Labor and Class in the GAPE: Fruitful Opposition and the Specter of the Middle Class

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The chapter reviews two thematic oppositions that characterize much of the debate within GAPE historiography dealing with labor and class: cynicism versus celebration, and continuity versus transition. It uses these oppositions to frame a discussion of the relevant literature, while also relating them to historiographical trends of varying vintage, including: the “new history of capitalism”; the transnational turn in labor history; renewed attention to violent resistance; environmental labor histories; race as a formative force in postbellum “free labor” regimes; and women’s histories. It then more closely examines the way that the “middle class” has been an almost constant subject of this literature’s corpus, while paradoxically escaping adequate scrutiny or analytical justification. It concludes by urging a return to examining labor and class in the GAPE—in all the dimensions suggested by the richness of the literature—with greater attention to the middling sorts’ place within a binary power structure of capitalism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Subtitle of host publicationThe Making of Modern America
EditorsChristopher Nichols, Nancy Unger
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)1118913965
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2017

Publication series

NameWiley-Blackwell Companions to American History

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