 2011); 80 (Fall 2011); 81 (Spring 2012). For an earlier issue debating global labor and capital flows and the rights of workers, see ILWCH 47 (1995) with essays by Charles Tilly, Eric Hobsbawm, Aristide Zolberg, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Lourdes Beneria.

23. Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal 1890–1940 (Princeton, NJ, 1989).

24. Obviously, other issues also discuss race, for example, “Fixing America's Broken Immigration System” with contributions by Ngai, M., Hwang, M. and Parrenas, R., Gerstel, G., Gutiérrez, D., Abraham, D., and Joppke, J., ILWCH 78 (Fall 2010). Arnesen, E., “Whiteness and the Historical Imagination,” ILWCH 60 (Oct. 2001) with responses by Judith Stein, Barbara Fields, James Barrett, David Brody, Eric Foner, Victoria Hattam, and Adolph Reed, plus a response to critics from Arnesen. Earlier issues focusing directly on race were: “Race and the CIO,” 44 (Oct. 1993); “Workers in Racially Stratified Societies,” 51 (April 1997).

25. Some time ago the editors planned an issue reassessing the history of modern trade unionism in the light of changes since the 1970s, but a web appeal for contributions showed a real paucity of new research on many countries and the plan had to be shelved. But ILWCH has contributed to current debate about past and present manifestations of sweated labor. See Sweated Labor: The Politics of Representation and Reform,” ILWCH 61 (Spring 2002), edited by Molly Nolan, whose many contributions have greatly influenced the direction of the journal over the years.

26. See, for example, Cohen, Deborah and O'Connor, Maura, eds., Comparison in Cross-National Perspective (New York, 2004); Werner, Michael and Zimmerman, Bénédicte, eds., De la comparaison á l'histoire croisée (Paris, 2004); and Haupt, Heinz-Gerhard and Kocka, Jurgen, eds., Comparative and Transnational History: Central European Approaches and New Perspectives (New York, 2011); Beyond Comparison: histoire croisée and the Challenge of Reflexivity,” History and Theory 45 (Feb. 2006).

27. E. Foner, The Guardian, Dec. 10, 2011; Beckert, Sven, “History of American Capitalism,” in Foner, Eric and McGirr, Lisa, eds., American History Now (Philadelphia, PA, 2011); Kocka, Jurgen, “Writing the History of Capitalism,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 47 (Fall 2010).

28. The same is true of new work being done by geographers and sociologists on the “spatial dimension” of workers' lives; for an example, see the issue devoted to Workers' Suburbs and Labor Geography,” ILWCH 64 (Fall 2003), edited by Joshua Freeman.

Our special thanks to Jean Quataert, who was a member of ILWCH's first executive committee and later served on its editorial board, for her valuable suggestions on an earlier draft of this essay.

ILWCH: Forty Years On

  • Geoffrey Field (a1) and Michael Hanagan (a2)


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