Eric H. Monkkonen
For at least a century, tramps have fascinated us. In the popular press, in literature, in short stories, and in folk tales, we have discussed them, portrayed them, and fantasized about them. Much more than it might at first appear, scholars have counted tramps, walked with them, photographed them, corresponded with them, tried to reform them, and even tried to change the socioeconomic or personal conditions which seem to have produced them. Yet in an important way, this literature is as marginal as its objects of interest. The reason is simple enough. We do not know how to think about tramps. Our inability to integrate them into a coherent view of society or social history mirrors their apparent social condition. The failure of historians to incorporate them as a subject has been masked by the earlier silence on tramps as integral members of society. Thus, even though the gamut of attitudes expressed in this previous literature is enormous, and although some of the extraordinarily sensitive and intelligent insights have been offset by others more execrable, few have been analytical or historical.
Recent developments in the study of social history make the understanding of tramps as a historical and social phenomenon possible. The articles collected in this book represent several different methodological and theoretical streams of recent social historical research. All aim at a whole view of American society, or societies, at including the excluded, and at understanding the complex currents of social change, drawing out the implications for the broad range of American experiences. Alert to and generally critical of earlier literary and reform traditions, the contributors to this book have all approached their examination of tramping with