Reviewed: December, 2003
Mounted: January 12, 2004
By Evan Daniel
Labor-Management Conflict in American History is an Internet project of the Ohio State University Department of History. The staff has clearly spent time and effort to make these materials available to the public. However, the disjointed nature of the collection and lack of explanatory material contribute to a sense of disconnectedness at the site.
While the site lists neither a mission statement nor a stated purpose, it is clear upon first examination that it is of particular interest to social and labor historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The website is also of potential interest to economic historians, journalists, and anyone interested in labor-management conflict or early industrialization in the United States.
The site has six main collections. Half the collections contain a single document (“The Chicago Strike of 1905,” “Conflict in the Pennsylvania Coke Regions with Fricke Coke,” “A Lurid Account of the Molly Maguire Movement in the Pennsylvania Anthracite Coal Fields”), one contains a single photograph (“Haymarket Square in Chicago was the Scene of Violence in 1886”). Thankfully, two of the six collections are slightly more comprehensive.
The most comprehensive section is “Strikes in the Anthracite Coal Fields of Pennsylvania.” It contains thirteen hyper-text links to a chronology, scanned photographs, political cartoons from The World's Work and Public Opinion, a biography of United Mine Workers leader John Mitchell, and a description of anthracite mining written shortly after the strike. Unfortunately, all the collections are not as rich in the number and variety of sources.
In addition, “The Homestead Strike of 1892” contains seven linked documents, including a description of the town of Homestead; four articles from Illustrated American (1892), including a photographic essay of “The Pennsylvania Militia in the Field”; an article in McClure's magazine by Hamlin Garland (1894); and a reply the same year by an anonymous coal miner.
Patrick J. Hall created this website. Who is Mr. Hall and what role did he play in the creation of the site? Unfortunately, there is no biographic information available for Hall on the site. Is Mr. Hall the Webmaster who the entered the HTML encoding? A Professor? When I followed the “Contact Information” link at the main site for Ohio State University Internet Projects, Mr. Hall was not listed as a member of the history faculty or staff. There is a hypertext link to Mr. Hall’s email address on the site, but no further information is given.
The site exhibits a subtle bias in favor of management and mainstream sources. An easy ameliorative would be adding working-class sources including union papers, socialist papers, anarchist papers, etc. This would also provide a richer, more comprehensive picture of the varieties of conflicts and contestations within the working class movement, especially between competing ideological perspectives.
All of the links work, and there are no posting/revision dates. There is no mention that any additional collections will be uploaded. Like all of the OSU Internet Collections, I suspect the site will maintain an Internet presence for over a year.
Value Added Features:
Unfortunately there is no “search” option on the page. There are neither summaries of the materials on the website nor abstracts of the articles contained within.
Regarding the issue of technical access, the site does not require add-ons or pose any difficulties for those with dial-up Internet connections. The site also does not include downloadable attachments, run Java scripts or Flash, contain large graphic files, and so forth. While this may not appeal to high-tech aficionados who want all the bells and whistles, it does enable a wide variety of people with different browsers and operating systems to access the materials on the site without needing the latest, greatest, and most expensive software or hardware.
Navigation is also extremely simple. I used two different Internet browsers—Internet Explorer and Opera—with DSL service and Internet Explorer with a dial-up service to ensure individuals with different browsers would be able to access the site.
On the negative side, the site neither includes alt tags for its images, nor does it have any type of navigation system besides returning to the first page. This makes navigation within collections cumbersome.
Aesthetics/Visual Clarity and Appeal:
To be blunt, the main page is not particularly visually appealing. The site is easily readable with some photographs and graphics to break up the text, but I was expecting something more. Labor ephemera from the strikes and conflicts under consideration such as manifestos, posters or broadsheets would have provided a more visually engaging presentation. Furthermore, the lack of any standard font or point size creates a sense of discontinuity between the web pages.
Overall impression of the site:
Given that labor-management conflict in American history is a vast subject, the site is necessarily selective in its choice of documents. However the site seems to barely scrape the surface of such a complex issue and would be improved with supplemental information and links. Oral history audio files and transcripts would add another welcome addition.
Interpretation of Materials:
As mentioned above, no information beyond an email address is provided regarding Mr. Hall, the web page creator. Given this lack of information it is impossible to know the educational background and research interests of the website designer by visiting the site.
There is no commentary or context provided, so the reader is forced to create her own interpretation as to the validity of the various sources provided. For example, no explanation is given as to what the Pinkerton Detective Agency is or why they would have an interest in thwarting labor organizing efforts. On a positive note, the lack of any interpretative framework allows an informed reader to develop her own conclusions as to the validity of the sources or lack thereof. Yet students—particularly high school and undergraduates—may take the texts as definitive.
Another drawback of the site is the absence of any explanation of the various radical ideologies prevalent in the American labor movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. American labor history in this era is inexplicably intertwined and enmeshed with radical political ideologies, especially anarchism and socialism. Even reformist labor leaders like Samuel Gompers were ostensibly socialist. Without understanding the ideological context, it is difficult to understand why people acted the way they did beyond referring to economistic motivations like better wages and working conditions. These are no doubt central, but they are not complete explanations.
A likely reply by the authors of the website is that it is impossible to provide a completely inclusive scholarly account of these events, and I would agree. However, some context and explanation would have been welcome. Additionally, the site and researchers alike would benefit with links to further sources related to the collections in question.
Primary Source Documents:
The collection includes a variety of documents including magazine articles, photographs, political cartoons, and a chronology. The collections are not comprehensive in the number and variety of sources. Some collections contain a single document.
Sources are almost always clearly noted, as are the physical location of sources (e.g. “This magazine is available in the History Reading Room on the 2nd floor of the Main Library under the call number F351 M68”). However, sources are re-keyed, and scans of the originals as images are not available to verify the accuracy of the retyping. No mention is made of who scanned the material or if the project was funded internally or through outside grants. Lastly, no mention is made regarding the reason behind selecting particular documents nor who did the selecting.
Again, the site suffers from a lack of a searchable database of the materials included. This makes it much more difficult for a novice web user—teacher or student—to find relevant information.
Ohio State University has copyright ownership of the materials on the site. Yet OSU makes no mention of use restrictions such as who to contact for permission to reproduce photos, text, and so on.
The site allows researchers and students to access primary sources without attending distant archives or research libraries. Teachers familiar with labor history can create lesson plans based on the sections and use the digital material to visually enhance the classroom experience. This may prove difficult for teachers with little historical knowledge of labor-management relations in the United States. Secondary school teachers, in particular, would benefit by the inclusion of lesson-plans or topics for classroom discussion. One example is including an article describing the workplace conditions of miners in the United States today and comparing them to the depiction provided by Rosamond D. Rhone in “Anthracite Coal Mines and Mining” from The American Monthly Review of Reviews, November, 1902. This would enable students to make a link between history and contemporary social and economic issues.
Promotion of a Community of Interest:
There are no apparent mechanisms available for the public to contribute archival material such as manuscripts, photos, or ephemera to the site. No links are provided to listservs for students, teachers, or scholars who wish to further research the issue covered on the site. However, there is a list of other Ohio State University Internet projects of interest to historians including Lynching in America, The American Steel Industry, and Child Labor and Child Reform in American History.
Point Assessment for Labor-Management Conflict in American History
(more information on PHRC's rating system is available)
|Permanence and Timeliness||13/15|
|Value Added Features||0/15|
Public History Specific Criteria
|Interpretation of Materials||4/40|
|Primary Source Documents||9/20|
|Promotion of a Community of Interest||0/20|
Total: 61 points -- 2 Earths
Evan Daniel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Ph.D. Candidate, History and Political Science, New School for Social Research and a processing Archivist (non-print) at, Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University. Research interests include Labor history, social history, comparative politics, international political economy.
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