Herb - social history for every classroom


Herb - social history for every classroom

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 About HERB | Who Was Herb Gutman? | Terms of Use | Permissions | Credits

About HERB

Created by the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, HERB is a database of primary documents, classroom activities, and other teaching materials in U.S. history. Named in honor of ASHP/CML's co-founder, labor historian Herbert Gutman, HERB reflects ASHP/CML's mission of making the past, and the working people and ordinary Americans who shaped it, vivid and meaningful.

Since 1989, educators at ASHP/CML have worked with K-12 and college instructors in professional development seminars in New York City and around the country. Over the years, we have developed an extensive archive of primary documents, teaching strategies, and other resources that look at how ordinary people both influenced and were influenced by the nation's economic and political transformations. We created HERB to share these resources with a wider public. We hope teachers, students, and those who love to learn about the past will use HERB to improve their understanding and teaching of United States history.

We have edited almost all of HERB's documents to make them more classroom-friendly; in some cases, there are versions that are even shorter (titled "short version.") If a complete version of a document is available elsewhere online, we have indicated the URL in the source field. If a document has added vocabulary, questions, or other interventions to support student reading and analysis, it is titled "with text supports" and also has the tag "Reading Supports." In addition, you can copy and paste content from any of HERB's PDF files into a new document in order to customize it further for your students.

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Who Was Herb Gutman?

Professor Herbert Gutman—"Herb" to all who knew him and this website's namesake—was one of the most influential U.S. historians of the postwar era. He taught a generation of historians to put working people at the center of the nation's historical narrative, and to ask wide-ranging questions about how workers lived their lives and shaped American society and culture. As his friend and colleague Ira Berlin wrote of Herb's pioneering approach, "his own interest was in understanding what people, particularly working people, did for themselves, not what was done to them or for them."

His commitment to changing how people thought about history, and whom they included in the stories of America's past, extended beyond his academic colleagues. Along with fellow labor historian Steve Brier, he founded the American Working Class History Project in 1981. (It was renamed the American Social History Project [ASHP] the following year.) ASHP grew out of a summer seminar on labor history for trade union leaders, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, that Herb and Steve taught in 1979 and 1980. The idea for the two-volume Who Built America? textbook soon followed, with plans for media supplements that became ASHP's ten-episode series of documentaries.

Born in New York City, Herb attended John Adams High School and graduated from Queens College. He received a master's degree in history from Columbia University and a doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin. His teaching career took him to Fairleigh Dickinson University, the State University of New York at Buffalo, Stanford University, the University of Rochester, and The City College of New York. In 1975, he joined the faculty at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Three of his four book-length works were published between 1975 and 1976. Slavery and the Numbers Game, published in 1975, challenged the conclusions drawn by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman in Time on the Cross, their controversial cliometric study of antebellum slavery. Fogel and Engerman argued that southern slavery was an efficient and productive economic system, in part because slaves were willing participants in it. Herb dismantled that view by exposing their over-reliance on, and misreading of, purely quantitative evidence and disproving their assumptions about slave acculturation and experience.

Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America: Essays in American Working-Class and Social History, published in 1976, epitomized Herb's approach to labor history, considering workers not merely as members of organized unions but taking up a much broader inquiry into "the beliefs and behavior of ordinary working Americans." The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1925 was also published in 1976. Ten years in the making, the book was Herb's response to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's controversial 1965 report "The Negro Family in America: the Case for National Action." Moynihan argued that slavery had destroyed the two-parent black family, resulting in a "tangle of pathology" in African-American communities that continued to the present day. Herb marshaled a wide range of documentary evidence to demonstrate that enslaved African Americans went to great lengths to create and sustain family bonds under dire conditions, efforts that continued after emancipation.

Image above/right: Herb Gutman holding forth at a dinner party in his Nyack, New York, kitchen, circa 1982; Steve Brier is to his right.In the final decade of his life, Herb undertook a number of large research projects, including a major unfinished collaborative project with Ira Berlin on the demographics of working-class life and community. He also continued to work with younger historians, many of whom were his doctoral students; to pursue his pioneering efforts to reshape and reimagine historical writing and thinking; and to travel and lecture widely around the world, including in England, France, Italy, and China. Finally, he helped guide ASHP's early years, especially the conceptualization and framing of the WBA? textbook. He died at age 57 in the summer of 1985. Berlin edited a final collection of Herb's essays, published posthumously in 1987 as Power and Culture: Essays on the American Working Class. Like his previous essay collection, it reflected his wide-ranging inquiries into African-American and labor history.

Image above: Herb Gutman holding forth at a dinner party in his
Nyack, New York, kitchen, circa 1982; Steve Brier is to his right.

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Terms of Use

HERB is an initiative of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning (City University of New York) supporting teaching and research in history and other humanities disciplines. The materials on this site are made publicly available for research, teaching, and personal study only.

Items may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17,U.S.C.). Usage of some items may also be subject to additional restrictions imposed by the copyright owner and/or the producing institution.

By their use of these digital images, texts, audio and video recordings, users agree to follow these terms of use:

  • For purposes of research and teaching users may reproduce materials (print or download), in accordance with fair use, without prior permission, on the condition they give proper credit to the collection-owning repository.
  • Materials may not be used for any commercial purpose without prior written permission from the copyright owner.
  • Materials may not be re-published in print or electronic form without prior written permission from the copyright owner.
  • Materials may not be mounted or stored on an additional server for public use, or for use by a set of subscribers without prior written permission from the copyright owner

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Non-Commercial Use‚Ä®(Creative Commons Attribution—Non-Commercial)

Materials on this site may be used without permission for educational, non-commercial purposes, such as classroom distribution, student reports, etc. 

We invite you to use any content that is credited to the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, free of charge, for any nonprofit or educational purpose. However, credit should be given as follows: American Social History Project/Center for Media Learning (http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu)

Commercial Publishing Use

Content created by ASHP/CML may not be downloaded, stored, copied, distributed, or otherwise used for a commercial purpose without the prior written consent of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning.

Many of the photographs, artworks, and texts on this website have been obtained from other sources or publishers not affiliated with ASHP/CML which may own a copyright or trademark for that work. ASHP/CML does not hold copyrights on any of the materials from other sources republished in HERB; therefore we cannot grant permission to use these materials. In cases where the items are copyrighted and ASHP/CML received permission to use them, there will be a copyright or permissions statement including the copyright holder. In those instances, to obtain permission to reprint the materials, please contact the copyright holder listed.

If no such copyright holder is noted the item is most likely in the public domain, but we cannot guarantee that. It is the responsibility of the user to research the copyright status of the item.

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HERB embodies more than twenty years of history education at American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning. Our documents, activities, and other resources were created collaboratively by ASHP/CML staff in dialogue with researchers, cultural partners, and the hundreds of teachers with whom we have worked in local and national professional development programs. While the credits indicate specific responsibilities, HERB is based on the sharing of tasks and the merging of talents.

Created and Produced by: Leah Nahmias, Ellen Noonan, Leah Potter
Executive Producers: Ellen Noonan, Leah Potter
Contributing Staff: Andy Battle, Pennee Bender, Joshua Brown, Peter Mabli, Frank Poje, Donna Thompson Ray, Andrea Ades Vásquez, Isa Vásquez, Heather Wilson
Web Developer: Marco Battistella
Design: Andrea Ades Vásquez
Original Art: Joshua Brown
Research Assistants: Sean Griffin, Maceo June

Other Staff and Partners: Adesimba Bashir, Valentine Burr, Bret Eynon, Linda Ellman, Eliza Fabillar, Bill Friedheim, Carol Groneman, Michele James, Cynthia Jones, Landry Kouassi, Roberta Koza, Abigail Lewis, Madeleine Lopez, Eleanor Morley, Deborah Nasta, Patricia Oldham, Andre Pitanga, Hillina Seife, Bill Seto, John Spencer, Bill Tally, Fritz Umbach, Leonard Vogt

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