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James R Barrett

Professor Emeritus


I was born in Chicago, educated in city parochial schools and at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and then studied comparative working-class history at the University of Warwick (MA, 1974) and University of Pittsburgh (1981). After three years teaching in North Carolina, I moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1984. Most of my research has been at the juncture of labor, immigration, race and ethnicity, and urban history, and I have also published extensively on American radicalism. I am currently co-editing Contending with Capitalism: A David Montgomery Reader and writing Chicago: A Peoples' History. Since retirement, I have been Scholar in Residence at The Newberry Library, and I live between Chicago and Champaign.

Research Interests

Immigration, race and ethnicity in US cities. 

US working-class history, nineteenth and twentieth century.

The radical tradition in the US.

Radical historiography 

Research Description

The rise and decline of labor radicalism, 1900-1920s.

Irish American labor history.

Racial integration of Chicago's lakefront.

(with Jenny Barrett) A Peoples' History of Chicago. 


University of Illinois at Chicago, BA, Honors, History, 1972.

Center for the Study of Social History, Warwick University (Coventry, UK), Comparative Labor History, MA, 1974.

University of Pittsburgh, PhD, History, 1981. 


Lloyd Lewis/NEH Senior Fellowship in American History, Newberry Library, 1990-1991.

Fellowship, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, 2012.

Awards and Honors

Distinguished service award, Labor and Working Class History Association, 2019.

Watt Professorial Scholar, 2006-2014; Richard J. and Carole G. Cline University Scholar, 1990-1993.

Dean's Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching, 1990, 2010; Graduate College Menotring Award, 2000.

Qualey Article Award, Immigration and Ethnic History Society , 1998, 2006.

Additional Campus Affiliations

Professor Emeritus - African American Studies

Highlighted Publications


History from the Bottom, Up: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Working Class History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2017).

The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multi-Ethnic City (New York: Penguin Press 2012).

William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press 2000).

Hapgood, Hutchins The Spirit of Labor Edited by James Barrett, (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press 2004).



"What Went Wrong? The Communist Party of the USA and the Comintern," American Communist History, 17:2 (2018): 176-184.

"Making and Unmaking the Working Class: E.P. Thompson and the 'New Labor History' in the United States in the United States," Historical Reflections/Reflexions Historique, 4 (2015): 7-18.


Barrett, James R "Was the Personal Political? Reading the Autobiography of American Communism" International Review of Social History 2009.

"Rethinking the Popular Front" Rethinking Marxism 2009.


“Love and Laughter between the Irish and the Jews”, in If It Weren’t for the Irish and the Jews, eds. Hasia Diner and Miriam Nyhan, (New York University Press, 2022)

"Gate Keepers and Americanizers: Irish American Workers and the Creation of a Multi-Ethnic Labor Movement," in Greg Patmore and Shelton Stromquist, eds. Frontiers of Labor: Comparative Histories of the United States and Australia (University of Illinois Press, 2018)

Barrett, James R "The Blessed Virgin Made Me a Socialist Historian: An Experiment in Autobiography and the Historiography of Race and Class" Faith in History Urbana University of Illinois Press 2007.

Barrett, James R “The Heritage of Social Class and Class Conflict on Chicago’s South Side” On Location: Historic Cities and Sites edited by R. Ruggles. Geneva Springer 2011.

Recent Publications

“Pursuing the Individual Worker”, forthcoming, International Review of Social History, 2022.

“A Most Uncommon Common Man” forthcoming, American Historical Review, 2022.

“An Interethnic Paradox: Chicago’s Irish and Everyone Else,” forthcoming, Journal of the Illinois Historical Society, 2022.