An anonymous emailer offers this answer to andrew’s question, “why has labor history declined so much as a subfield? I’m not sure I’ve seen a satisfying explanation….”

  1. Labor history suffers because unions are currently moribund. No strikes=no labor history. You can try to write a history of work, but the absence of conflict drives away the audience.
  2. Historians are now thoroughly middle class. Many of them not only don’t care about working people, they secretly distrust labor unions and dislike the white working-class men who have historically run them.
  3. Labor history attracts ideologues who are attracted to struggle for its own sake. They have an embarassing crush on the tiny, widely hated, IWW because Big Bill Haywood was RADICAL, DUDE!!! This kind of silliness can tend to drive serious people away.
  4. Labor history is no worse off than any number of fields. Given the explosion in the number of books, genres, subjects, and methods, there is no center. You often hear political, diplomatic, business, and economic historians complain that “social historians” have blackballed them. But you know what? Women’s historians have the same bitterness. Their work is also largely ignored. Everybody feels unloved.

So, what attracts the recognition of a wide audience? Race, race, race. It’s the only issue that really resonates with the boomers who currently run the profession.

Whether andrew will find that satisfying, I don’t know. It’s certainly vigorous.