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Global Labour History (Aditya Sarkar)

Global Labour History: Approaches and Debates

The purpose of this seminar is to introduce students to some of the major questions attending the development of labour and working-class history over the last few decades. Two background articles sketch in some of the historiographical departures which have made the idea of a ‘global labour history’, proposed by Marcel van der Linden, compelling to many historians. The principal readings consist of four articles, none of which is directly concerned with the project of ‘global labour history’ in its present form, but which address historical problems with distinctively international and trans-national dimensions. Two of the articles deal with the disposition of early industrial labouring groups towards the imposition of new forms of time-discipline, and the seminar will raise the question of what a comparative study of these two cases might yield. The other two articles deal with labour movements in two very different ‘global’ contexts, respectively that of Atlantic Ocean seafaring in the 18th century, and African decolonization in the 20th. I will begin the session with a brief lecture situating the importance and the problems of the ‘globalization’ of labour history, and the rest of the seminar will be taken up by discussion and comparison of the readings.

Background Reading

Marcel van der Linden, ‘The “Globalization” of Labor and Working-Class History and its Consequences’, International Labor and Working Class History, no.65, Spring 2004, pp.136-156.

Frederick Cooper, ‘Work, Class and Empire: An African Historian’s Retrospective on E.P. Thompson’, Social History, vol.20, no.2 (May 1995), pp.235-241

Principal Readings

E.P. Thompson, ‘Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism’, Past and Present, no. 38 (December, 1967), pp. 56-97.

Keletso E. Atkins, ‘ “Kafir Time”. Preindustrial Temporal Concepts and Labour Discipline in Nineteenth Century Colonial Natal’, The Journal of African History, vol.29, Issue 02, July 1988, pp.229-244.

Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, ‘The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves and The Atlantic Working Class in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of Historical Sociology, vol.3, no.3, September 1990, pp.225-252.

Frederick Cooper, ‘Labor, Politics and the End of Empire in French Africa’, in Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2005), pp.204-243.