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  • LAWCHA Approaches Its Twentieth Anniversary
  • James N. Gregory (bio)

Twenty years ago, LAWCHA started to come together. The field of labor history had been operating for decades without a professional organization in part because of the many state and regional labor history associations already active. But the times demanded something more. The AFL-CIO had made a left turn, and many scholars were looking for ways to bring activism and labor history together. A meeting was called for the October 1998 North American Labor History Conference in Detroit, which approved a constitution and bylaws that had been drafted by Roger Horowitz and Cecilia Bucki. An organizing committee set to work, and a year later LAWCHA held its first official conference and elected officers led by President Jacquelyn Hall and Vice President Joe Trotter.

I have a couple of reasons for flagging this approaching anniversary. First, LAWCHA now has an official archive. The Reuther Library in Detroit is processing the first donation of records, covering our early years. I hope those who have saved correspondence and other relevant materials will contact Tom Klug about adding to the collection. Second, the twentieth anniversary is a good time to take stock and think about what has been accomplished and where we want to go next. Our website features a brief history of LAWCHA by Shel Stromquist and Bucki. I am borrowing from it.

The past twenty years have been complicated both for labor movements and for academia, the two institutional complexes we represent; but LAWCHA has more than proved the wisdom behind its foundation. The founding mothers and fathers made key commitments that made the organization different in tone and reach from other historical societies. They defined the field broadly, understanding that labor and working-class history encompasses so much more than the history of unions. They adopted a strategy of collaborating with regional labor history organizations and supporting their conferences. And they made special efforts to support graduate students and young scholars, understanding that the future unfolds with them.

Other decisions strengthened the organization. In 2004 this journal was founded by Leon Fink and others, and Labor quickly established a reputation for publishing top-quality articles and field-defining forums. In 2008 we began awarding [End Page 7] the Herbert Gutman dissertation prize, and Cornell ILR School asked LAWCHA to cosponsor the Phillip Taft book award. After David Montgomery's death in 2011, LAWCHA members raised the endowment funds for a second labor history book prize in his name that is cosponsored with the Organization of American Historians (OAH). Meanwhile, our website had become a scholarly and organizing resource featuring Rosemary Feuer's Labor History Links bibliography and resources for teaching labor history in the schools. In 2012 Ryan Poe and Feuer began remaking our communication systems, adding the dynamic blog LaborOnline and a Facebook page and expanding listserv capacities.

LAWCHA's reach extends far beyond its membership, thanks to the culture of activism that has been our secret sauce since the beginning. Hundreds of labor historians make their voices heard both through scholarship and through public service. We are active in the OAH, the American Historical Association, the Urban History Association, Western and Southern History Associations, African American Intellectual History Society, and other professional organizations. We are active online, producing public labor history resources that are used by millions. We are active in our communities, writing op-eds and working on social justice initiatives. And we are active on our campuses, fighting to preserve workplace rights, academic freedom, and a model of liberal education that is a cornerstone of democratic societies.

The dual scholar-activist model was sharply apparent this year when LAWCHA members collected a basketful of book and distinguished scholar prizes at OAH in addition to LAWCHA's own awards. The list of prizes shows how their work has won the respect of scholars in multiple fields of history and rises to the very pinnacle of professional accomplishment. Congratulations to Eileen Boris, Linda Gordon, LaShawn Harris, Max Krochmal, Nelson Lichtenstein, Ryan Patrick Murphy, Heather Thompson, and Katherine Turk.

LAWCHA has much to celebrate as the twentieth anniversary approaches and much to do. New initiatives by the Contingent Faculty Committee...


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