Joshua B. Freeman, Professor, Queens College
Joshua B. Freeman (born 1949) is a professor of history at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY) and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the former executive officer of the Graduate Center's history department. Freeman is often called the "dean of New York labor historians."
Freeman was born in 1949 in New York City to working class parents. His grandfather was very active in the American labor movement, and politically active. His parents' and grandparents' influence left him deeply aware of what it meant to be working class. As a youth, he often explored working class neighborhoods and felt a deep affinity for other similarly situated people.
Freeman obtained a bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1970.
He obtained a master's degree in 1976 and a Ph.D. in 1983, both from Rutgers University.
In 1981, Freeman became an instructor at State University of New York at Old Westbury. He became an assistant professor of history before leaving in 1985.
In 1984, Freeman obtained a position as a senior research scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Freeman left CUNY in 1987 and was appointed an assistant professor at Columbia University. He became an associate professor in 1991.
In 1998, Freeman returned to CUNY, becoming an associate professor at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He was named a full professor in 2001.
Freeman's research focuses on labor history and the sociology of working class people. He writes from a "new labor history" theoretical perspective.
Two of Freeman's books have drawn notice from the academic community.
Freeman's 1988 book, In Transit: The Transport Workers Union in New York City, 1933-1966, won the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award in 1989. The book was widely reviewed and praised for unearthing the history of a radical union important in the history of the American labor movement.
In Transit is a richly detailed and analytically sophisticated book about a remarkable organization, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), in New York City in the heyday of industrial unionism in the 1930s and 1940s. The overall story of the TWU's development is closely intertwined with New York and New Deal politics, the emergence of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and its bitter internecine quarrel with the American Federation of Labor, and the impact of the Second World War and the early Cold War on American society. But the most important -- and most fascinating -- of the book's many threads concerns the relationship between the TWU's Communist leadership and the union's Irish Catholic, and predominantly conservative, membership. Joshua Freeman engagingly demonstrates how this unlikely bond developed in the 1930s, and how it finally came unraveled in the dramatically altered political climate of the late 1940s.
Freeman's 2000 book, Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II, also won positive reviews. Freeman intended that the book correct histories of New York City which focused on wealthy elites, elected leaders and organizations. Throughout the first half of the book, Freeman argues that everyday workers were at least as influential as these other groups in making New York City into a progressive bastion and world economic and cultural center. Freeman argues that the strength of organized labor and its continued political influence in the three decades following World War II were largely responsible for the rise of a social democratic politics that made the city special. The presence of organized labor, Freeman says, even gave the city its "cultural greatness." ... While little that is dramatically new is revealed here, Freeman's account is an important reminder that social policy is not made simply by political elites.
The book was not as well-received as In Transit, however. Some critics argued that Freeman too easily dismissed conservative and anti-communist forces active in New York City at the time, wasting a chance to explain why leftist labor unions were able to overcome them and implement much of their agenda.
Freeman is popular commentator on labor history on radio and television. He appeared in Ric Burns' New York: A Documentary Film. From 2001 to 2004, he wrote the "Our Living Tradition" column for the TWU Local 100 Express.
He is also an editor for New Labor Forum and the journal International Labor and Working-Class History.
His book In Transit won the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award in 1989 as the best book relating to the history of United States labor.
His book Working-Class New York won the New York Society Library Book Award in 2000 for the best work of historical importance that evoked the spirit or enhanced appreciation for New York City.