Related Links

Progressive Era History (v.9)

Labor History (v.8)

View All Issues

PHRC's rating system

Evaluating Web Sites


Click_for_citation_informationPresentations of Public
History Online:

Focus on Work & Labor History

August 4, 2003

From the family in a tenement toiling over piecework to the farmer caring for his crops to the white collar crowds jamming the subway, the images, both textual and visual, and the experiences of work, both paid and unpaid, pervade the human experience and thus our history as well.

In his article, “Labor History on the World Wide Web: Thoughts on Jumping onto a Moving Express Train,” Thomas Dublin, a Professor of history at Binghamton University, SUNY, writes, “We will never grasp more than a tiny fraction of the available resources on the web, but by making the effort to learn about those resources relevant to our chosen fields and periods, we open ourselves and our students to remarkable new possibilities.” As part of this learning process, PHRC is pleased to present the following reviews of Web sites pertaining to labor history. These reviews not only provide users with an in depth analysis of particular resources but also speak to the present state of online labor history presentations, which generally, scored low in the categories Education, Interpretation of Materials, and Promotion of a Community of Interest.

In addition to being the largest to date, this issue implemented two other "firsts" for PHRC. In previous calls, the editors have restricted the number of reviewers for each site to one. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to this call, the editors decided, in two separate instances, to allow more than one reviewer to analyze the same site. While the pairs of reviewers awarded approximately the same rating to each of the sites in question, they all brought their own experiences to the reviews, thus drawing out different aspects, both positive and negative, of the sites. To compare the reviews, please see "Born in Slavery" and "U.S. Steel Gary Works Photograph Collection."

Due to the rapidly changing nature of the web, many of the sites that are reviewed will not look the same next year, or even next month. While the Public History Resource Center cannot save entire web sites, the editors wanted to improve the integrity of the reviews over time by providing illustrations to accompany them. We, thus, encouraged reviewers to include screen shots with their reviews, and as you will see, many chose to do so.

As a whole, the sites in the original call for reviews were chosen based on the following criteria: 1) the sites should be produced by a variety of institutions; 2) the sites should cover diverse working experiences; 3) the sites should represent different time periods and geographic areas. Reviewers chose sites from the list developed by PHRC’s managing editors or by suggesting a site that was not included in the original call. At the bottom of this page, we have featured links to sites included in our original call for reviews. Reviews were developed in conjunction with PHRC’s Rating System.

The reviews below are ordered alphabetically by site name
View in ratings order, from highest to lowest


whole_whole_whole_half_
America at Work, America at Leisure
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awlhtml/awlhome.html

Leslie Heaphy

Americans began documenting their work and leisure activities through film in the late nineteenth century. This website chronicles films from 1894 to 1915 using the resources of the Library of Congress. Created by the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, this website gives the viewer access to 150 motion pictures. Over half of the films have been digitized for the first time.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_half_
The Bisbee Deportation of 1917 - A University of Arizona Library Web Exhibit
http://digital.library.arizona.edu/bisbee/index.php

Edward Copenhagen

The Web site is a collection of resources related to the infamous mass-deportation of Bisbee’s striking miners in 1917. The exhibit is a valuable tool for educators, college-level students, and other researchers studying Bisbee deportation, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the labor movement in Arizona, or a localized study of World One-era Red Scare. It is a text-heavy website, and the primary weakness is an over reliance on the use of re-keyed rather than scanned documents.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_whole_
Review of Born in Slavery
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html

Claus K. Meyer

"Born in Slavery" provides unrestricted access to a large body of essential sources for the study of slavery. The accompanying essay by Norman Yetman provides a well-structured, balanced, and readable introduction to the collection. As might be expected from a resource produced by the Library of Congress, the site meets the highest technical standards of electronic editorship. It is easy to use and fast. Thus "Born in Slavery" is an achievement that exemplifies the potential of the Internet for the publication for historical sources.

Notwithstanding its many strengths, however, the site also suffers from some shortcomings. First, the user unfamiliar with the sources and not trained in historical methods may find it difficult to locate interviews suitable as entry points to the collection. Yetman's essay introduces the narratives as a body of sources but is not linked to individual interviews. Eight brief interview excerpts presented as "Voices and Faces from the Collection" lack any introduction. Secondly, "Born in Slavery" does not direct the user to sound recordings related to the FWP narratives. Thirdly, the site does not sufficiently clarify the relation between the interviews deposited in Washington and presented on its pages on the one hand, and the narratives that have been found in various other collections on the other hand. The negligence is significant as in the case of two states -- Mississippi and Texas -- there is good evidence that editors at the state level systematically tampered with the material submitted to Washington.

These problems certainly are of some consequence. But they do not undermine the overall usefulness of a solid and functional online edition of primary sources. "Born in Slavery" is sure to remain an important and valued asset for the study and teaching of both the 'peculiar institution' in the South and bondage at large.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_whole_
Review of Born in Slavery, Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1938
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html

Gayla Koerting

The Library of Congress’s “Born in Slavery, Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1938" web site premiered in April 2001. This site is part of the American Memory project for the National Digital Library. The Born in Slavery site contains 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black/white photographs of African Americans. The interviews were collected as part of the Federal Writers Project of the Works Project Administration from 1936 to 1938.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_
Review of Bridgeport Working: Voices From the 20th Century
http://www.bridgeporthistory.org

Daniel Opler

The site has a lot of fascinating information, much of it contained in thirty oral history interviews with Bridgeport workers. At the same time, the confusing timelines at the center of the site’s Exhibit somewhat limit the value of this intriguing site as do the lack of any searching capabilities. A more thorough interpretation of the information presented, along with additional contextual information, would have increased the user's understanding of Bridgeport and the role of its workers in a national context.

Full length review available


whole_whole_half_
Review of Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
http://cprr.org

Susan Hamburger

The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum website attempts to include everything one would want to know or view about the transcontinental railroad. The restored and enhanced images provide a good visual history of the railroad for a casual browser, although this image enhancement through filtering and numerous other steps does not conform to digital archival standards. Unfortunately, the disorganized arrangement, too-small type, and dense blocks of text make it a difficult site to use. Students and scholars will be frustrated by the lack of a logical organization and authoritative narrative voice.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_half_
Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair 1886-1887
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award98/ichihtml/hayhome.html

Lindsey MacAllister

As part of the American Memory online project, "Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair 1886-1887" provides web users with thousands of primary source documents, images, and artifacts. This digitization project, instituted by the Library of Congress, is a wonderful way for the general public to access otherwise widely inaccessible documents for research, education, or entertainment. Using the extensive collection of the Chicago Historical Society as its backbone, each item is photographed, transcribed, and briefly described to explain its connection with the Haymarket events, providing individuals with a stepping-stone from which they may draw their own interpretative conclusions of history.

Full length review available


whole_whole_
Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory

Carol Quirke

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory tackles deindustrialization from the standpoint of workers at the White Furniture Company in Mebane, North Carolina, which shut in May of 1993 after an illustrious 111-year-old history. The company was representative of the small-scale, independent, family-owned businesses of the decentralized furniture industry. As a debt-free corporation with assets and a solid reputation, the White Furniture Company was easy pickings in an era where wealth creation came from leveraged buyouts and corporate takeovers, not production. Closing is based on photographer Bill Bamberger’s documentation of the plant's closing and its aftermath. The photo-documentation was turned into a nationally-travelling exhibition and a book, co-authored with Cathy Davidson, which charts the human costs of this new economy. Unfortunately, the website is a pale reflection of the larger exhibition and book projects. Oral histories of former employees and lower-level supervisors on streaming audio make it worthwhile to visit an otherwise lackluster website.

Full length review available


whole_whole_
History of Mining in Cape Breton
http://collections.ic.gc.ca/coal/

Michael Knies

Although the History of Mining in Cape Breton web site appears to provide a reliable historical survey of Nova Scotian coal mining, it does not seem to have been updated since being mounted in 1997. The web site provides fairly detailed information on the history of bituminous mining in the region, its regional impact, mining techniques, and the future of the industry and the region. The site was assembled from information provided by the Cape Breton Mining Museum (according to the Credits page), and by subtracting “coal” from the URL, the reviewer discovered the site is hosted by the SchoolNet Digital Collections of the Canadian Government's Digital Collections Web project. Although there is a page of information about the Mining Museum, the direct link to the museum no longer works. Furthermore, the link to the design firm that created the site no longer works, making one doubtful that the web site will be updated. Although the site offers a graphic and text option, the graphic pages are fairly limited and only present one or two unidentified images per page. The web site does contain a useful glossary to coal mining terms. While the site does provide good historical information about the industry, the lack of a bibliography, contact information, and functioning links detract from what could be a very valuable, albeit basic, online resource.

Full length review available


whole_whole_half_
History of the Canadian Automobile Workers
http://collections.ic.gc.ca/cau/index.html

George P. Mason

The following is a review of the History of the Canadian Automobile Workers web site. This site is devoted specifically to the history of organized labor in the Canadian auto industry. This review argues that the site is an informative one which combines retrospective history of key individuals, events and places which helped to shape the formation of the autoworkers’ union, the Canadian Automobile Workers. The review also examines the resources for learning, teaching and research on the site. I discuss each aspect of the site--from the well-written essays, to images and an interactive quiz--concluding that it is a site to be visited but one which requires considerable revision, maintenance and resources in the near future.

Full length review available


whole_whole_
Labor and the Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle
http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/collections/exhibits/tam/JLC/opener.html

Lyn Guérin

New York University’s Jewish Labor and the Holocaust Web site is an inviting visual presentation into the activities of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) from its founding in 1934 until post-World War II. The site was built around JLC archivist Gail Malmgreen’s article on the history of the Committee. The text is supported with scanned photos, documents, and a photo gallery. This site is visually appealing but upon closer study reveals serious problems. The most surprising shortcoming is its lack of content. This and other problems are especially disappointing since so little of the JLC’s history falls in the regular school curriculum.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_half_
Labor Arts
http://laborarts.org

Holly Wright

The Labor Arts website is a virtual museum that presents images of art and cultural artifacts with artistic value generated by working people and their organizations. The website displays photographs, buttons, flyers, pamphlets, badges, ribbons, cartoon art, murals, song books, and sheet music ranging in date from 1886 to the present. It also mounts exhibits derived from this material. By posting these materials, it claims to, "present powerful images that help us understand the past and present lives of working people." At this, however, Labor Arts has only been partially successful.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_
Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World
http://www.ibiblio.org/sohp/laf

Kathleen Johnson

Created as part of the American Historical Association’s program Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, “Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World” has much to offer students, teachers, and the general public alike. By making oral histories available in an audio format, the website helps bring the textile mill system of the South during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to life. However, despite its potential value as an educational resource, “Like a Family” lacks some of the features necessary for a comprehensive public history website—most notably opportunities for interactive learning and community involvement.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_half_
Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania Labor Legacy
http://www.library.pitt.edu/labor_legacy/index.html

Matthew Eidson

The Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania Labor Legacy website is the mouthpiece of a larger project baring the same name. It is a devoted tool, providing a glimpse into the existing documentation of the union movement and industrial relations in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. The creators have described the primary goal for the website as facilitating the “vistas” needed for the development and promotion of the study of the labor movement in the region. The ad hoc group of University Archivists and University of Pittsburgh students was quite successful in its approach to promoting the labor legacy project. Overall the site scores well in the aspects of historiography, providing for primary and first person resources and varieties of documentation, which all lead to a sizable quantity of evidence of labor organizing in the region. The website is a unique resource for Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania labor and union research, facilitating the promotion and education of history’s most highly industrialized regions in the United States. The University of Pittsburgh holds one of the largest and most significant resources for archival research about this topic.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_
Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/sthtml/sthome.html

Michelle Thick

Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860, is part of the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress. It contains 105 documents that cover an assortment of trials and cases both from the United States and Great Britain and include some featuring prominent figures such as John Quincy Adams. The collection covers a wide aspect of the world of slavery and includes documents that contain the views of both slaveholders and the slaves themselves as well as abolitionists, politicians, and members of the justice system. The website includes both the scanned original documents and rekeyed, searchable texts and is a valuable source of information for any researcher.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_whole_
The Triangle Factory Fire
http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/

Kathleen Banks Nutter

The Web site “The Triangle Factory Fire” documents the 1911 fire in which 146 shirtwaist makers, the majority of them young immigrant women, lost their lives in one of America’s most horrific workplace disasters. In many ways, the history of the Triangle Factory Fire encapsulates the urban work experience of hundreds of thousands of young immigrant men and women in the early part of the twentieth century. Mounted by the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the Web site makes full use of the Kheel Center’s extensive primary sources specific to the fire as well as other documentation and resources thus providing the context for and the far-reaching consequences of one tragic Saturday afternoon in late March 1911 in New York City.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_whole_
U.S. Steel Gary Works Photograph Collection, 1906-1971
http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/collections/steel

T.E. Leary

In 1905 the United States Steel Corporation, the premier industrial colossus of its era, announced plans to construct a massive new steel works and model community east of Chicago. The outcome was the city of Gary, Indiana. This website contains in excess of 2200 company photographs that recorded the implementation of this comprehensive initiative. Most of the prints are high-quality contacts from original glass negatives. The online project resulted from collaboration between the Indiana University Digital Library Program and the Calumet Regional Archives at Indiana University Northwest, the repository for this photo collection. These images should be of great interest to historians interested in technology and urbanization; they are also germane to understanding aspects of working-class life that revolved around one of the most imposing complexes ever devoted to the production of a particular commodity. The website includes an array of features useful for interpreting these photos or integrating them into curriculum planning at various grade levels. Unfortunately, the current format has neglected some key resources that could have helped explain more fully the significance of the work sites and work processes in these depictions.

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_whole_
U.S. Steel Gary Works Photograph Collection, 1906-1971
http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/collections/steel/

Angela O'Neal

The U.S. Steel Gary Works Photograph Collection, 1906-1971, a project of Indiana University's Digital Library Program, contains over 2200 photographs, taken by company photographers, of the steel mill and corporate town of Gary, Indiana. The collection itself is housed at the Calumet Regional Archives at Indiana University Northwest. Sponsored by a Library Services and Technology Act grant administered by the Indiana State Library, the project provides access to the extensive collection of U.S. Steel photographs. It documents not only the growth and development of the world’s largest steel mill but also the company town that was built along side it. The site features a teacher’s guide with detailed lesson plans and is an excellent resource for social studies teachers, scholars, and the public.

Full length review available


whole_half_
Virtual Prostitution Museum
http://www.realm-of-shade.com/meretrix/

Danna Bell-Russel

Sexworker Meretrix provides viewers with a look at the material she has collected documenting the history of prostitution. Included within the presentation are images, poetry, and ephemera documenting prostitution. Also of interest are Meretrix’s essay on Veronica Franco, whose story provided the basis of the film Dangerous Beauty, and her collection of images of Mary Magdalene, whom Meretrix believes is identified as a prostitute to reduce her importance in Christ’s life and her role in the development of Christianity. Though some parts of the site lack documentation, some of the thumbnail images can be difficult to see, and the site has not been updated in more than a year, the Virtual Prostitution Museum provides visitors with some interesting information about a way of life that tends to be overlooked by historians. [Editor's Note: Shortly after this review was completed, the museum portion of the site became password protected.]

Full length review available


whole_whole_whole_half_
Voices from the Dust Bowl
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/afctshtml/tshome.html

Jonathan Rees

"Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-41” at the American Memory site of the Library of Congress offers visitors a chance to sample rare, high-quality recordings of old country song. The musicians and vocalists are Depression Era migrant workers who traveled from the Great Plains to the fields of central California where they lived in government camps. Unfortunately, the Library does not do enough to offer context for analyzing and appreciating these remarkable audio tracks nor the other related materials it has made available.

Full length review available


Additional Links of Interest

Disclaimer: PHRC has not reviewed the quality of information at these sources. Although some of these links are to well known sites others are to unknown organizations whose authority, bias, etc. are unknown. All of these sites initially caught the attention of one or more of PHRC's managing editors as we perused sites on the Web for this call; we decided to list them at the bottom of this review section as a public service.

 
  

Back Home
© 1999 - 2010
Public History Resource Center
E-mail Contact editors@publichistory.org
Last updated on August 4, 2003
www.publichistory.org/reviews/view_issue?IssueNumber=8