You are on page 1of 8

“ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LUDLOW…”:

CLASS AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF MEMORY

ABSTRACT
That historical interpretation is politically interested has become a truism. Certain
histories flourish while others are marginalized. Labor struggle is one such marginalized
history, yet it retains a vital presence for many people. In working at the Ludlow
Massacre Site, we must engage these subaltern histories and the people who guard them.
To understand how the memories of the Ludlow Massacre are kept alive, we surveyed
visitors at Ludlow and at a nearby local history museum. These surveys illuminate some
of the ways in which submerged histories are maintained even as they are silenced in the
broader public sphere.

Mark Walker

Anthropological Studies Center


Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
(707) 664-2027
mark.walker@sonoma.edu

Society for American Archaeology Conference 2002, Denver, Colorado


History professionals, in which I include archaeologists, do not have a lock on
creating representations of the past. There are histories outside the guild that can, and
have, surprised us with their passion, and often their political power. As archaeologists
we know history matters, but it also matters to people outside the guild, people who may
have different interests from ours, interests often rooted in some familiar issues such as
ethnicity, race, gender, and class. Our findings and interpretations are sometimes used or
rejected in unexpected ways and for unexpected reasons.
All too often professionals behave as if historical awareness on the part of the
public is simply awareness of and agreement with what professionals think; a matter of
formal education and getting our message across to the public more effectively. In this
paper I would like to start by pointing out while the term "the public" has some use in
designating those outside the profession or guild, it has limited use beyond that. "The
public" is, as they say, "diverse." This is not news. It's why there are have such things as
market segmentation and focus groups.
So our audience is not homogeneous. There are segments of this audience that
are interested in the same things professional archaeologists are interested in and are
content to accept our findings. But, as we are increasingly finding, there are other
segments that, while they may be vitally interested in the past, may find our research
questions irrelevant or even offensive (LaRoche and Blakey 1997).
This paper is not a plea for us to start referring to "the publics" instead of "the
public", nor is it a plea for the use of more sophisticated marketing techniques in selling
archaeology, although, much as I hate to admit it, both probably follow from these
observations. It is an investigation of the relationship between class and historical
consciousness, and the role archaeology plays in creating historical consciousness.
As a discipline archaeology is not noted for its practical applications and would
seem to be the archetypal academic indulgence. But for all its dry as dust scholaticism,
archaeology remains a very public endeavor, attracting considerable media attention, as
well as state support and funding. Why is this? What is the relevance of archaeology in
this case?

Archaeology in the Public Sphere


Archaeology is part of a constellation of institutions that serve to create national
historical memory: schools, historical sites, television programs, and museums. These
institutions act together, although not necessarily in concert, to create a “historical public
sphere,” an arena and a set of rules within which public historical argument, and thus, to
a great extent, political and social argument, takes place.
But debates within this arena are often structured by inequalities. These can be as
crass as flows of money or interlocking directorates between corporate and historical
boards, and as subtle as the attitudes of the middle-class professionals who largely referee
the debates. The creation of historical memory is a political act. We are creating
ideology—legitimating, mystifying, or naturalizing present-day interests by rooting them
in visions of the past.
I am not denying the existence of a real past or arguing that the past is infinitely
plastic. Ludlow did happen. The colony was burned and those people were killed. And
other people did it. But any historical event or process will generate multiple narratives.
People impose narrative structure where before there was none. Their confusing,
contradictory, and disparate memories and experiences are filtered, ordered, and
disciplined to create coherent, meaningful narratives. And some narratives dominate and
flourish, while others are stifled, driven out of the public realm and into extinction, or at
least in to their proponents’ homes.
The broad contours of the narratives that tend to dominate have been sketched by
a number of authors. They tend to be nationalistic and patriotic, emphasizing citizen
duties over citizen rights. They emphasize social unity, the continuity of the social order,
and gloss over periods of transformation and rupture. The dominant histories are dramas
presenting a primordial national unity that denies social and political contradictions in the
present by denying them in the past. This is our heritage, our history, and our past.
But what of the histories that are silenced? If they don’t disappear altogether they
become the property of cranks and special interest groups, at best interesting sidelights to
the central “real” story, no longer quite history, but memory or tradition. But these
alternative visions, while exiled to the margins of mainstream memory, can still maintain
a living presence, private and local, but nonetheless vital. And as political-economic
conditions and alliances shift, these submerged histories may reemerge or provide the
seeds for changes in the dominant histories.
The Ludlow project is an attempt to craft an alternative history, using archaeology
to bring labor history into the historical public sphere. Labor struggle is prominent
among those events and sites that are erased from dominant histories. As of yet few, if
any, of the seminal events of labor history and labor struggle have received official
commemoration. When labor history sites are memorialized, it is generally by labor and
labor unions.
Given the sorts of interests that tend to drive public history, the silencing of labor
struggle is unsurprising. In the dominant mythology, the US is a classless society. We
are all middle class. Events that bear a resemblance to class warfare, or that even point to
the presence of class, are not easily incorporated within this mythology. A second factor
is that labor struggle lacks a resolution or, to put it another way, historical distance (Foote
1997:300). Labor struggle obviously cannot be effectively quarantined in the past and
“antiquarianized.” Labor struggles continue today; the problems that gave rise to them
have not been resolved, and unions remain an uneasy and ambiguous presence on the
fringes of middle-class consciousness.

Southern Colorado Histories


The silencing of labor struggle can also have more obviously economic
underpinnings. In southern Colorado, where Ludlow took place, the remembered past
needs to be considered in the context of de-industrialization, the decline of coal-mining,
and local attempts to recreate the economic base of the area through heritage tourism.
The dominant history of the area is that of the Old West. Trinidad, the largest town near
Ludlow, is on the Santa Fe Trail. Its history is replete with cowboys, pioneers, Indian
attacks, and figures such as Kit Carson, Black Jack Ketchum, and Bat Masterson. The
attraction of this history is powerful. It provides a link not only to national histories of
westward expansion and growth, but to a mythology that, through Hollywood, has a truly
global appeal. The histories of coal mining, company towns, and labor struggle pale in
comparison (McGuire and Reckner 1998; Papanikolas 1995:73-90).
As coal mining, and coal miners, recede into history, it becomes likely that there
will be more official interpretation of this history and a softening of this history. This is
a trend that we can see in other de-industrializing regions of the United States, such as the
coal-mining and steel-towns of Pennsylvania (Abrams 1994; Brant 1996; Mondale 1994;
Staub 1994; Stewart 1997). As industries leave the US for overseas plants or become
economically unfeasible, their histories are often sanitized, romanticized, and redefined
as “heritage” (Brooke 1998; Karaim 1997; Lowenthal 1996; Poirier and Spude 1998), a
trend that one journalist aptly described as “Unemployment: the Theme Park” (Brant
1996). There is generally little room for labor history or the interpretation of labor
struggle in this heritage of technological progress, entrepreneurs, and impressive, but
nonetheless fetishized, industrial artifacts and processes.
The United Archaeological Field Technicians aside, archaeology and organized
labor have not often crossed paths. Even before the Ludlow project began, we were
confronted with the fact that many of the people who have the greatest interest in the site
are people who really don't have much use for archaeology, at least not archaeology as
usual. Reaction among the mineworkers to our proposed work was at best cautious,
generally ranging from polite bewilderment to outright antagonism. For example, when
we were first trying to get the project going, one of us gave a talk to some of the miners
in the area, explaining how archaeology could provide valuable insight into the strike.
One response was that “all you need to know about Ludlow can be summed up in three
words: they got fucked”. This statement can be taken a lot of ways I suppose, but it does
reflect a distrust of the idea that academic professionals could contribute anything worth
knowing to the story of Ludlow (Duke and Saitta 1998).
It is also not every archaeology project where an important first step is convincing
the landowner that you are not a Republican. The need for this indelicate question was
explained to us as “History can be written a lot of ways and Ludlow is sacred ground for
the mineworkers.” Ludlow is sacred ground, and has been ever since the massacre. The
interest of the mineworkers in Ludlow is not an abstract or neutral one, for that would
render Ludlow and its memory meaningless.
The important point here is that the histories of Ludlow are not simply lying in the
ground waiting for academics to dig them up. They precede our arrival on the scene and
are rooted in different interests from ours. For our project to be at all meaningful to the
local community, we must understand and engage these histories and interests (Bishir
1989; Leone and Preucel 1992; Leone 1986; Potter 1998; Shanks and McGuire 1996).

The Survey
In the summer of 1997 as part of my research into the memory of Ludlow, we
conducted a survey of visitors to Ludlow and to a historical house museum in the
Trinidad. In a two-week period we surveyed 115 people at Ludlow and 102 at the
Trinidad Museum. The purpose of the surveys was to identify differences in the class of
the visitors and in the reasons for their visits, the ultimate goal being to get some idea of
the relationship between class and historical consciousness in relation to the Ludlow
Massacre Site. We perceive Ludlow as preserving a counter-hegemonic history, as
having importance to certain segments of the public precisely because it ran counter to
dominant conceptions of US history. The survey at the Trinidad Museum, which falls
more within the mainstream of US historical interpretation, was for comparative
purposes.
We recorded a number of variables, the important ones for this discussion being
those relating to the class of the visitors and their historical consciousness. It is very
important to note here that class and historical consciousness are not things that can be
precisely defined through survey questionnaires. They are historical relations that we can
only approximate. The variables I used to get at Class were union membership, and the
visitor’s occupation and parent’s occupations. The occupations I grouped into the
familiar categories of white-collar and blue-collar occupations, equating these with
Middle Class and Working Class respectively. Business Owners were a third grouping
that I lumped in with the middle class since the focus of this research is on working-class
attitudes. For this survey, the visitors’ occupational grouping approximates their Class
Position, and that of their parents, their Class Background, and I use these terms from
here on. Recording Class Background was an attempt to recover something of the
subjective experience of class that comes from upbringing and family.
The variables relating to historical consciousness were the number of historical
sites they had visited in the past year, and, in relation to Ludlow or Trinidad, how they
knew about the site, why they visited it, and how often. At Ludlow, we also asked
whether the visitors were aware of the Ludlow Massacre before they visited the site. For
the purposes of this paper, each of the variables relating to Historical Consciousness was
cross-tabulated with Class, Class Background, and Union Membership, and the
significance of the association tested using Chi-square tests. The level of significance
was set at 0.05.
The purpose of recording the number of visits to historical sites was to assess the
extent the respondents participated in the discourse of official historical narratives that
comprise most public history sites. This response has an obvious subjective component.
Most visitors were understandably vague as to the number, and could only offer an
estimate. Even though we confined it to sites with some sort of designation as "historic"
(as opposed to, for example, weekend bottle-collecting expeditions in the canyons), there
was still some plenty of room for variation. One visitor, having recently encountered the
British heritage industry, was unsure whether her trip to England counted as a visit to
hundreds of historic sites or simply one big one. In the end, the Number of Historic Sites
Visited must be seen simply as the respondent's perception of their historic site visitation,
rather than an objective figure.
Whether or not the visitor belonged to a union was not a significant factor in
Historical Site Visitation, but Class Position and Class Background were. Working class
visitors and those from working class families were less likely to visit historical sites than
other classes. Twenty-two percent of the working class visitors had not visited any
historical sites in the past year, as opposed to only 5% of the middle class visitors. The
same pattern occurred just considering Class Background. Of those from working-class
families, 19% had not visited any historic sites, compared to 4% of those from middle-
class families. There are a number of possible reasons for this pattern, but at the very
least it does highlight that there is a class component to historical site visitation.
In comparing visitation to Ludlow to that at Trinidad, Class Position was not a
significant factor, which was contrary to my initial expectations. What was significant
was Class Background. Forty percent of the visitors to Ludlow were from working-class
families, compared to 29% of those at Trinidad. Unsurprisingly, Ludlow also had
significantly more union visitors (31% as opposed to 15%).
Just looking at Ludlow, the importance of Class Background over Class Position
was an important pattern. Visitors from working-class families were significantly more
likely be aware of the history of Ludlow than people from middle-class backgrounds—
57% as opposed to 32%. I also considered how people came to know about the site of
Ludlow, whether through education, tourist information, being from the area, or simply
the highway sign on I-25. Class Background was again the significant factor. Eighty
percent of the middle-class visitors found out about the site simply because they saw the
highway sign for “The Ludlow Massacre Memorial Site” and pulled over for a rest break.
The expectation in these cases was generally for an “Indian Massacre”. Only 51% of the
working-class background visitors found out about the site through the sign. Generally
they knew of the site because they lived or had lived in the area (23%), or because
someone had told them about the site (16%).
This is a very quick sketch of some of the finding of this survey. To summarize,
people from working-class positions and backgrounds are less likely to visit designated
historical sites. However, compared to the Trinidad History Museum, a mainstream
historic site, Ludlow was more likely to have visitors from working class backgrounds.
Those people most likely to be aware of the history of Ludlow were also those from
working class backgrounds. They tended to have found out about the site informally,
either through living in the area or being told about it.
These data were in some ways not what I expected given Ludlow’s importance in
preserving a counter-hegemonic history. A strong working-class association would
certainly have been nice, although the use of Ludlow as a meeting place by unions and
the annual UMWA commemorative service already highlights this proprietorship. But
the data from this survey are suggestive of the ways in which these silenced histories
survive, through family relations and local networks. History is created not just in
lectures, textbooks, and scholarly articles, but also around the kitchen table.
In working at Ludlow and trying to realize this work as action in the present, we
move from the study of history to that of memory and history making. We leave the
familiar practices and attitudes of academic professionals and entering a terrain where the
past is intimate, explicitly useful, and its meanings are jealously guarded. We tell
ourselves we can see a difference.
References Cited
Abrams, Jame F.
1994 Lost Frames of Reference: Sightings of History and Memory in Pennsylvania's Documentary
Landscape. In Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage, edited by Mary Hufford, pp.
24-38. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL.

Bishir, Catherine
1989 Yuppies, Bubbas, and the Politics of Culture. In Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, III,
edited by Thomas Carter and Bernard L Herman, pp. 8-15. University of Missouri Press,
Columbia, MO.

Brant, John
1996 Unemployment: The Theme Park New York Times Magazine January 28, 1996:46-47.

Brooke, James
1998 West Celebrates Mining’s Past, but Not Its Future New York Times October 4, 1998.

Duke, Philip, and Dean J. Saitta


1998 An Emancipatory Archaeology for the Working Class. Assemblage
4(:http://www.shef.ac.uk./assem/4/4duk_sai.html.

Foote, Kenneth E.
1997 Shadowed Ground: America's Landscape of Violence and Tragedy. University of Texas Press,
Austin.

Karaim, Reed
1997 Time out of Mine: Airstreams, aging hippies, and UFOs meet the ghosts of miners past in a well-
preserved Arizona desert town Perservation March/April:83-86.

LaRoche, Cheryl J., and Michael L. Blakey


1997 Seizing Intellectual Power" The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground. Historical
Archaeology 31(3):84-106.

Leone, Mark P.
1986 Symbolic, Structural, and Critical Archaeology. In American Archaeology Past and Future: A
Celebration of the Society for American Archaeology, 1935-1985, edited by Don P. Fowler David
J. Meltzer, and Jeremy A. Sabloff, pp. 415-438. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Leone, Mark, and Robert Preucel


1992 Archaeology in a Democratic Society: A Critical Perspective. In Quandaries and Quests: Visions
of Archaeology's Future, edited by LuAnn Wandsnider. Center for Archaeological Investigations,
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Lowenthal, David
1996 Possessed by the Past: The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. The Free Press, New
York.

McGuire, Randall H., and Paul E. Reckner


1998 The Unromantic West: Labor, Capital and Struggle. Paper presented at the 32nd Annual
Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Salt Lake City, Utah. January 1992. .

Mondale, Clarence
1994 Conserving a Problematic Past. In Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage, edited by
Mary Hufford, pp. 15-23. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL.
Papanikolas, Zeese
1995 Trickster in the Land of Dreams. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.

Poirier, David A., and Robert L. Spude (editors)


1998 America’s Mining Heritage. National Park Service, Washington DC.

Potter, Parker B., Jr.


1998 Ethnography in Annapolis. In Annapolis Pasts: Historical Archaeology in Annapolis, Maryland,
edited by Paul A. Shackel, Paul R. Mullins, and Mark S. Warner, pp. 35-48. University of
Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN.

Shanks, Michael, and Randall H. McGuire


1996 The Craft of Archaeology. American Antiquity 61(1):75-88.

Staub, Shalom
1994 Cultural Conservation and Economic Recovery Planning: The Pennsylvania Heritage Parks
Program. In Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage, edited by Mary Hufford, pp. 229-
244. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL.

Stewart, Doug
1997 Saving American Steel Smithsonian August:86-93.