Perambulating Scrapbooks and Saloon-Sawdust Sifters: Ghosts along the Labor/Material Culture Trail

By Green, Archie | Western Folklore, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Perambulating Scrapbooks and Saloon-Sawdust Sifters: Ghosts along the Labor/Material Culture Trail


Green, Archie, Western Folklore


Workers' expressive culture (railroaders' dialect, cowboys' laments, seafarers' shanties, loggers' ballads, miners' customs, and trade unionists' rhetoric) has long attracted students of language and literature. During recent decades, labor advocates have joined peers in the humanities in extending study, initially, to objects (badges, banners, tools, trade signs) and, eventually, to public monuments and urban landscapes.

To address this latter sphere, the late Stuart Kaufman of the George Meany Memorial Archives and Harry Rubinstein of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History convened a "Symposium on Labor and Material Culture" at the Meany Center on November 12, 1995. In the same year, Labor's Heritage devoted its Spring issue to "Labor Landmarks."

Participating in the symposium and contributing to the journal, I addressed the roles of scholars and enthusiasts in viewing work and workers as integral to the treatment of narrative, artifact, or landmark. I have lumped sardonic tale, esoteric ritual, bronze plaque, and marble sculpture under the rubric laborlore, others have used occupational folklife, workers' culture, or revolutionary working class counterculture, as defining terms.

In a personal sense, with four-decades of "progress" from ballad/ blues case studies (Only a Miner), to civic advocacy (preserving an obsolete copra crane on a San Francisco Bay inlet), I have been acutely conscious of antiquarian ghosts who have simultaneously haunted and illuminated my journey.

To open, trade unionists are not immune from ghostly spirits. At the Knights of Labor national convention in 1893, Daniel De Leon and John Sovereign combined socialist and populist votes to terminate Terence Powderly's reign as the Grand Master Workman. Unable to sustain their victory, the new allies quarreled among themselves and across ideological fences. One skirmish touched matters of who should guard labor history, with what tools, and in which manner.

De Leon's camp seemed especially keen to punish and banish deviants within the Socialist Labor Party. Among many targets, Charles Sotheran, an emigrant from Britain's Yorkshire, had published a book on Horace Greeley and other Utopian pioneers. The SLP's inner fight gravitated to New York's Knights of Labor District Assembly 49, where in July, 1894, Sotheran fought back by denouncing De Leon over his status as a lawyer. The latter then smote his foe, thundering that the Socialist Labor Party had no room for "this 250-pound perambulating scrap book and historic junk shop." (Quint 1953:155)

In unceremoniously expelling Sotheran from the Socialist Labor Party, De Leon bore in upon a rival's role as a radical historian, omnivorous reader, and dedicated bibliophile. In turn, the book man tagged his former comrades as "socialist marplots, casuists, irreconcilables, disruptionists, falsifiers, and boodlers." (Quint 1953:68) I do not desire to fan ancient embers; rather, I call attention to De Leon's terms, scrap book and junk shop. Did he use them figuratively only to demean a rival, or did Sotheran surround his bookcases with buttons, banners, and brica-brac? Unable to rebuild Sotheran's collection, I ask: Did he literally treasure trade-union artifacts in a Dickensian curiosity shop: How did he extract meaning from scrapbook memorabilia. In short, if not Sotheran, when and where did any labor partisan first undertake to gather those items now placed under the rubric material culture? A related question follows: Was De Leon the initial hard-head to blast union pack rats for their obsessions, or had he in 1894 simply fallen back on a pejorative stance previously sanctified in labor discourse?

Over the years, I have experienced some of the intense feeling projected both by pragmatists and visionaries against laborlore enthusiasts. In 1964, Joyce Kornbluh completed Rebel Voices, an exciting anthology of IWW writings and graphics; academic and popular journals alike praised her book. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Perambulating Scrapbooks and Saloon-Sawdust Sifters: Ghosts along the Labor/Material Culture Trail
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.