History from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out: Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Working-Class History

Duke University Press
Free sample

In History from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out James R. Barrett rethinks the boundaries of American social and labor history by investigating the ways in which working-class, radical, and immigrant people's personal lives intersected with their activism and religious, racial, ethnic, and class identities. Concerned with carving out space for individuals in the story of the working class, Barrett examines all aspects of individuals' subjective experiences, from their personalities, relationships, and emotions to their health and intellectual pursuits. Barrett's subjects include American communists, "blue-collar cosmopolitans"—such as well-read and well-traveled porters, sailors, and hoboes—and figures in early twentieth-century anarchist subculture. He also details the process of the Americanization of immigrant workers via popular culture and their development of class and racial identities, asking how immigrants learned to think of themselves as white. Throughout, Barrett enriches our understanding of working people’s lives, making it harder to objectify them as nameless cogs operating within social and political movements. In so doing, he works to redefine conceptions of work, migration, and radical politics.
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About the author

James R. Barrett is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author and editor of several books, most recently, The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City.

David Roediger is Foundation Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas and the author of Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Jul 27, 2017
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780822372851
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Social History
History / United States / 20th Century
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A lively, street-level history of turn-of-the-century urban life explores the Americanizing influence of the Irish on successive waves of migrants to the American city.

In the newest volume in the award-winning Penguin History of American Life series, James R. Barrett chronicles how a new urban American identity was forged in the streets, saloons, churches, and workplaces of the American city. This process of “Americanization from the bottom up” was deeply shaped by the Irish. From Lower Manhattan to the South Side of Chicago to Boston’s North End, newer waves of immigrants and African Americans found it nearly impossible to avoid the Irish. While historians have emphasized the role of settlement houses and other mainstream institutions in Americanizing immigrants, Barrett makes the original case that the culture absorbed by newcomers upon reaching American shores had a distinctly Hibernian cast.

By 1900, there were more people of Irish descent in New York City than in Dublin; more in the United States than in all of Ireland. But in the late nineteenth century, the sources of immigration began to shift, to southern and eastern Europe and beyond. Whether these newcomers wanted to save their souls, get a drink, find a job, or just take a stroll in the neighborhood, they had to deal with entrenched Irish Americans.

Barrett reveals how the Irish vacillated between a progressive and idealistic impulse toward their fellow immigrants and a parochial defensiveness stemming from the hostility earlier generations had faced upon their own arrival in America. They imparted racist attitudes toward African Americans; they established ethnic “deadlines” across city neighborhoods; they drove other immigrants from docks, factories, and labor unions. Yet the social teachings of the Catholic Church, a sense of solidarity with the oppressed, and dark memories of poverty and violence in both Ireland and America ushered in a wave of progressive political activism that eventually embraced other immigrants.

Drawing on contemporary sociological studies and diaries, newspaper accounts, and Irish American literature, The Irish Way illustrates how the interactions between the Irish and later immigrants on the streets, on the vaudeville stage, in Catholic churches, and in workplaces helped forge a multiethnic American identity that has a profound legacy in our cities today.

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