By definition, working- class historians have concerned themselves with the
collective— the community, social movement, union, or crowd— and their
field has evolved in the United States and elsewhere in a distinctly materialist
context. Theirs has also been a view of history “from the bottom up,” that is,
a reinterpretation of U.S. history from the perspective of laboring and poor
people. Deeply influenced by postwar British Marxist historians, France’s
Annales school, and social science methods and theory, it is a perspective
that has revolutionized our understanding of U.S. history.1 The “new social
history” of the late twentieth century succeeded in reconstructing the every-
day lives of common people, and, at its best, it documented the significance
of these anonymous lives for the broader sweep of American history.
All of these influences bear on my own intellectual lineage, and I am happy
to associate myself with this approach. But I have also become increasingly
concerned over the course of my career with how we might make room for
the individual person in this story. What does this history look like from the
personal perspectives of the common people who represent its subjects?
While recent work has stressed the vital global character of working- class
introduction
The Subjective Side of Working- Class History
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