U.S. Intellectual History Blog

David Montgomery, 1927-2011

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.

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. A roundtable would be excellent. Christopher Phelps has an essay in the new JAH–“The Strike Imagined: The Atlantic and Interpretive Voyages of Robert Koehler’s Painting The Strike”–that might make for a good starting point. I’ve yet to read it–but the abstract is really intriguing:

    “Labor historians have long explored aspects of working-class culture ranging from religion to ethnicity, and cultural and intellectual historians have begun to trace themes of labor and class in American literature and thought. Christopher Phelps asserts that a more intensive and fruitful rapprochement of intellectual and labor history is revealed by the story of Robert Koehler’s 1886 painting The Strike. The work of a Milwaukee-educated German American inspired by the Pittsburgh strike of 1877, The Strike was completed in Munich based on sketches made in England, unveiled in New York and honored in Paris, and crisscrossed the Atlantic in both its conceptualization and audiences. The reception of the painting reflected, Phelps argues, the nexus of modern liberal beliefs about labor in the epoch of rapidly industrializing capitalism and, after a long lapse into obscurity, the radicalism of the 1960s in the moment of its rediscovery.”

  2. Some readers may be interested in my bibliography for the World of Work and Labor Law which is available at Ratio Juris: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2011/02/world-of-work-and-labor-law-select.html (click on ‘This bibliography’ in the opening sentence). It is divided into three sections:
    1. Workers’ Rights, Collective Bargaining & Labor Law
    2. The World of Work: Economics, Technology & Industrial Relations
    3. The World of Work & Organized Labor: History, Politics…

    I have a slightly updated version I can send to anyone on request.

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