The Authorized Heritage Discourse of Labor, and why it matters

To wrap up, I’d like to consider the cases I’ve presented as they work within the Authorized Heritage Discourse. While united by the gravity of the events, the centrality of steel, coal, and trains to the modern United States, and my dissertation research- Homestead, Pullman, and Ludlow present three starkly contrasting ways of memorializing labor, and three stunning examples of the Authorized Heritage Discourse at work.

At Homestead, the Authorized Heritage Discourse of the Waterfront Shopping Center is one of industry and nation building. When the history of the site must be confronted, (usually out of physical necessity) it is done so in a way that emphasizes the might of steel, and by extension, the United States because of it. This is a sanitized account of the history- where the Battle of Homestead, and workers at Homestead are relegated to the periphery- both figuratively in the narrative, and literally in the organization of the mall.

At Pullman, the original Authorized Heritage Discourse of a model town is maintained, as the model homes that occupy it were built to last.  The history told of Pullman remains one of quaint historic homes, and what would have been state of the art amenities. Ironically, this narrative also preserves the conditions that led to worker discontent.

Two of the best maintained aspects of Pullman are Hotel Florence, and the Factory Clock Tower.  Hotel Florence was built for visiting executives to observe the grandeur of Pullman. Like the town, it was organized by class- with amenities getting increasingly more grand as one rose through the building.  The clock tower, part of the administration building at Pullman, continues to be billed as “one of the most beautiful industrial landscapes in America.” This imposing clock may have served as a very material reminder of the stagnant hourly wages that workers eventually struck against.

At Ludlow, the United Mine Workers of America own the site, and to an extent control the discourse. For this reason, the Authorized Heritage Discourse of Ludlow affirms the Massacre. The support of the UMW, as well as archaeological field work to “supplement, extend, and event correct the documentary record”(Saitta, 2007), demands this position. Perhaps because of this stance, The Ludlow Massacre’s recognition is relatively limited to these circles of interested parties.

Why should we remember the labor of these sites?

It is not enough to simply preserve, and perhaps reuse these sites- the history of class warfare at them must also be preserved.  My argument for this is as follows;

First of all, as I have shown this past month, these sites simply have historical value.  They were also widely publicized at the time.  News stories and photographs of the Battle of Homestead, Pullman Strike, or the Ludlow Massacre became warnings to other company owners of the level of action their employees could take, and the bad press they would receive, if they chose not to meet worker demands.  For this same reason, these events became an inspiration to workers, as their power and possibility was validated in newspapers across the country.

via The Atlantic

via The Atlantic

These events are poignant in our current political climate, and a consideration of them may be a salve to rising racial tensions.  A few months ago Trish elegantly provided some examples of archaeology’s role on immigration.  I would like to propose this work as another example. Many of the laborers of these sites were new to the United States, and employment policies, as well as the discourse around them, often had racial and ethnic undertones. Today, the descendants of these immigrants, who have since become “white,” may perpetuate the same sort of racial profiling, with regards to contemporary migrant laborers (Roller 2013).

This memory is also important to us, as workers and archaeologists, whether in academia or elsewhere.  In an academic context, we face fewer permanent and tenure track possibilities, with an ever increasing number of adjunct, assistantship, and other part time positions.  CRM exists because of and to facilitate capitalist expansion, and often exploits the labor of field technicians to the benefit of corporations, directors, and governments.  We could all stand to be more critically aware of the class system we are a part of (McGuire and Walker, 1999).



McGuire, Randall and Mark Walker

1999  Class Confrontations in Archaeology. Historical Archaeology, 33(1): 159-183.

Roller, Michael P.

2013    Rewriting Narratives of Labor Violence: A Transnational Perspective of the Lattimer Massacre.  Historical Archaeology, 47(3): 109-123

Saitta, Dean

2007    The Archaeology of Collective Action. University Press of    Florida, Gainesville.


1 Comment

  • Taryn Kilbert, M.S. says:

    Very well written and very informative. The passion for your subject matter is palpable, maybe just to us fellow labor historians, but this is truly valuable writing.

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