Labor and Working-Class Activism in the U.S. Popular Press, 1860-1900
“Politics and Propaganda”
Nineteenth Century Studies Association (NCSA)
April 3-5, 2008
Florida International University, Miami, Florida
In the wake of the national railroad strike of 1877, the St. Louis journalist J.A. Dacus imagined the protestors, citizens, and agitators that propelled the massive work stoppage and uprising as “mighty masses of strange, grimy men, excited by passions, dark and fearful, surging along the streets.” Diverging from this gothic vision, a reporter for Henry Ward Beecher’s newspaper Christian Union noted that the strikers were “thoroughly organized, and generally were orderly in their movements. They refused to allow the trains to be run, but they did not destroy property; in many instances they organized to protect it.” Figuring workers as “strange” and “fearful,” or “orderly” and “organized,” these accounts point to the tensions and contradictions shaping the popular representation of the working classes in an era that saw drastic economic instability, wide scale labor organization, and violent social conflict.
This panel will address the divergent ways that the U.S. popular press imagined workers, industrial work, and labor movements during and after the Civil War, as class conflict and the conditions of proletarian life took on new importance in the public imagination. In keeping with the theme of the 2007 NCSA conference, “Politics and Propaganda,” we are seeking papers that consider the political work of the representations of workers, labor, and activism that appeared in American newspaper journalism, sensational pamphlets, serialized fiction, reformist essays and editorials, illustrated magazines, photography, chromolithographs, and cartoons—among other popular print venues.
As J.A. Dacus’s vision of “dark” and “grimy men” suggests, postbellum representations of workers were invariably racialized and gendered constructions; accordingly, papers that address the racial and gender politics of the figure of the laborer are especially welcome.
Please email an abstract (250 words) and a one-page c.v. by September 20 to:
Department of English and American Literature
Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts
National Gallery of Art
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