OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Julie Greene

Portrait of Julie Greene

Julie Greene is a professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal (2009), which won the OAH James A. Rawley Prize. Her interests span labor and working-class history, immigration, the history of empire, and transnational and global approaches to history. With Ira Berlin, Greene is a cofounder and director of the Center for Global Migration Studies at the University of Maryland, devoted to understanding immigration and global migrations. She is currently working on two book projects. The first, entitled "Box 25: Exploring the World of Caribbean Workers," uses a set of remarkable memoirs written by canal workers as the starting point for recreating their travels and travails. The second, entitled "Movable Empire: Labor Migrations and the Making of U.S. Global Power, 1890–1934," examines the role of labor and migration in the making of the U.S. "New Empire," spanning the Caribbean, Central America, and onward to Hawaii and the Philippines. A past president of the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, she is currently the president of the Labor and Working-Class History Association. Greene has written for a range of media outlets, including Huffington Post and Dissent; she has participated also in documentary films including the recent Panama Canal episode of "American Experience" on PBS.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This talk examines the building of the Panama Canal from 1904 to 1914 with an emphasis on race and diaspora. The project required the migration of tens of thousands of Afro-Caribbeans from Jamaica, Barbados, and other islands, as well as several hundred African-Americans. Both groups confronted a widespread system of racial segregation in the Canal Zone. Yet they naturally fit into the system in different ways and developed very distinct strategies for resisting or subverting the designs of U.S. officials or, alternatively, accommodating themselves to government policies.
This talk focuses on the world of women during the construction of the Panama Canal, 1904 to 1914. Thousands of women traveled to the Canal Zone from the United States and from across the Caribbean. Some came as working women, some as housewives supporting the work their husbands were doing for the Isthmian Canal Commission. Some came as reformers, assigned to investigate conditions in the Zone. Viewing the construction project through their eyes demonstrates not only the central role women played but also the ways their interactions with one another challenged or reinforced existing racial, class, and gender relations in the Canal Zone.
Movable Empire: Labor Migrations and the Making of U.S. Global Power, 1890-1934, examines the role of labor and migration in the making of the U.S. ‘New Empire’, and spans across the Caribbean, Central America, and onward to Hawaii and the Philippines. This talk explores the centrality of migration to the economic expansionism of the U.S. as well as its formal acquisition of empire. Along the way it asks us to rethink both the causal engine of U.S. global power as well as the processes of working-class formation.
This talk reinterprets U.S. labor and working-class history by bringing global processes--especially capitalist expansionism and empire-building--into our understanding of class formation. The workers supporting U.S. expansionism included soldiers and sailors as well as tens of thousands of workers deployed by the U.S. to help build its empire. The latter included workers already present in sites of empire such as the Philippines or Hawaii, as well as the many recruited by the U.S. to migrate where needed. Waves of expansionism, evolving strategies of global labor management, shifting routes of migration, and working-class strategies and resistance all need to be factored into our history of U.S. labor and the working class.