Indispensable Outcasts: Hobo Workers and Community in the American Midwest, 1880-1930

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University of Illinois Press, 2003 - Business & Economics - 255 pages
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Often overlooked in the history of Progressive Era labor, the hoboes who rode the rails in search of seasonal work have nevertheless secured a place in the American imagination. The stories of the men who hunted work between city and countryside, men alternately portrayed as either romantic adventurers or degenerate outsiders, have not been easy to find. Nor have these stories found a comfortable home in either rural or labor histories. Indispensable Outcasts weaves together history, anthropology, gender studies, and literary analysis to reposition these workers at the center of Progressive Era debates over class, race, manly responsibility, community, and citizenship. Combining incisive cultural criticism with the empiricism of a more traditional labor history, Frank Tobias Higbie illustrates how these so-called marginal figures were in fact integral to the communities they briefly inhabited and to the cultural conflicts over class, masculinity, and sexuality they embodied. organizing materials of the Industrial Workers of the World and presents a complex and compelling portrait of hobo life, from its often violent and dangerous working conditions to its ethic of transient mutuality that enabled survival and resistance on the road. More than a study of hobo life, this interdisciplinary book is also a meditation on the possibilities for writing history from the bottom up, as well as a frank discussion of the ways historians' fascination with personal narrative has colored their construction and presentation of history.
  

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Contents

Introduction
1
Like the Flock of Swallows That Come in the Springtime The Uneasy Place of Hobo Workers in Midwestern Economy and Culture
25
Retelling Life Stories Floating Labor and the Terrain of Progressive Era Social Investigation
66
Reassessing the Floating Laborer The Social Geography of Work and Community in the Upper Midwest
98
The Hobo the Wobbly and the Battle of Mitchell Unionization and the Politics of Community in the Wheat Belt
134
We Thought of Ourselves as Men after Awhile Mutuality Violence and the Apprenticeship of the Road
173
Conclusion
205
Bibliography
217
Index
243
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About the author (2003)

FRANK TOBIAS HIGBIE is the director of the Newberry Library's School Center for Family and Community History in Chicago. His articles have appeared in Labor History and Social Science History.

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