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Manufacturing A Narrative About Work Poster

Special Collections is pleased to announce the new spring exhibit, “Manufacturing a Narrative about Work: Labor Fiction Inspired by the Industrial Age.” Fictional accounts of the labors of men, women, and children proliferated at the end of the American Industrial Age. A subset of the Social Fiction genre, these novels tell the stories of textile workers, bakers, miners, steelworkers, and others who were involved in labor movements.

Several of the works on display in this exhibit are of regional interest, including a scarce title, privately published in neighboring Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, by E. H. Leftwich, an aircraft worker. Final Assembly (1944) chronicles the daily lives of workers at a WW2 aircraft plant who were likely living in the Lehigh Valley. There are also fictional accounts of work in the Pennsylvania oil fields, including Francis Newton Thorpe’s 1905 novel The Divining Rod: A Story of the Oil Regions.

While the majority of texts included in this exhibit are relatively obscure, among the more recognizable examples are works by John Steinbeck and Jack London, both of whom included detailed descriptions of fictional labor.

Many works of labor fiction were inspired by true events or life experiences, such as the work of weavers and bakers, while others serve as fictional accounts of strikes and other labor movements, including the 1937 Memorial Day killing of ten steelworkers in Chicago as told in Meyer Levin’s Citizens (1940).

Special Collections gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Deborah Walters, class of 2023, and Lorne Bair Rare Books in the preparation of this exhibit. This exhibit of fictional accounts of labor in many forms begins in the Linderman Grand Reading Room and continues in the Cafe Gallery and Bayer Galleria. Examples from the collections will also be on display in E.W. Fairchild-Martindale Library, 5th floor. Please see the libraries’ website for information regarding hours and access policies.

The exhibit will be on display from January 23 through June 30, 2023 during regular building hours. Please stay tuned for details about an upcoming Friends of the Lehigh University Libraries program on social fiction this spring. For more information, please contact Special Collections at inspc@lehigh.edu or call 610-758-4506.