James R. Barrett is a professor emeritus of history and African American studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he won several teaching awards and was a University Scholar and chair of the history department. He grew up on the West Side of Chicago and has worked often with teachers, labor unions, and community groups. Barrett's research is primarily in the areas of labor history, urban history, race and ethnicity, and the history of social movements. His major works include the forthcoming History from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out: Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Working-Class History (2017), The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multi-Ethnic City (2012), Work and Community in the Jungle: Chicago’s Packing House Workers (1987), William Z. Foster and Tragedy of American Radicalism (1999), and a critical edition of Upton Sinclair’s classic novel The Jungle (1907; 1988). He is currently at work on "Chicago: An Ethnic and Racial History."
The essay recasts the concept of cosmopolitanism in a working-class context. Reading habits, travel, political activism, and cultural activities shaped a range of “blue-collar cosmopolitans” – Pullman Porters, sailors, hobos, and others --from the early through the mid-twentieth century. The general impression is one of much greater working-class sophistication than we normally envision.