Thursday 2 August 2012
I'm currently in New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University conducting some research at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. As I'm going to have a lot to say while I'm in the USA, I thought I'd update a bit more frequently with what I've been doing.
I came here from spending a highly enjoyable and productive ten days in New York City. I was researching at three places in or near the Big Apple: the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, the Tamiment Library at New York University, and the famous New York Public Library. It was also fascinating to visit all the inter-war locations to experience some of the atmosphere that would have surrounded the people I'm writing about (i.e. do some sightseeing).
Firstly, on the Stevens Institute of Technology. Located in the verdant and recently revitalised city of Hoboken, NJ, Stevens hold the F.W. Taylor archives. The collection is extremely substantial and although it's undergoing this very welcome digitization project, there's still a massive quantity of material that won't be going online anytime soon. There's even a Taylor room, which contains his statue, portrait and other possessions including the spoon-handled tennis racquet which Taylor patented in February 1886.
Home, sweet home: all the best scientific managers commissioned statues and portraits of themselves. You can just see the famous tennis racquet in a case on the right hand wall.
In tandem with my research at Stevens I've been enjoying re-reading Robert Kanigel's brilliant biography of Taylor which manages to be both a well-researched historical biography and an evocative steam punk science fiction novel. As someone who's very familiar with the biographical work that's been done on Taylor, I can confirm that Kanigel's book is the text book on the subject, as my dog-eared copy can attest to. Plus it's a great story, told well. Definitely one for fans of Red Plenty, Cryptonomicon, and Fordlandia.
Recommended: Robert Kanigel's The One Best Way (1997).
The particularly interesting thing I find about Taylor is that virtually everyone I meet believes they already know everything there is to know about him. However, if we add all these supposedly obvious points together, we arrive at a chaotic mishmash of some parts of Taylor's work mixed with the baggage that numerous historians and sociologists have saddled him with since. Hopefully my work on the man will bring some fresh perspectives to a topic which hasn't really been dealt with that usefully since the writings of people like Harry Braverman, Daniel Nelson and Craig Littler in the 1970s and 80s.
Ergonomic: me with an antique 1901 time study board with the original time measurement sheets still attached. Note the cutaway grip for the left hand and the two stopwatch brackets.
I conducted several days' work at the Tamiment Library, which is part of New York University. Located by the wonderful Washington Square Park, it was a pleasure to research there. I was there because they hold the archives of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) and am conducting a comparison between the CPUSA and the CPGB. The differences in policies between the two parties were fascinating, such as the CPUSA shift towards race issues in the 1930s when the CPGB had little interest in such matters. Of course, this was a far bigger issue in the USA, so this shouldn't surprise us.
Studious: The famous reading room of the New York Public Library.
Whether we like it or not (and I do), the New York Public Library is most famous for the opening scene of the 1984 smash hit movie Ghostbusters (see here for that). Despite that obvious attraction, I was there for the library's massive collection of non-English language books. I found some splendid volumes in French, German, Italian and Dutch. I was highly impressed that I was allowed to photograph useful pages, which is so much faster than having to make notes on paper or type up transcripts. My most interesting find was an original 1936 volume published by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront on American mass production.
Finally, for those visiting New York, you should definitely book yourself into a walking tour at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. The tours deliver vivid snapshots of what it was like to live in a crowded late nineteenth century New York tenement building along with nineteen other families, all in the most densely populated area in the contemporary world.
Having conducted my research at the beautiful Yale campus, I'm off on the road for a week or so, travelling through New Haven to Cleveland, then on to Indiana.
I'll be back in touch.
(c) Michael Weatherburn, August 2012.