WG Factory History

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Men and women at work in Herstal, 1938


The ELHN Factory History working group brings together, in an interdisciplinary fashion, recent historical, sociological, anthropological and visual work that present new methodological and epistemological perspectives on the study of capitalism at the point of production. With this call, we aim to bring together historians and social scientists of different hues, as well as museum curators, documentary filmmakers, to discuss new research and artefacts that focus on the past and present of the factory with a historical perspective. The focus is on thematic and methodological perspectives that engage with dimensions such as gender, race, the spatial and transnational turn, the discourse analysis etc. that have cross-fertilised with the perspective of class that was traditionally adopted by the labour history of the factory.


Since the 1980s, after the wave of de-industrialization and factory relocation that has characterized western economies, and with the historiographical interventions that changed the focus of labor history, the factory, along with the industrial worker, seems to have disappeared from historians’ agenda. The alleged breakdown of class as an unitary category and the dispersion of labor across other thematic arenas after the 1980s, and for a generation, caused both to have receded within historians’ agenda, relegated to the backwaters of scholarship. After the wave of de-industrialization and factory relocation that characterized western economies, manufacturing, which was the very business that once gave these economies mastery over the east and the south was history, we were told, and, accordingly, the factory as a workplace and factory work as a specific form of wage labour seemed to have lost their relevance. What ensued was a questionable historical narrative predicated on the shift from an ‘industrial economy’ to a ‘knowledge economy’.

The Factory History Working Group takes the cue from a number of recent studies of factories to foster discussion about a novel research agenda on the factory at the intersection of different disciplines and sub-disciplines, looking at a variety of agents, and cross the boundaries of national historiographies of industrialization and de-industrialization.


The working group aims to map the field by inviting scholars to share information on recent research on factories. Calls for papers, news about forthcoming events and publications are circulated through the group’s e-mail list. Some members of the group published a special theme on factory history in Labor History in 2019. Members of the group have organised sessions together in several conferences and the working group is actively organising its own workshops (please see the external links).


If you are interested in joining the Working Group on factory History, please write to the co-ordinators with the following information: Name, Institution (if any), e-mail address, thematic focus/interest.
Please use the attached PDF form.

Görkem Akgöz is a research fellow at the re:work-IGK Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History. She is working on the history of early Republican Turkey from a gender perspective. She is also the co-chair of the Labour Network of the European Social Science History Conference.

Nicola Pizzolato is a Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University. He is the author of Challenging Global Capitalism: Labor Migration, Radical Struggle and Urban Change in Detroit and Turin (Palgrave).

External links

Special issue of Labor History on factory history, October 2019

[last updated 2 September 2020]