Blue-Collar Cosmopolitans: Toward a History of Working-Class Sophistication in the Industrial Era
Many working-class people with broad perspectives and travel experience were “cosmopolitans”. Long before current notions of “globalization,” such workers linked their local communities with the broader world. Immigrants lived transnational lives, navigating diverse societies and employing numerous languages while contributing to families and nationalist movements in their home countries. Sailors were not only more widely-traveled, but often better-read than middle class people. Maritime workers often provided vital links for transnational social and political movements. Pullman Porters spread Black freedom movement literature and ideas, connecting activists as they traveled. The socialist machinist’s or garment worker’s lives may have been circumscribed by the factory walls and city neighborhood, but as socialists, their worldviews, political goals, and strategies were inherently transnational. Ethnic working-class cultures were worlds not only of politics and work, but also of music, theatre, and literature. Placing such experiences in relation to our understandings of the “cosmopolitan”, we not only illuminate the former but also broaden our notions of the latter.
Respondents: Jack Metzgar and Peter Cole, Western Illinois University
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