Andrew Urban has written the book on domestic service for our times by complicating conventional divisions between free and unfree labor, coercion and contract, protection and exploitation, and the home and the workplace. Through skillful vignettes and deep research, we experience Castle Garden and shipside inspections of European women, the brokering of the Freemen’s Bureau, the tussle over sureties and temporary entrance of Chinese in the era of exclusion, and the ways that Empire, settler colonialism, racial capitalism, and migration shaped the value of domesticity.
—Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
A dazzling reassessment of the history of domestic service. In this sophisticated study, Urban links American middle-class homes to global as well as internal labor markets, persuasively recasting missionaries, abolitionists, and government officials as labor brokers. Brokering Servitude unravels simple dichotomies between free and unfree labor, inclusion and exclusion, bondage and contract, home and world. With subtlety and sensitivity, Urban relates the interlocking histories of people whose stories are usually told separately—African American, Chinese, and Irish servants—while remaining attentive to the ways in which their coexistence produced racial difference. In the process, he offers a compelling answer to a vital question: How do certain people come to serve others?
—Wendy Gamber, Indiana University
Andrew Urban places servants at the center of his illuminating book, examining Irish, African American, and Chinese domestic servants in the decades between 1850 and 1924—and the brokers who commodified and managed them. The book explores the complexities of race, gender, free and unfree labor, and empire, while never losing sight of the migrants who struggled to negotiate their lives and labor. This splendid study will help us rethink a crucial period of transformation.
—Julie Greene, Founding Co-Director, Center for Global Migration Studies, University of Maryland at College Park
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