David Montgomery, one of the leading labor historians of his generation, passed away this morning at the age of 84.
I got to know Montgomery’s work as a graduate student. The Fall of the House of Labor was one of the most brilliant–and daunting–things I read as a first-year graduate student. I don’t think I ever had any aspirations to be a labor historian, but I remember feeling after reading Montgomery’s book that I would simply be incapable of producing anything like that. The sheer amount of knowledge about the particulars of various late nineteenth-century industrial trades was staggering to me.
I got to know David himself when he and I were among the founders of Historians Against the War (HAW). Though David’s academic work alone is enough to seal his reputation as a major figure in our profession, he also distinguished himself as an activist. When I first met David, I remember being struck by what an extraordinarily down-to-earth and practical person he was (qualities which were, frankly, sometimes absent from my generation of academic leftists). Getting to work with David was one of the great pleasures of my years in HAW.
I heard the news of his passing in an e-mail communication to the HAW membership that included this nice recollection from one of our first co-chairs, Van Gosse:
David wrote the founding statement of HAW, huddling in a small group at the end of our first meeting, at the AHA in January 2003 in Chicago. He was a very active member of the Steering Committee for some years, always a reasonable, steadying person, but also always up for more action. He will be much, much missed. David Montgomery, Presente!
There aren’t many obituaries up yet, but there’s a nice piece by Jon Wiener about David Montgomery at The Nation.