Down to the Docks: The Longshoreman Speaks Up

Meave Sheehan

This is an investigation into the figure of the dock worker, also known as a longshoreman or stevedore, who was once a formidable local archetype in the New York area.

 

This installation was a part of HEAR & NOW: An Interactive Oral History Exhibitshowcasing multimedia projects and stories recorded by the 2017 cohort of Columbia University’s Oral History MA program. 

 Courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

Courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

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What has happened to dockworkers? Oral history interviews that have already been recorded by the Brooklyn Historical Society and Hoboken Historical museum give us a sense of what the New York area’s shipping industry was like not so long ago. This is a look at one group and subculture of workers that experienced a great change. According to one economist, "Somewhere close to 90% of the dockworkers in New York City lost their jobs within the span of about fifteen years" after a major advance in shipping technology in the 1950s. Visitors can consider the changing nature of labor and what might happen with groups of people whose labor is not considered so necessary anymore. You can also think about the longshoreman culture and what the shipping industry in the modern-day New York area might be like.

Meave Sheehan has previously worked in local journalism, education, and government. She has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Liberal Studies. Her research interests include local history, military history, podcasting, and the performance of storytelling.