Industrial Revolution, General
Maury Klein, The Genesis of Industrial America, 1870-1920 (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Klein’s fairly short book (200 pages) is comprehensive yet readable, and while he focuses on the late 19th century he provides plenty of background about the first half of the century. This is an interpretive work that features many significant individuals and businesses, and emphasizes the growth of large corporations and the corresponding trend toward the “corporatization” of American society. I especially like it because Klein’s well-rounded analysis is both celebratory and critical. Highly recommended.
Gary J. Kornblith, ed., The Industrial Revolution in America (Houghton Mifflin, 1998).
These brief essays are drawn from first-rate works by top-notch historians. They address a wide range of economic, social, and ideological aspects of the Industrial Revolution.
Carroll Pursell, The Machine in America: A Social History of Technology (2d ed., Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).
This is a good overview of the technologies and systems that made up the Industrial Revolution; the first half of the book covers the earliest significant innovations and the developments of the 19th century.
Pauline Maier, Alexander Keyssar, Merritt Roe Smith, Daniel Kevles, Inventing America (W.W. Norton, various editions).
This textbook is recommended by Stevens High School teacher Nancy Lewis (Claremont, NH) as a very good resource for teaching the Industrial Revolution.
Lowell, Mill Girls
Thomas Dublin, ed., Farm to Factory: Women’s Letters, 1830-1860 (Columbia University Press, 1981).
Dublin presents selections from four collections of letters to and from rural women who went to work in textile mills in New England, including Mary Paul of Barnard, Vermont. His introduction sets the context and examines common themes illustrated by these documents. Dublin’s book Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860 (Columbia University Press, 1979) is the best monograph about Lowell.
Lucy Larcom, A New England Girlhood, Outlined from Memory (1889; reprint 1986, Northeastern University Press). Foreword by Nancy F. Cott.
Lucy Larcom was not a typical mill girl-she eventually became a literary figure of some renown-but her memoir of working in a Lowell mill from 1835-45 captures the experience in all its complexity and vividly evokes New England life and culture during this era. As noted by historian Nancy Cott, Larcom offers contradictory reflections on work, piety, and woman’s sphere.
Laborers and Farmers
Juliet Haines Mofford, Talkin’ Union: The American Labor Movement (Discovery Enterprises, 1997).
This little book (only 60 pages) is a handy introductory guide to the history of the labor movement. Includes lots of brief quotes and excerpts from primary sources.
Bruce Laurie, Artisans to Workers: Labor in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Illinois Pres, 1997).
Highly regarded as one of the best overviews available of the transformation of work and the development of the labor movement in the 19th century.
Herbert G. Gutman, Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America: Essays in American Working-Class and Social History (1966).
Gutman’s introductory essay about the habits and behaviors that rural and immigrant workers brought with them as they engaged with and confronted the demands of the industrial system is still worth reading. The only thing that’s really dated about it is that a lot of work has been done to fill in the gaps he identifies in the historical literature about the American working class.
Robert C. McMath, Jr., American Populism: A Social History, 1877-1898 (Hill and Wang, 1993).
Populism was an enormous social movement, primarily of farmers in the Great Plains, the South, and the West, that arose in response to the stresses that industrial capitalism introduced to American agriculture. While the Populists failed to achieve their immediate goals on a national scale, many of the reforms they proposed eventually came to pass during the Progressive Era. McMath provides a balanced synthesis of the literature on Populism that pays attention to regional differences, alliances and conflicts between farmers and industrial workers, the problem of race, and the larger political context in which Populism flourished and then disintegrated.
Diana Muir, Reflections in Bullough’s Pond: Economy and Ecosystem in New England (University Press of New England, 2000)
Young Adult Historical Fiction
Katherine Paterson, Lyddie (1991).
The classic of young adult historical fiction about a Vermont farm girl who goes off to work in the Lowell mills to save the family farm remains a vivid and compelling story.
Elizabeth Winthrop, Counting on Grace (Yearling, 2007).
Winthrop wrote this young adult novel based on research she did to identify the girl in Lewis Hine’s iconic photograph of a mill girl. The story of a French-Canadian girl working in a Vermont mill c. 1910 who helps bring Hine to her factory, the book squarely engages the issues of mill work, child labor, and ethnicity.
Emily A. McCully, The Bobbin Girl (Dial, 1996).
From a Caldecott winner, a feminist-themed easy reader story about a Lowell mill girl who experiences a strike. Includes author’s notes that provide context.
Lynne Cherry, A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History (Voyager Books, 1992).
This lovely picture book tells the history of the Nashua River from precontact into the 1990s. It shows the impact of human activity, especially the Industrial Revolution, on the river, and people’s successful efforts to clean it up.
Donald Hall, The Ox-Cart Man (Puffin Books, 1983)
Vermont in the 19th Century
Harold A. Meeks, Time and Change in Vermont: A Human Geography (Globe Pequot, 1986).
A very good examination of the history of land use and economic development in Vermont. The middle part of the book covers the nineteenth century. In addition to providing tons of good factual information, Meeks tells a lot of good stories and his writing style is witty.
Hal S. Barron, Those Who Stayed Behind: Rural Society in Nineteenth-Century New England(Cambridge University Press, 1984)
This study focuses on Chelsea, Vermont, during the 19th century, as indicative of social trends in older settled rural areas of the U.S. The emphasis is on how the community adapted to slow or stagnant economic growth and population loss beginning in the 1840s. Barron finds that Chelsea, and by extension similar communities in Vermont and New England, “became more tranquil and homogeneous over time as local institutions and social norms evolved into a state of equilibrium with demographic and economic conditions.” He challenges the widespread perception of economic decline and decimation, showing that “those who stayed behind” achieved fairly stable livelihoods and strengthened community cohesion.
Paul M. Searls, Two Vermonts: Geography and Identity, 1865-1910 (University of New Hampshire Press, 2006).
One of the most recent works of scholarship on Vermont, Searls provides an excellent overview of the state’s history in the nineteenth century and then turns his attention to how Vermonters of different stations confronted the emerging conditions of modernity. His framework dividing the community of Vermonters into uphill (rural/parochial) and downhill (urban/cosmopolitan) orientations is a fruitful basis for valuable insights into the dynamics of economic development, social change, and political conflict after the Civil War.