European Labor History in Global Context from the 18th Century to the Present

Course Description: 

This course explores the history of labor from a global and transnational perspective. Lectures will highlight important debates that have emerged in the field of labor history, with an emphasis on the concepts and categories that have been interrogated and challenged in twenty-first century scholarship. There will be an emphasis on themes that directly affect Eastern Europe, as part of the History Department’s Labor History initiative aimed at bringing Eastern Europe into, and in this way influencing, research on global labor history.

The course introduces overarching and long- term trends in the history of labor in Europe – in the context of both European expansion and intra-European unequal development. It elaborates a number of large thematic areas, including the history of diverse forms and regimes of labor, the relationship between production and social reproduction, the role of collectives such as unions and parties, and the role of technology in reconfiguring the nature of work. It focuses on industrialization and changing labor relations throughout the centuries, on labor and politics in regional and international settings, and on local and global entanglements of the histories of labor.

Readings will include excerpts from classic works essential to understanding the development of the field as well as contemporary analyses. The course will have a lecture and seminar format, with lectures by visiting scholars and by instructors. Guest lectures, open to the public, will give insight into the complexities of the rapidly developing historiography of labor in global context.


Learning Outcomes: 

Learning Goals

 Students are not expected to have a background in labor history but should be open to discuss and reflect on ways in which historical thinking about social change, industrialization and local as well as transnational dimensions of history might be enhanced by a focus on labor history.

 Upon finishing this course students should

  • have gained an overview of important traditions, current research developments and major debates in European and transnational labor history

  • have developed more in-depth knowledge of larger themes in European and transnational labor history, including the relevant scholarly debates

  • be able to describe the potential use of particular themes in and approaches to labor history for their own work.         


 Classroom Discussion:  In addition to discussion of the required readings, portions of several sessions will be devoted to named topics for class discussion such as "Rethinking Industrialization," "Labor unrest and strikes," as well as on the two written assignments, the Reflection Paper and the Source-Based Essay.

 Reflection Paper: At the end of the course students will write a short Reflection Paper of 2-3 double-spaced pages in which they discuss one of the larger questions addressed in the class that incorporates at least two course readings.  A list of questions for the final reflection paper will be circulated a week before the Reflection paper is due.

 Source-Based Essay: For the final paper students will write a Source-based Essay of about 10-12 double-spaced pages– developed in consultation with the instructor – which discusses one (or maximum two) original sources, puts this material into historical context and relates it to the relevant literature. Classes will include discussion of selected print and visual sources to provide experience with the material from which historians have constructed labor history. The required readings, which include rich historical-empirical case studies and foundational examples of how labor history has been written, will be discussed, among other things, with a close focus on the use of sources. 


Classroom discussions of required reading 10%

Classroom topical discussions 10%

Reflection Paper and discussion 30%

Development of prospectus and Source-based Essay together 50%