International Labor and Working-Class History


American Workers, American Movies: Historiography and Methodology

Steven J. Ross a1
a1 University of Southern California


“American Workers, American Movies: Historiography and Methodology” surveys the ways in which scholars have examined the relationship between workers and movies. For many years, scholarship about movies and workers took one of two basic approaches: Cinema scholars wrote about images of workers in films, while labor historians wrote histories of union activity within the movie industry. The two schools were usually quite distinct. In the last twenty years, a burst of scholarship in both fields has broadened our understandings of the images that appeared on the screen and, in some cases, how those images were constructed in the first place. The goal of this essay is twofold: to review key themes and recent works in the field, and to suggest ways in which working-class historians might approach and incorporate studies of film into their own work. Indeed, the author calls upon scholars to go beyond simply deconstructing images, and to explore more complicated questions involving the forces responsible for shaping the ideology and class focus on American cinema.