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2024 Taft Award Winners Announced

Margot Canaday and Blair LM Kelley have been named the 2024 Philip Taft Labor History Award recipients. Canaday is the Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University, and Kelley is the Joel R. Williamson Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

The Taft Award, sponsored by the ILR School, is given for the best book published in 2023 on labor and working-class history. The prize committee consists of Ileen A. DeVault, a history professor at the ILR School, and Paul Ortiz, who begins his appointment as an associate professor at ILR on July 1. It also includes Labor & Working-Class History Association-appointed members Peter Cole, Dennis Deslippe and John W. Weber.

“This year’s Taft Prize nominees included an impressive group of 47 books, reflecting the strength of the field as a whole,” said DeVault, who serves as the committee chair. “The prize committee ultimately decided to award the prize to two books as equal co-winners.”

Canaday’s book, "Queer Career: Sexuality and Work in Modern America," is a richly textured study of the changing status of LGBTQ+ workers since the mid-20th century. Her work is attentive to how differently situated workers experienced social, political and cultural changes as they developed personal and collective strategies to improve their employment status. Canaday achieved this by collecting over 100 oral histories and carefully combing through “traditional” historical archives.

“Her depiction of the workplace as a shifting space of opportunity, contestation, exploitation, trauma and self-definition combines to be a fascinating and remarkable addition to the field of labor history,” wrote the prize committee. “Her vivid and sensitive account will become mandatory reading for students of American labor history writ large.”

Kelley’s book, Black Folk: The Roots of the Black Working Class, tells a richly human story intertwined with her family’s history from enslavement to the present day. Spanning 200 years – from one of Kelley’s earliest known ancestors, an enslaved blacksmith, to the essential workers of the COVID-19 pandemic – the book highlights the lives of those who established the Black working class as a force in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As her narrative moves across time and across the country, Kelley treats Black workers not just as laborers, members of a class or activists, but as people whose daily experiences mattered to themselves, their communities and a nation that denied that basic fact.

“Written in incisive and accessible prose, this book is going to change how we think about African American, women’s and labor histories,” wrote the prize committee. “The book touches on subjects and events familiar to labor historians but draws them all into a compelling narrative easily accessible to a general audience. This field-changing labor history is already impacting how our colleagues teach.”

Both authors will receive a Taft Prize check for $2000 and a plaque.

The award is named in honor of Professor Philip Taft, an eminent labor historian and economist who made outstanding contributions to the field of labor and working-class history during his lengthy career.

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