Dr. Peter Cole


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College Faculty Mentoring Award Winner


Dr Cole


Dr. Peter Cole is a historian of the twentieth-century United States, South Africa,   and comparative history who teaches the Department's  courses  on Urban America [History 300] and the Gilded Age/Progressive Era [History 416(G)], as well as the US survey course [History 106],  graduate seminars [History 510 and 511], special topics courses on South Africa and comparative history, and the undergraduate historical methods course [History 201 and 491].

 Prof. Cole's   research   examines matters related to social movements, especially how workers and labor unions connect with race-based social movements (civil rights in the United States and the fight against apartheid in South Africa). He also maintains scholarly interests in the history of deindustrialization, African Americans, South Africa, cities, technology, and the maritime world.


 His current book project is The Buffalo Are Strong: Labor, Race & Technology on the Durban and San Francisco Bay Area Waterfronts, 1950-2010. Dockworkers in the San Francisco Bay Area and Durban, South Africa have played important, if under-appreciated, roles in their cities and nations. Starting in the 1960s, important labor, race, anti-colonial, and other social movements exploded, forever changing each place. Further, major technological changes, called containerization, revolutionized the marine transport industry; as a result, the entire world economy has been remade in recent decades. Simultaneously, labor unions in many places have been dramatically weakened; however, dock unions have proven surprisingly resilient though this power largely has been ignored. His work puts dockers and their actions (strikes, unions, boycotts, alliances) at the center of both these “global cities” using comparative and transnational methods in order to demonstrate the centrality of longshore unions to local and global events.


  Dr. Cole’s earlier research resulted in two books:  Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia  (University of Illinois Press, 2007) and  Ben Fletcher: The Life & Writings of a Black Wobbly  (Charles H. Kerr, 2007).  His scholarly work has been (or will be) published in  International Review of Social History Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies ,  Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal International Labor and Working-Class History ,  Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era ,  Left History ,  Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society , and various encyclopedias.


  Dr. Cole has won several awards and grants at WIU,   including an International Faculty Fellowship University, Research Council Grant, two   Faculty Summer Research Stipends, and a CAS   Faculty Mentoring Award.    He also participated in a   National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute on "The Civil Rights Movement" at Harvard University.


  Dr. Cole was born and raised in South Florida and received his B.A. from Columbia University and his Ph.D. from Georgetown University. Before coming to Western, he taught at Georgetown, Washington College, Western Maryland College, and Boise State University.  When not working, he enjoys trail running, rock climbing, road biking, yoga, backpacking, vegan cooking, and traveling.  He joined the Department of History in 2000.



Dr. Cole in the News