Making the Empire Work

Labor and United States Imperialism

384 pages

July, 2015

ISBN: 9781479856220



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Part of the Culture, Labor, History series


Daniel E. Bender is the Canada Research Chair in Global Culture and a Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He is the author most recently of American Abyss: Savagery and Civilization in the Age of Industry.

All books by Daniel E. Bender

Jana K. Lipman is Associate Professor in History at Tulane University. She is the author of Guantanamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution.

All books by Jana K. Lipman

Millions of laborers, from the Philippines to the Caribbean, performed the work of the United States empire. Forging a global economy connecting the tropics to the industrial center, workers harvested sugar, cleaned hotel rooms, provided sexual favors, and filled military ranks. Placing working men and women at the center of the long history of the U.S. empire, these essays offer new stories of empire that intersect with the “grand narratives” of diplomatic affairs at the national and international levels. Missile defense, Cold War showdowns, development politics, military combat, tourism, and banana economics share something in common—they all have labor histories.  
This collection challenges historians to consider the labor that formed, worked, confronted, and rendered the U.S. empire visible. The U.S. empire is a project of global labor mobilization, coercive management, military presence, and forced cultural encounter. Together, the essays in this volume recognize the United States as a global imperial player whose systems of labor mobilization and migration stretched from Central America to West Africa to the United States itself.
Workers are also the key actors in this volume. Their stories are multi-vocal, as workers sometimes defied the U.S. empire’s rhetoric of civilization, peace, and stability and at other times navigated its networks or benefited from its profits. Their experiences reveal the gulf between the American ‘denial of empire’ and the lived practice of management, resource exploitation, and military exigency. When historians place labor and working people at the center, empire appears as a central dynamic of U.S. history.


  • "Making the Empire Work wonderfully features the leading voices bringing of diplomatic history and labor history into conversation. Both fields are sure to be profoundly transformed by the exciting and innovative work represented in this critically important collection."

    —David Roediger, Foundation Professor of American Studies, University of Kansas

  • "Making the Empire Work is a game changer. This spectacular volume will transform the way U.S. historians conceive, write and teach about empire. Workers were everywhere in the U.S. empire: building and serving it, shaped by and suffering from it. The work collected here gives new meaning to William Appleman Williams trenchant call for us to consider 'empire as a way of life.'

    —Nan Enstad, University of Wisconsin, Madison

  • “Bender and Lipman have assembled a collection of short studies that conflate labor studies, imperial analyses, and diplomatic history to produce a challenging, insightful means of viewing such histories simultaneously. […] The innovative subjects and rigorous scholarship in this highly readable volume are accessible to general readers and scholars alike.”


  • “This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of the history of American imperialism, much of it “from the bottom up.”

    American Historical Review