rusq: Vol. 53 Issue 1: p. 92
Sources: Workers in America: A Historical Encyclopedia
Madeline Veitch

Assistant Librarian, Cataloging and Metadata. SUNY New Paltz, New York

Workers in America: A Historical Encyclopedia, is an update to Robert E. Weir’s 2001 volume co-authored with James P. Hanlan, Historical Encyclopedia of American Labor (Greenwood, 2001). Primarily focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, entries in this new text center on major concepts, events in labor history, and biographies of selected labor leaders. In addition to including more recent historical examples within topical entries, the new volume is less granular in its division into headed entries, but heavier on bolded cross-references within the text. Short primary document passages, which appeared in the 2001 source, have been dropped in favor of more descriptive overview. The addition of an alphabetical table of contents makes this recent publication easier to navigate at a glance, a helpful quality given its target audience. In his preliminary note on use of the text, Weir emphasizes its utility for high school students, particularly those studying Advanced Placement U.S. History, followed by college students, public library patrons, and others in need of general background information on American labor history.

The major strength of the work is in the connections made between ideas, persons, and events. For example, the entry “civil rights movement and labor” discusses over ten unions in relation to their inclusion or exclusion of African American workers and their various engagements with civil rights actions. Labor leaders and related concepts are also discussed, providing an overview that, while brief, is rich in associations. As in Historical Encyclopedia of American Labor, some colloquial terms developed within the labor movement are included, with entries for “sick-out,” “checkoff,” and “stretch-out” giving useful background for understanding primary texts. In the interest of providing broader overview, some of these terms that appeared in the 2001 publication have been cut, which is unfortunate.

When compared with Work in America: An Encyclopedia of History, Policy, and Society (ABC-Clio, 2003), which provides longer and more general articles, Weir’s text emerges with unique offerings. It has greater overlap with Paul F. Taylor’s ABC-CLIO Companion to the American Labor Movement (ABC-Clio, 1993), another source that includes some specificity about particular unions, legislation, and terms, but Taylor’s text is shorter in form and without in-text cross-references and bibliography. The bibliography provided in Weir’s Workers in America: A Historical Encyclopedia is concise, and appropriately aimed at an introductory audience with an average of two to five citations for targeted articles or monographs.

My one complaint would be that certain topics relating to women and people of color in the workforce are either underrepresented or presented in language that could have been more inclusive. For example, the entry “Latino labor” uses the word “miscegenation” descriptively, when it would be better contextualized as an outdated historical term that essentializes race. It would be great to see more coverage of issues of import to women workers, such as sexual harassment, which is discussed in the entries for “protective labor legislation” and “Coalition of Labor Union Women,” but might have benefited from its own entry.

Overall, this is a well-organized and useful quick reference source, recommended for high school and undergraduate students.



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