Labor History: Global Trajectories, East European and Eurasian Dynamics

Course Description: 

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the latest methodological and theoretical developments in the field of labor history. Over the past decades, labor history established itself as one of the more innovative sub-fields of social history, reaching across disciplinary borders into the neighboring domains of anthropology and historical sociology and expanding its geographical scope beyond the traditional concern with the industrialized countries of the West. By focusing on the lives of working people, on types of work and labor movements, this scholarship seeks to illuminate larger processes of social and economic change, as well as the historical dynamics that structure politics and culture: industrialization, the expansion of urban landscapes, the transformation of the countryside, environmental change, social unrest and economic growth. The course is organized thematically, with each class examining one of the master concepts of the field: coerced labor, proletarianization, commodification, factory work, convict labor, household work etc. The selected readings are juxtaposed to cover Eastern Europe and Eurasia as well as other regions of the globe. Students are highly encouraged to engage in comparisons and to think of Eastern European topics in labor history as reflecting (and interacting with) wider global trajectories. Each class is accompanied by an abstract and a set of three questions, the purpose of which is to assist students in reading and discussing the assigned texts. The abstract provides a brief historiographical background for the texts, while the questions serve as guideline for engaging critically with the readings and as starting point for class discussion.    

Learning Outcomes: 
  • Students would gain a comprehensive understanding of the major concepts, main topics of empirical research and the current landscape of historiographical debates in labor history
  • Students would enrich their knowledge of key social processes that shaped (and continue to shape) the modern world such as the end of slavery and serfdom, industrialization, the growth of cities and the transformation of the countryside, total wars, mass incarceration and environmental change
  • Students would acquire the ability to think comparatively across various regions of the globe, to make connections between seemingly disparate events and to see the benefits of placing their own research interests into larger historical contexts and dynamics     

The grade is composed of presentation (25%), active class participation (25%) and final paper (50%). Each student will do at least one presentation of the mandatory readings, critically introducing the main arguments of the texts and opening the discussion. The topic of the final paper will be decided upon in consultation with the instructor no later than week 8. The final paper will be a research paper of 2500/3000 words in length, including bibliography and notes. The use of the mandatory or recommended readings is strongly encouraged, but students should show they can explore new material and develop arguments through critical engagement with other secondary sources.