The study of the history of working-class life in America underwent a major transformation in the 1970s. Moving beyond labor history’s earlier institutional paradigm, with its focus on union structures and leaders, the New Labor History expanded its reach into new territories of working-class culture and community, to the point that the field today is generally referred to as Labor and Working-Class History.
Working People of Philadelphia is a salient example of work that pushed the traditional boundaries of labor history. In it, Bruce Laurie explores the complexities of working-class life in antebellum Philadelphia beyond memberships in institutions or unions. He illuminates a period of working-class history that is relatively little understood, examining both formal and informal activities derived from traditions and experiences outside the orbit of industrialization and analyzing the role played by the diversity of cultural lifestyles. As such, Working People of Philadelphia is both an important labor history and a major contribution to the history of Philadelphia.