Archival Instruction:The Working Man

Today I led an archival instruction session for Michigan Tech Instructor and doctoral student Gary Kaunonen’s Revisions class. Kaunonen encourages his students to incorporate primary sources into their research, and we’ve introduced several of his classes in the past to working with archival material. This semester the class research project emphasizes “the working man.”

When we conduct instruction sessions for undergraduates, along with the ins and outs of what to do when you come to the Archives, we select samples of archival material that demonstrate the inter-relatedness of different records. Being able to touch and read actual historical material often sparks interest in students that weren’t particularly interested in history before (hard to believe, I know!). It also gives us a chance to talk about inherent bias of manuscript records and critical evaluation of sources.

I approached this particular session with an eye toward revealing the lives of ordinary people, and I thought I’d share some of the resources I presented to Kaunonen’s Revisions class. I focused on four broad themes: Worker Housing, Copper Miners, Communities, and Non-mining Activity. What follows is a very cursory overview of material selected.

Copper Range Companies Collection

CR 212, 10-9

Record of House Repairs, Painesdale

c. 1943-1950

This document includes photos and blueprints of company housing in Painesdale, Michigan. It shows the range and variety of housing provided by Copper Range to its workers, from a simple 4-room dwelling to the more well-appointed physician’s residence.

Browne, Mary Jo Rowell. A Comparative Study between Miner’s Homes in Cornwall, England and the Miner’s Homes of the Cornish in Michigan. University of Minnesota, unpublished thesis, 1986.

Mine Worker Housing in Calumet, Michigan: 1864-1950; Historic and Architectural Survey. Keweenaw National Historic Park, Calumet, Michigan. 2000.

From the Copper Country Vertical Files:

Agriculture – Losses and Troubles: (Although the topic is a serious one, I had to smile at the grim-sounding subject heading for this file.)  In it are such things as a newspaper article entitled “Grasshoppers gobbling up U.P. crops,” and coverage of unusual periods of drought in the Keweenaw. A photocopy of the table of contents for the March/April 1984 issue of Michigan History magazine indicates that it was devoted to Michigan farming, including the Upper Peninsula.

Cities & Towns – Company Towns

Copper Miners – Accidents

Lumbering

From the Copper County Photo Files:

Agriculture

Building – Houses – Exterior

Cities & Towns – Calumet

Copper Mines & Mining – Underground Scenes

Lumbering – Camps Scenes

Social Life & Customs

Social Life & Customs – Celebrations

Social Life & Customs – Picnics

Mining Company Employment Cards

Houghton County Mine Inspector Reports

I selected a few representative samples of employment cards from both the Quincy Mining Company and the Calumet & Hecla Minnig Company. In particular, I used the C&H employment card of John Lakner, who was unfortunately killed on the job, because the Mine Inspector’s Report for Houghton County includes the incident in which Lakner met his demise on November 13, 1905. I wanted to illustrate to the students that with some sleuthing, a researcher can sometimes find documentation of an event or person in more than a single source. It is often the piecing together of different primary accounts that creates a more complete picture of a person, place, or event from the past.

Quincy Mining Company, Spy Reports

Box 341

There is a set of correspondence in the Quincy Collection that reveals how the mining company planted company spies among their workers in order to find out about any seditious activity brewing. Spies were obtained through several detective agencies, among them the famed Pinkerton Agency. Such men worked as miners and laborers, living like the men they observed. They reported back to the agency, who sent anonymous reports to the mining companies. They reports provide a glimpse into the daily activity of the working man, on and off-duty. Quincy wasn’t alone in this practice; C&H also employed company spies.

Houghton County Jail Records

Circuit Court Chancery Journals

These two volumes journal all matters that came before a judge of the court for a particular period of time, and document jail activity. It is possible to see evidence of labor unrest during periods of mass arrests for disorderly conduct, or to find out what kinds of behavior were considered socially disruptive. Some things don’t change much; assault and battery are still a crime. “Insanity” and “bastardy,” however, are dealt with in entirely different ways today than spending a night in the slammer. Some things change for the better.

A series of reports on Congressional Hearings on Conditions in the Copper Mines of Michigan were convened in response to the 1913 copper miners’ strike. These reports contain eyewitness testimony of life in and out of the Keweenaw copper mines, and are a real treasure trove of information about the lives of mine workers and their families almost 100 years ago.

These are just some of the sources found in the Archives that yield information about “The Working Man.” If you’d like to find out more, our reading room is open to the public Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Or feel free to drop us a line at copper@mtu.edu.


One comment on “Archival Instruction:The Working Man”

  • Beth
    March 24, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Interesting topic! Another aspect of worker housing is an ethnicity study that was done of the towns on Quincy Hill (Coll. 262, Quincy Hill Ethnic Research Papers).

Comments are closed.