Enyeart hopes his students not only learn to think more honestly and profoundly about issues; he also wants them to recognize that nothing about history is inevitable.
In 1894, the Republican mayor of Ogden, Utah, threw his support behind a strong roads bill. Public works projects were not part of the Republican platform, but in advocating that measure the mayor won workers' votes and the next election.
Such stories were not unusual in the American West around the turn of the last century, as Associate Professor of History John Enyeart discovered. In researching how workers won legislation such as the eight-hour day and workers' compensation, Enyeart realized that such laws gained traction in the West before spreading east.
Enyeart's first book, The Quest for "Just and Pure Law", argues that Western workers had this success because union workers had more freedom to court and back candidates from any party than did their counterparts in the East, because political machines were not as entrenched in the West. Unionists' power at the ballot box allowed them to demand and win legislation that created eight-hour days, workers' compensation and other job rights.
Enyeart also has written about the surprising popularity of socialism a century ago. In his research, he concentrates less on pure politics and more on questions of where ideas come from and how coalitions form to bring about legislative reform.
For his next book, he expects to pursue the varied voices speaking out about America's responsibility to defy fascism. Jewish immigrants calling for a boycott of German goods, Italian refugees arguing for U.S foreign policy to challenge Mussolini, African-Americans demanding federal anti-lynching laws, and civil libertarians watching the rise of Franco were all warning against the dangers of fascism worldwide and its threat to America.
"By juxtaposing notions of democracy with fascism, these groups used anti-fascist rhetoric to try to fashion a larger notion about rights," Enyeart says.
Enyeart hopes his students not only learn to think more honestly and profoundly about issues; he also wants them to recognize that nothing about history is inevitable. "I want them to recognize," he says, "that people in the past lived history the same way we are, which is confusing and uncertain."
Posted Sept. 20, 2010