Bodies of Work

Civic Display and Labor in Industrial Pittsburgh

Bodies of Work

Body, Commodity, Text

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 30 illustrations Published: September 2008

American Studies, History > U.S. History, Sociology > Labor

By the end of the nineteenth century, Pittsburgh emerged as a major manufacturing center in the United States. Its rise as a leading producer of steel, glass, and coal was fueled by machine technology and mass immigration, developments that fundamentally changed the industrial workplace. Because Pittsburgh’s major industries were almost exclusively male and renowned for their physical demands, the male working body came to symbolize multiple often contradictory narratives about strength and vulnerability, mastery and exploitation. In Bodies of Work, Edward Slavishak explores how Pittsburgh and the working body were symbolically linked in civic celebrations, the research of social scientists, the criticisms of labor reformers, advertisements, and workers’ self-representations. Combining labor and cultural history with visual culture studies, he chronicles a heated contest to define Pittsburgh’s essential character at the turn of the twentieth century, and he describes how that contest was conducted largely through the production of competing images.

Slavishak focuses on the workers whose bodies came to epitomize Pittsburgh, the men engaged in the arduous physical labor demanded by the city’s metals, glass, and coal industries. At the same time, he emphasizes how conceptions of Pittsburgh as quintessentially male limited representations of women in the industrial workplace. The threat of injury or violence loomed large for industrial workers at the turn of the twentieth century, and it recurs throughout Bodies of Work: in the marketing of artificial limbs, statistical assessments of the physical toll of industrial capitalism, clashes between labor and management, the introduction of workplace safety procedures, and the development of a statewide workmen’s compensation system.


Bodies of Work is an absorbing and inventive history. The book includes thirty illustrations that bring the argument to life, and Slavishak’s melding of visual studies and labor history is imaginative and provocative.” — Will Cooley, H-Net Reviews

“Amply illustrated, this interdisciplinary work fruitfully blends visual studies with labor, cultural, and gender history. . . . Most important, it compellingly illuminates how, in one of the nation’s leading industrial cities at the turn of the twentieth century, workers’ bodies became bodies of work, with all that is entailed.” — Gregory L. Kaster, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

“Slavishak reminds us of the powerful role of intellectual elites in shaping popular understandings of workers’ bodies.” — Paul Michel Taillon, Journal of American History

“Slavishak’s Bodies of Work. . . is a solidly researched, well written, and thought-provoking study of the working-class body in an industrial city. Slavishak’s meticulous case study, an exemplary model of how to intertwine cultural and social history, will demand the attention of historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.” — Brian M. Ingrassia, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

“The book emerges from, and makes a useful contribution to, scholarly explorations of public memory and display, particularly in the areas of civic boosterism, parades, and commemorative activities. . . . Slavishak’s prose is clear and straightforward, and there is much that is fascinating in his detailed descriptions of industrial processes and their depictions. The book’s greatest strength is in the way it considers different representational strategies within the same analytical frame: textual and performative, social scientific and commercial, hegemonic and subaltern.” — Cathy Stanton, Anthropology of Work Review

“This is an important and exciting book. Edward Slavishak challenges labor historians to widen the focus of our studies and broaden our method of analysis. He reminds us, with elegant prose and clear evidence, that workers may have been individuals who shared common experiences, but they were also bodies at labor.” — Daniel E. Bender, Labor

“This really is an excellent study. Slavishak has pulled together a rich array of discussions and texts, he is an imaginative thinker and a clear writer, and his chapters are models of organization. What is more, he is a skillful interdisciplinarian, providing good historical narrative and context, showing a nice ability at close textual reading, and offering astute analyses of both popular and ‘fine art’ images. His book should have wide appeal, and it shows how rewarding a cultural study at the local level can be.” — Stephen P. Rice, Winterthur Portfolio

“Following several decades of scholarship demonstrating the centrality of working-class men and women to the history of American industrial life, this study reminds us of the very powerful role of intellectual elites in the development of popular images of workers’ bodies as both enhanced and broken by the industrial machine. Edward Slavishak challenges labor and working-class historians to demonstrate in even more certain terms than before the myriad ways that workers’ portraits of themselves influenced popular perceptions of their bodies during the industrial age.” — Joe William Trotter Jr., Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Justice and Head of the Department of History, Carnegie Mellon University

“In Bodies of Work, Edward Slavishak constructs a fascinating web of visual and textual evidence, interweaving various discourses on industrial labor, the male body, masculinity, and the city of Pittsburgh. From his creative new take on the Homestead strike and his subtle readings of visual culture to his startlingly original analyses of worker fatigue, the injured body, and the ubiquity of prosthetic limbs, he presents a broad new spectrum of ideas and approaches to the study of industrial labor.” — Melissa Dabakis, author of Visualizing Labor in American Sculpture: Monuments, Manliness, and the Work Ethic


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Edward Slavishak is Assistant Professor of History at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Note on Usage xiii

Introduction 1

1. The Magic of the Nineteenth Century: Industrial Change and Work in Pittsburgh 17

2. Working-Class Muscle in the Battle of Homestead 64

3. The Working Body as Civic Image 89

4. The Pittsburgh Survey and the Body as Evidence 149

5. "Delicately Built": The "Problem" of Working Women in Pittsburgh 200

6. Hiding and Displaying the Broken Body 224

Epilogue: "That's Work, and That's What People Like to Watch!" 265

Notes 277

Bibliography 319

Index 345
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4225-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4206-9
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