Historian honored by national labor foundation

Leon Fink

Leon Fink specializes in the modern American labor movement. Photo: Matthew Kaplan

Labor historian Leon Fink was awarded the 2014 Sol Stetin Award for Labor History from the Sidney Hillman Foundation.

Fink is a specialist in the modern American labor movement, immigration history, and the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

The annual award, named after the late Sol Stetin, a Polish immigrant labor leader and co-founder of the American Labor Museum, is presented to a scholar who has contributed to greater public knowledge of the labor movement and working people in America.

Fink said it was inspiring to be recognized with an award previously given to such prominent labor historians as David Brody, David Montgomery, Dorothy Sue Cobble and Marcus Rediker.

“Sol Stetin, like Sidney Hillman for whom the foundation is named, dedicated himself not only to building a strong union but a larger political movement that would join workers, intellectuals and other professionals in a search for social justice,” said Fink, distinguished professor of history.

“For its work in supporting scholarly and journalistic work that advances progressive change, I am delighted to be identified with the Sidney Hillman Foundation.”

Fink has written, co-authored, or co-edited 10 books, including his most recent publications, Workers in Hard Times: A Long View of Economic Crises (2014), Sweatshops at Sea: Merchant Seamen in the World’s First Globalized Industry, from 1812 to the Present (2011), and Workers Across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History (2011).

He has also been involved with national efforts to link public history and K-12 history education.

Fink led other researchers and graduate students at UIC in the creation of the Chicago Labor Trail, a narrated map and accompanying website that received the Illinois Humanities Council’s 2004 Towner Award for demonstrating “venture and risk-taking” in the development and execution of a public humanities project.

Fink, who joined the UIC faculty in 2000, is founding editor of the quarterly journal Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. At UIC he established a doctoral concentration in the history of work, race and gender in the urban world.

Fink’s previous honors include a Fulbright senior scholar grant and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Newberry Library and the National Humanities Center.

The Sidney Hillman Foundation is named for the founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Since 1950 the foundation has honored journalists, writers and public figures who pursue investigative reporting and public policy in service of the common good.

Fink was honored May 6 at the foundation’s annual dinner and ceremony in New York City.

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