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Book Reviews 161 Her explanations may be sound, but the evidence she provides is sketchy at best. Ryan's interest, obviously, lie elsewhere. She apparently is intent on reminding Americans that urban life can and has been different than it currently is. There was a time when American cities harbored diverse populations and yet sustained a tolerant, democratic civic culture. Subsequent scholarship undoubtedly will systematically test Ryan's findings. In the meantime, we perhaps may be pardoned our nostalgia for a time before the privatization of social lifeand the centralization of politics had swept aside the chaotic public sociability of America's cities. By reminding us of a forgotten civic ideal, Ryan has written a cautionary and yet optimistic book. For that reason and others, this book should be savoured. W. Fitzhugh Brundage University of Florida Robert E. Weir. Beyond Labor's Veil: The Culture of the Knights of Labor. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. Pp. xx+ 343 and select bibliography and illustrations. What should we make of the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor? An older generation of historians dismissed them as largely irrelevant cranks. Over the past twenty years, however, a new wave of historical writing has brought to light the remarkable size and impact of the Order across North America. Robert Weir builds on all these local studies and broadens his scope to assess the cultural creativity of the Knights in Gilded Age America. The result is a stimulating study that deserves an audience well beyond the specialist niche of labour history. Like most other recent historians of the organization, the author presents a convincing case that it was much more than a mere "bread-and-butter'' union. Weir's important contribution is to examine in more detail specific parts of the Knights' efforts to create a culture of solidarity and resistance. Through separate chapters on ritual, religion,, song, poetry, fiction, material culture (badges, pins, mugs, and so on), and leisure activities, he establishes that the Knights carved out a distinctive cultural space in the period. Each chapter provides a fascinating discussion of the cultural vitality of the organization . 162 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadtenne detudes americaines The strength of Weir's analysis is attention to the interface between dominant and oppositional cultures. He closely traces how the Knights borrowed from pre-existing and co-existing cultures, both working class and bourgeois, and adapted and transformed familiar rituals, songs, literary forms, parading traditions, and so on for the new purposes of "Labour Reform." The deep debts to Victorian fraternalism, sentimentality, and evangelicalism, in particular , are clear. But so too is the Knights' concern to use this culture to build the bonds of brotherhood (and sisterhood) among all toilers. Abandoned or repelled by many churches, working-class religiosity found a home in local assemblies where religious faith infused much of the Order's ideology and inspired much of its music and poetry-notably its most popular song, "Storm the Fort." This was the "liberation theology" of the nineteenth century, though largely detached from institutional churches. Victorian melodrama and sentimental poetry were recast to broadcast labour themes (incidentally, Weir underestimates the public role of poetryrecitations were extremely common in public gatherings of all kinds). Regalia was designed to allow the Order's membership to proudly display their commitment and solidarity, particularly on the grand occasions of public parading and picnics to celebrate workers' dignity and social worth-the first Labor Days in North America were sponsored by local branches of the Order. Weir identifies a turning point in 1882, when the Order officially ended the era of secrecy that had existed since its founding in 1869, and when its culture shifted from the orally transmitted rituals of fraternalism to a more public, literary culture of solidarity. Although this new expansiveness and openness brought in many more members, including women and people of colour, he identifies some inherent problems in this new phase. The Order's greatest cultural cement, its ritual, went into decline over the 1880s, while the Knights' other cultural forms proliferated, became more diffuse, and fell prey to the commercializing tendencies of the period that were bringing to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 161-163
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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