Labor’s Mind

A History of Working-Class Intellectual Life
Author: Tobias Higbie
Stoking the fires of inquiry and activism
Cloth – $110
Paper – $25
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/07/2019
Cloth: 01/07/2019
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About the Book

Business leaders, conservative ideologues, and even some radicals of the early twentieth century dismissed working people's intellect as stunted, twisted, or altogether missing. They compared workers toiling in America’s sprawling factories to animals, children, and robots. Working people regularly defied these expectations, cultivating the knowledge of experience and embracing a vibrant subculture of self-education and reading.

Labor's Mind uses diaries and personal correspondence, labor college records, and a range of print and visual media to recover this social history of the working-class mind. As Higbie shows, networks of working-class learners and their middle-class allies formed nothing less than a shadow labor movement. Dispersed across the industrial landscape, this movement helped bridge conflicts within radical and progressive politics even as it trained workers for the transformative new unionism of the 1930s.

Revelatory and sympathetic, Labor's Mind reclaims a forgotten chapter in working-class intellectual life while mapping present-day possibilities for labor, higher education, and digitally enabled self-study.

About the Author

Tobias Higbie is a professor of history at UCLA. He is the author of Indispensable Outcasts: Hobo Workers and Community in the American Midwest, 1880-1930.


"Recommended." --Choice

"Labor's Mind cogently demonstrates how democratic education plays a key role in improving the daily and future lives of working people." --H-Net Review

"Higbie's book helps us understand people like Williams, Mills, and Keylor. They--and the men and women featured in his book--belong to a long and continuing tradition among working-class people. Such folks fascinate me and, if you read this book, they will come to fascinate you as well." --Society for US Intellectual History

"Higbie productively tackles the ambiguity of class position. Labor is of many minds, and with Higbie's helpful start, scholars must now move on to examine the character of the labor mind in its diverse and changing formations." --International Review of Social History

"A major contribution to the history of American working people's thought and movement-building in the modern era. Brophy would be pleased." --Journal of American History

"Labor's Mind serves to remind us of the rich and neglected intellectual life of the American working class." --Journal of American Culture

"Labor's Mind places working people's ideas and intellect--not just their quotidian lives and labor--at the center of historical study. Higbie has given us a rich portrait of working men and women thinking as the United States emerged as a global industrial power, a portrait they richly deserve." --North Carolina Historical Review

"Tobias Higbie's Labor's Mind: A History of Working-Class Intellectual Life is a slim volume with an expansive reach. . . . It suggests that education, formal or informal, can spark radical social change. . . . Higbie's book is profoundly optimistic, if subtly so." --American Historical Review


"Higbie makes the point that, contrary to widespread prejudices about working class intelligence, laborers were not blank slates. They often brought an enthusiasm, a determination to rise above injurious labels, and a sense of adventure. A valuable addition to a still under-researched topic."--Laura Hapke, author of Labor's Canvas: American Working-Class History and the WPA Art of the 1930s