An exhibit titled “Working for Change: Stories of Labor History in Illinois” greets visitors as they enter the North-South Corridor of the main library on the UIUC campus. A series of six cases filled with objects ranging from flyers and course schedules to photos and news clippings draw on archival materials held at the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, the University Archives, and the Champaign County Historical Archives.
These cases—and the helpful posters above them—tell the story of the many labor activists who pursued better working conditions for themselves and their co-workers. A walk along the hallway will teach you about early UAW efforts, the laundry strike led by women workers in Champaign-Urbana in 1937, and the labor struggles in Decatur in the 1990s, among others.
The display, which runs through the end of July, celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Steelworkers Summer Institute, one of several labor institutes hosted by the School of Labor and Employment Relations at UIUC.
The University of Illinois Press is pleased to be among the very best labor studies publishers in the country. For further reading on Illinois labor, labor education, and women in the work force, check out these recent titles:
Working Class to College: The Promise and Peril Facing Blue-Collar America
Working Class to College exposes an education class divide that is threatening the American dream of upward social mobility and sowing resentment among those shut out or staggering under crushing debt. The book addresses ways to reduce college costs and shares the inspiring accounts of those who have endured all sorts of hardship—homelessness, an incarcerated parent, dangerously low self-esteem–and fought their way to college and commencement.
Born on July 12, 1909, Herbert S. Zim taught at the University of Illinois in the 1950s. It was during his years in Champaign-Urbana that Zim penned or cowrote several of the Golden Nature Guides that taught generations of schoolchildren about stars and planets, American birds and mammals, and dozens of other topics in natural history.
Though a bit dated these days—the Guides predate some rather world-changing breakthroughs in genetics, astrophysics, and humanity’s ability to shoot space probes to Pluto—the books remain accessible, basic introductions to their topics. The New York Times summed it up: “concise, engaging and comprehensible to children without being simplistic.” The text also benefited from attractive illustrations. Indeed the Guides, in particular the early books illustrated by James Gordon Irving, present a jarring contrast to today’s children’s nonfiction, a genre/product dependent on dull photo archives and Legos and whatever can be pulled from Wikipedia for free.
Zim graduated from Columbia in 1933 and taught throughout the 1930s and 1940s. He landed at Illinois in 1950 and taught education for seven years. By then, he already had made a mark writing about mechanical marvels—submarines, zeppelins, and the like—for children. The pocket-sized Golden Nature Guides series, originated by Zim, kicked off in 1949. He also steadily published magazine articles and worked in professional organizations. Meanwhile, across America, children took millions of the Guides on road trips or scouting excursions, picking out the highlights on pond life or watching the trees for a flash of the downy woodpecker.
The following is an excerpt from Kyle Gann’s new book Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays after a Sonata.
In January 1921 a prominent insurance executive in New York City sent copies of a piano sonata he had written to hundreds of total strangers. It sounds like a setup for a lively and eccentric novel, but it actually happened. Even stranger, a couple of decades later that sonata turned out to become one of the most celebrated musical works of the twentieth century.
It was unlike any piece of music the recipients had ever seen before. Its very look on the page was alarming, with massive, dissonant chords; clusters piled high in adjacent notes, some to be played with a wooden board; pages of relentless fast notes up to the exceedingly rare 128th note; often four or five lines of counterpoint at once in complexly varied layers; extended sustain-pedal markings that blurred whirlwinds of notes into sonic chaos; and rhythms that sometimes required computation to puzzle out. No music remotely similar had yet reached any degree of public visibility. It might as well have been music from Mars. But it was also, ostentatiously, music from the United States, for just as
peculiar were the movement titles—“Emerson,” “Hawthorne,” “The Alcotts,” “Thoreau.” This was a piano sonata purporting to portray figures from American literary history, or perhaps their ideas or writing style. The attachment of such incomprehensible music to such familiar names must have only heightened the provocation. While the recipients might have been braced for the latest nosethumbing avant-gardisms from Europe, for an American to tread confidently into such brash new territory could only seem like the effrontery of a charlatan or a total amateur. Adding to the bizarre debut of the sonata score was that it came accompanied by a book purporting to explain it without actually doing so, titled Essays before a Sonata.
On July 4, 1054, an extraordinary event attracted the attention of peoples around the world. A supernova appeared in the constellation Taurus. This guest star, to use a Chinese term, suddenly appeared beside a crescent moon. For the next twenty-three days, people everywhere could see it by day as well as night. It remained visible at night for two years, at first brighter than the planet Venus, then steadily fading into the realm of telescopes. When humanity finally invented telescopes, observers named the remnants of the exploded star the Crab Nebula.
Native American peoples recorded the visit by the guest star at Chaco Canyon, in Missouri, and elsewhere. Around the same time, the Native American city at what we call Cahokia erased itself. The Cahokians dismantled and buried their houses while getting rid of the city’s trademark wide courtyards. What arose in the town’s place is familiar news to archaeology buffs: the largest city north of Mexico in the pre-Columbian era, indeed the largest city in what became the United States until Philadelphia surpassed it in the late 1700s.
The Eads Bridge, named for its designer/builder James B. Eads, materialized in 1874 amidst a blizzard of superlatives. At 6,442 feet, it was the largest arch bridge on earth, and the world’s first major bridge project of entirely steel construction. The long bridge, one of the first to span the Mississippi River, connected St. Louis and East St. Louis. The supports sunk into the river bottom remain among the deepest ever attempted, so deep that decompression sickness killed 15 workers and injured 79 others. Citizens, wary of the bridge’s newfangledness, awaited proof of its safety. They call it the Show Me State for a reason. Continue reading