325--Week 3 Questions/Comments

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Week 3--Strike at Harpers Ferry Presentation
Week 3--Frederick Douglass Presentation
Week 3--Judith McGaw, Gender & Papermaking Presentation
Week 3--Merritt Roe Smith, Pacing Presentation

Cross-Document Questions

While I was reading about the slaves, freemen, and women workers I started to think about some of my own jobs and the treatments I have had to endure in the 20th century. I could not imagine what it was like to work under those harsh conditions. Funny enough though piece work and sweat shops are still around today and people are still exploited. Sucks but it is true. People still fight for better hours, pay, and working conditions as did those back many years. Machines or new technology seemed to be a scary concept for the skilled craftsmen or artisan. It also seemed sometimes as new machines were introduced more problems for the worker arose. -- Aislyn

Going along with what Aislyn said. I think its funny sometimes that we today complain of low wages, long hours, tough conditions, but these people really had it tough. During reading about the industrial revolution, you oftentimes come across multiple examples where a worker (generally a ten year old) has lost an apendage. And we get upset about getting called in over a holiday weekend! -- Jeff Phillips

I felt that most of the readings implied that the rapid expansion of technology often was paired with a decrease in (or at least a new strain on) workers rights. This is embodied in the Harper's Ferry piece with the class struggle, and also in the Beaten in Blatimore Shipyard dealing with racial tensions. This rapid growth in technology really ended up dehumanizing the workers. As mentioned in Gender and Papermaking pg 161, there was a new pressure for workers to keep a fast pace, and there was a decrease in conditions. - Elle

I felt that another important aspect about new technology in factories is that it really stripped the laborers of their value - they no longer used or really even owned their own tools - thus they were at the mercy of greedy owners and hence tensions erupted. pg 183. - Elle

I agree with Elle's point about industry. I was surprised that the more technology thrived and advanced the less attention was paid to the rights of the workers. If I think about it I guess I can understand why this happened; machines are doing the work and now industries care more about the machines rather than the work that runs the machine. It was different when industry relied on skilled workers to perform a task, but once machines began to take over the craftsmen positions, those machines became the focal point of the industry. I guess I never really paid much attention to this topic or issue... -- Jimmy Conroy

I think these kinds of claims which Elle and Jimmy discussed have direct allusions to Marxist philosophy arising soon afterwards. People were starting to see the same alienation of labor which Karl Marx preached would bring about the end of capitalism. Perhaps we are seeing signs of communist philosophy's roots in the ideaology of the working man. - Adam Shlossman

I found there to be an interesting parallel between Harper's Ferry and Beaten in a Baltimore Shipyard, in that both pieces seemed to perfectly exemplify the frantic, sometimes hopeless nature of working an industry job. In both instances, it was clear that no one's job was safe, regardless of color. Even in the situation of a worker strike, the shop owners seemed convinced that they would be able to replace any of the workers, and that labor was always replaceable. -Cash Nelson

Strike at Harpers Ferry

I think my favorite part about this reading was the surprise on behalf of the factory when the workers began to strike. It just amuses me that they thought their working conditions were wonderful and didn't understand why someone would ever want to strike. But also, I think it's important to note when the General says that the men can be replaced easily as if they were just machines themselves. We learn that they believed that factory workers could be replaced with little to no effort but this is an actual instance when the workers were threatened with it. I'm surprised they held their ground after that. -Kelly W.

I agree, I really like this reading. It really showed the difference of opinions between the workers and those in charge. It is much closer to reality, the boss always seems to think things are better than they really are. The workers really had to fight hard to stand up for themselves so that they would not be replaced.-- Kellye Sorber

The only thing more surprising than H.K. Craig's apparent ignorance about the employee unrest, was the revelation that those same employees could be easily replaced (as Kelly pointed out above) just like the machinery. In both of these writings exhibit a desperate struggle to defend their positions as the newly-created middle management. With the new division of labor, came the need to manage that labor. And as these letters show, these managers immediately began defending the system that gives them their standing. -Sean B.

I disagree with all of you. I think the workers were taking advantage of the system and were not doing their part. The workers were used to the master craftsman system where they were able to work more haphazardly. In the new machine system they could not take large breaks because if one part of the system slows down, it slows the entire process. I think the management was completely correct in their estimation. -Brian Brown

Frederick Douglass, Beaten in Baltimore

Why is this reading in a class about technology?

I found this piece very depressing and shocking. Douglass remembered the incident in grave detail and I did not enjoy reading the fight scene, as I will call it. The second to last paragraph gave a little light on the situation as he learned a skilled trade, but the end of the recollection fizzled that out all together. I liked how he compared his situation to that of "the grim-visaged pirate upon the high seas." However, that statement leaves the reader with an even more depressing view of his situation and race relations in 1835. Frederick Douglass of course wrote this for the purpose of shock as well as education and he succeeded. -Kirsten Walleck

One of the things that stood out to me the most in Douglass' story was when the white carpenters suddenly decided to abandon their work until Gardner fired the black workers. The idea that blacks would replace poor whites in certain economic spheres undoubtedly contributed to this decision. I find all of this fascinating because in the first few centuries of the existence of the "New World," Europeans generally worked well amongst Native Americans and blacks. Intermarriage was more frequent, and relationships formed through shared experiences (i.e. the workplace). However, as time progressed European-Americans became increasingly fanatical about preserving their ethnic identities as slavery became associated with one's color through legislative acts and as Europeans no longer needed the assistance of Native Americans to survive in the "New World." Although Douglass' incident is not directly related to the trends listed above, he is clearly indirectly effected like so many other blacks and Native Americans through the assertion of the WASP mentality that began to permeate society in the 18th and 19th centuries. -Bryan Lees

The essay “Beaten in a Baltimore Shipyard” by Frederick Douglass shows the importance of skill, even as a slave. His story begins in the shipyard of Mr. Gardner where he was supposed to learn calking, however due to a rushed order by the Mexican government for ships, he ended up doing whatever anyone needed at any given time. The whites feared that once blacks gained a skill, they would take jobs from the whites. Due to this fear, the whites threatened to quit and Douglass ended up badly beaten. Master Hugh owned Douglas, and when he learned of what happened he allowed Douglas to work for Mr. Price where he was taught calking. In a year he was able to command high wages and sought his own employment. This shows how far a skill could get you at that time. -Erin Sanderson

I may be different from those who already commented on this essay. While I find it depressing, I also find it inspirational to those who were in the same position. I realize that it isn't easy to gain a skill and those who are qualified and willing to give a black or a slave a skill are limited. But at the same time it shows how far a skill can get you, even if you have to give your wages to a master, at least you are making your own work and able to demand a wage and know that you are worth something. Is that not comparable to how it is today? -Erin Sanderson

I read the other essays just as an assigned reading, but this essay drew my attention much more. The last paragraph Douglas describes how he feels "compelled" to give his master his wages. It is as if no matter the kindness his maters gave him, he felt that they were 'pirates' who stole from him. He felt that this act was immoral. --Maggie Wroe

In response to Maggie, I felt that when Master Hugh became livid that Douglass was harassed and beaten to an inch of his life, that it wasn't so much for the wrong doing that happened to Douglass as much that he could have lost his slave, the person who worked for him and gave him his weekly earnings. -Melissa Graham

I just found this reading so depressing. I was however, surprised at the skill that Douglass was able to master, even while the poor white were against him. It still surprises me that they would want to give that much skill to a black person. Wouldnt they rather the poor whites had the skill? -- Kellye Sorber

In response to the argument of showing the work skills to blacks over whites, I feel that many people felt that blacks would work harder than the poor whites would at this time since they had just been given these new opportunities. This is why I think they tended to lean more towards the blacks over the poor whites, plus they would not have to treat the black workers as well as they would have to treat the white workers.--Sean Marren

I think Frederick Douglass’ experience exemplifies why whites were afraid of slaves gaining certain skills. Of course, whites were afraid of having their jobs taken by blacks, and the fact that Douglass was paid the highest wages given to the most experienced calkers after training supports this. However, it was more than just concern for jobs. Douglass touches on that when he writes that the more his condition was improved, the more his desire for freedom grew. By keeping slaves from acquiring trade skills, whites were not only able to protect their jobs, they were also protecting the system of white supremacy that was in place. –- Taylor Brann

Beaten in a Baltimore Shipyard showed me that blacks were more skillful than the whites. The blacks were assigned to someone and had to listen to their every command. They were pulled in different directions to run small errands or just to give them a extra hand. I think the blacks were more skillful because they were like the "jack of all trades" when it came to building a ship. Even though they were assigned to someone, they still had to lend a hand elsewhere to someone who called upon them. -- Paul Kim

Just a quick question since most of my points have already been made here. Were there ever cases of black workers attempting to strike for more rights, or were they too scared to do so? -Cash Nelson

As Cash has stated most of the points on this document have been made. However, I'd like to respond to Paul's assertion that "Beaten in a Baltimore Shipyard showed me that blacks were more skillful than the whites." The color of an individual's skin had nothing to do with the skills they could possibly attain (I am not addressing privalage or opportunity here, just raw potential). As the article stated, black and white workers labored side by side daily doing the same work for a good amount of time before the white strike took place. It just so happened that Douglas came in during the beginning of a rush order, which prevented him from being taught an individual skill, and instead being assigned as a runner. Also, the article stated that Douglas was a runner along with a group of young white men, the ones who eventually attacked him, thus it is not a job reserved just for a particular race. -Brian Brown

I found it interesting how Frederick Douglass suggested that race-relations in the shipyard were peaceful before technological changes made it possible to believe that African-Americans could replace the skilled white workforce. While I can see that being a catalyst for a rupture to race-relations I was surprised that Douglass characterized the situation prior to that feeling so well. Of course, this could have been limited to the area Douglass worked, or exaggerated to prove a point, however, after thinking about it I'm ready to believe Douglass was right. It's (racial backlash) another interesting and unfortunate consequence to technological developments that we don't normally think about. -- Matt Struth

Judith McGaw, Gender and Papermaking

I found it interesting that the women described in the Gender and Papermaking piece weren't rushed by the new output and machinery (and I don't really understand how that is the case). - Elle

In response to Elle, it seemed that the work that was done by women wasn't necessarily tied directly to the machinery. They sorted and cut rags, so their work was more dependent on quality not quantity. But at the same time I see your point, because in theory the quantity produced by the machines should increase, so you would think they would get behind and the quality would decline as a result. --Jessica Kilday

When looking at the different technologies that have evolved over time, the selection/rejection process is examined as well as the impact. But, as Judith Mcgaw seems to point out, the human experience is more often left out. We study the impacts of new machines on general social, economic, or political trends. But the creation of machines has different impacts on different individuals as well. Mcgaw points out “improved machines subjected workmen to a more hectic pace, longer hours, and periodic unemployment. Moreover, unlike earlier paper makers, machine tenders and many of their fellow male employees risked being killed or maimed.” I think she also does a good job in addressing the more distinct separations that arise in the male and female work industry as a result of the rise of mechanization. –Jessica Kilday

What I found to be the most interesting part of this essay was not about gender. On page 160-161 Mcgaw discusses the impact of machines on paper mill workers. She notes, "Machines did not replace workers, reduce their level of skill, or subdivide their tasks." However, the machines did increase output of the small number of skilled laborers. This section of the reading that Jessica also pointed out changed my outlook on mechanization. I feel as if we mostly discuss how mechanization took away the need of skilled workers and made tasks simple only requiring awareness. In contrast, Mcgaw claims that in this profession, mechanization "multiplied jobs for skilled paper workers," who were trained while preforming less skilled tasks. So the mechanization trained new skilled workers and utilized the existing workers. Although Mcgaw continues by discussing the deterioration of work conditions, she also notes that there is some improvement in that as well. This just put a different spin on the topic for me. -Kirsten Walleck

As with Kirsten, I found that the interesting part of this essay dealt not with gender. What I found interesting was the detailed description of the working conditions that the men and women had to deal with in paper mills. The hot damp rooms would breed all sorts of bacteria and fungi, I'm sure of it. On page 162 McGraw writes, "accidents involving paper-making machines, rag cutters, and machine shop tools caused fewer fatalities, but affected more workers, most of whom lost fingers, hands, or arms." This sums up that the working conditions for the paper mill workers were harsh. Dealing with the gender issue of the article, McGraw later writes that men would use the loss of a finger as a way to scale his manliness for he would be able to find ways around his handicap and keep working. That I found interesting. - Melissa Graham

I found the sections comparing men and women in the paper industry to be the most enlightening. For instance, it is common knowledge that men earned more than women but McGaw provided some numbers. While less than 5% of men working in the mills earned less than $6 per week, 70% of women earned less than that amount. However, women's hours did not go up, nor did their working conditions change from a pre-industrial setting. Men worked alone but women worked in groups. Women's most common danger in the workplace was not from machinery but from working around dangerous substances in the rag room. -Lauren Milner

I really enjoyed reading Judith McGaw’s article title Gender and Papermaking because she touches on one question that has been in the back of my head for some time. She makes a point to show that we study the impact of inventions on our history. How that machine changed American industry or even our lives today, but we usually look over the impact that invention had on the person who invented it. This is a key to the study of any invention and I think it also sheds more light on the invention itself. – Jimmy Conroy

The part of this essay that I found most interesting was McGaw's description of the relationships between male employers and employees. So often we associate this area of history with the "us vs. them" mentality and this seems to have become the dominant historical narrative. Yet Smith gives numerous examples of how male employers and employees bonded with one another over notions of manhood, through pranking, and establishing personal "man to man" contracts with one another. While it's undeniable that employers exploited their employees in numerous ways, it would be a mistake to assume that, despite increasing alienation in the factories, men did not value their "skilled" labor that they held in common with one another and that their employers needed in order to maintain factory production. -Bryan Lees

I think the concept of equality based on shared masculinity is interesting. A sense of equality was reached and was not like other boss/worker relationships in which the boss is in a clear position of power and lords it over the employees. It also made protests more individualized. Workers were more likely to have control over their circumstances and to have their issues addressed because of their relative equality, which kept large-scale protests down. - Karen Siegmund

The situation with the male paper mill workers is interesting to me because it sort of goes against the image of the mistreated, exploited worker I’m used to seeing. Even though new machines made the work more hectic and dangerous and the hours longer, at least early on, the men were highly skilled and proud, and they were able to capitalize on paper demand as a bargaining tool. Most interesting is the relationship between the mill workers and owners. The workers dealt with the owners on equal level, and negotiations and problems were dealt with on a personal level rather than collective level. –- Taylor Brann

Merritt Roe Smith, “The Political Economy of Pacing”

What is "pacing"?

In “The Political Economy of Pacing” it seems to me like technology and mechanization were actually detrimental to the amount of work that got accomplished. When these advancements occur, it is so that more can be produced at the same rate. However, unless I’m miss-interpreting the article it sounds like the workers used technology to complete the same amount of work in less time. So counter-intuitively, the mechanization of processes wasn’t as economically advantageous as it could have been given the mindset of the workers utilizing the new equipment. Is that basically what this author is getting at? –Jessica Kilday

I would agree with you Jessica that the amount of work that got done using machines or some other new technology was close to the same as without it. I supose in the early years you would have a lot of down time with new technology so things did not get done as fast. That really can't be said for now in the 21st century. I would think as new technology came in people would not want to use it correctly, kinda like making the machine look bad, and say see we don't need it in an effort to save their jobs. Aislyn

I noticed in this essay, along with the counter-intuitive nature mechanization seemed to have at first, was the interactions between employers and employees. Smith compares it to the relationship between slaves and masters in the South, which I guess makes sense as there really was no labor rights at this time. The bosses were still able to work their employees to the bone but workers still were able to determine where they worked or how they worked, apparently much like slaves did, and could get away with it. -Lauren Milner

I was quite surprised at Smith's argument highlighting slaves' agency in the Slave-Slaveholder relationship. This is my first U.S. History class at UMW, so it may be common knowledge to others, but I had never thought about slaves having negotiating power when it came to their work. However, as Smith explains, it makes perfect sense. Slaves were in large demand, but short supply. By having a "push-and-pull" relationship, slave owners were able to capitalize on free labor without sacrificing their investment. - Lon

I would like to explore the extent to which slaves exercised their limited agency. Where they aware of their high demand and the large sums owners had invested in them? To what extend did they communicate amongst other slaves in order to get more from their owners? - Lon

No, Lon, you're not alone in your understanding of slave/owner relationships. I didn't realize, either, that slaves used to negotiate with their masters about their labor; I actually didn't think they had that much power in the slave/master relationship. Was this common? -Kelly W

In response to Lon's question I think that the answer is that in both the case of slavery and the factory workers, they were aware that they didn't have any direct power, but they manipulated their actions to get the point across. It was a subtle way of obtaining influence, of which both groups were acutely aware. I also agree with Jessica's comment that it seemed as though the only thing the new technology did at first was to create more leisure time for workers. They were producing the same amount at a much faster rate. - Karen Siegmund

I agree with both Kelly, Lon, and Karen. First with Lon that the whole push-pull idea makes perfect sense because the slave labor was based on such a supply and demand still that it does fit together and give the slaves a little piece of the power with their masters. Kelly, from what I understand it did become quite common because after all the more you attempted to keep a slave happy the better work they would do for their masters. Karen is correct in saying that there was no direct power because of the push-pull factor these two groups held over the other one. A lot of this dealt with how each group was treated.--Sean Marren

On a completely different topic, yet one that caught my attention, when discussing the labor question on pg. 186, a commissioner in 1841 remarked "the superintendent should be a man of science and well acquainted with the best models of the musket." To play off of our discussion on Tuesday, it appears this is proof that the superior technology of the rifle was not used in government armories or, it seems, anywhere widespread in the arms manufactuing industry so many years after its invention. It did present a question though, could a man be both a man of science and one who favors musket production over the rifle? - Adam Shlossman

When reading the 'Pacing' article, I couldn't help but think of two things. First, I read somewhere about the human cost of the increasing use of machinery during the industrial revolution (not only just wounds, etc but)like the turning of men/women into the cogs of the machine. It happens even today. Worker A puts in cog 1 all day long, worker b tightens cog 1 and readies cog 2, so on and so forth. Very dehumanizing -- Jeff Phillips

Smith rights that when skill is built into the tools it reduces the power of individual workers, allowing factory owners to set the terms. “Pacing” emerged as workers responded to the harsh conditions of industrial life by demanding a space for themselves- time to breathe, think and relax. Smith’s article complicates the standard picture of industrialization mechanizing everything about the workplace, including the people. It puts a human picture on industrialization and reminds us people didn’t simply abandon the habits they had before industrialization. -- Matt Struth