Book Review of Canton: A Town in Transition
The book review, written by Dameian Bossarte, is a 2017 look at what a group of St. Lawrence students observed of Canton in the 1970s. This paper is less book review and more follow up, though of course my single assignment can’t match the anthropological data-gathering presented by the group of students who originally wrote Canton: A Community in Transition. The book review is a follow-up that asks questions but doesn’t provide answers, and is rich in observation and anecdotes but lacking in the type of empirical evidence needed to truly redo a study of what Canton is and where it’s going. A deep dive into contemporary Canton could be beneficial for many: The Decennial Census conducted by the U.S Census Bureau isn’t accurate or thorough enough to measure the type of cultural change that is interesting to academics, and the statistics maintained and published by the town are woefully unimpressive and outdated, which is disappointing albeit not terribly surprising. It would be unrealistic to expect a local government representing 10,000 people to gather statistics like a thriving city, but at the same time it is borderline irresponsible for St. Lawrence University to no longer devote resources to studying Canton and the North Country like it did when A Community in Transition was published.
The History of Work by Richard Donkin
This compendium of historical studies on work, employment and labor seems to be the source to turn to if one wants to understand the world in which they work. Somehow Donkin is able to weave a narrative, in detail, from the time of hunter-gatherers to the benefits of certain managerial styles in the 21st century. He devotes chapters to the religious history driving literacy in Europe and Puritans to North America, yet also finds the space to spend a chapter comparing the conceptual differences between Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor. Just as it’s important to know Taylorism sought to turn people into machines on an assembly line whereas Henry Ford used machines to help people on the assembly line. Taylorism was turned into Soviet communism whereas Ford’s methods prevailed in the West, and that background is vital to understanding the origins of the different systems of labor used around the world. Donkin provides overarching narrative mixed with useful details and interesting anecdotes to put forth the one stop shop for anyone looking to build or buttress their knowledge of work, past and present.
Canton: The Town Friendliness Built
Like A Community in Transition, The Town Friendliness Built is a relatively small book published in Canton about Canton, a sort of hometown history. Canton has never been a place so alluring it draws outside historians to take up the cause, so published history is a point of pride for the most dedicated residents of this town. An unbiased or critical look at Canton seems like too big of an ask, so we will stick with books that probably have a hometown bias and treat them as such. This book is neither academically exhaustive or particularly authoritative, but when read, it gives a great feel for the type of place Canton was and is, a feat only accomplished by someone with considerable experience here. It’s also a great introduction to the history of Canton, a sort of outline which can lead to more specific research on individual topics. The Town Friendliness Built reminded me of Rushton Canoe’s, but the New York Times provided solid information. The Town Friendliness Built dedicates a few pages to Frederic Remington and a similar section to Irving Bacheller, and five more to St. Lawrence. If one found they were interested in a specific topic, biographies of Remington and Bacheller are readily available, and Candle in the Wilderness is the authority on St. Lawrence University history. The Town Friendliness Built is almost entirely correct when crosschecked against my existing knowledge, which is substantial after conducting this project, but it should be treated more as a well written narrative than a pamphlet of statistics and data. The Town Friendliness Built is a history, but it’s also the story of Canton, and that perspective is invaluable.
A World Without Work by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic Monthly
This course, rightfully, focuses on the past. The History Department is not allowed to teach the future at this moment, and for that the student body is most likely grateful. But suspending the laws of academia for a second, A World Without Work is a great companion extended interview/diatribe/article, using Youngstown, Ohio as a focal point to direct the conversation of what to do post work. Donkin wrote an exhaustive collection of work for all recorded history and before, but failed to mention that work isn’t working, and the future isn’t seeming to look anything like the present. Work, at least in the rustbelt sense of the word, is vanishing rapidly. Youngstown, Ohio is a fitting example with which Thompson drives the conversation, but Canton, New York would be a suitable substitution, though perhaps Massena more closely mimics the issues of the rustbelt combined with the culture of the North Country. The article proposes lots of solutions, or at least reactions, to a world without work: incentivize small business, job sharing, government spending on community building, or even a universal basic income. Likewise, Thompson makes a point any student of this seminar should be able to articulate: contemporary unemployment didn’t exist until the late 19th century, because most Americans were agriculturally based and interacted with local and global economies but did not depend solely on them. Thompson may be referring directly to Canton, because his classification of America mirrors perfectly the condition and timeline felt here. Global economies were interactive but not all-encompassing and agriculture was pervasive but not so intertwined with the government.
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