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Jeffrey Helgeson

Dr. Jeffrey HelgesonOffice:  TMH 211
Phone:  512.245.2183

Curriculum Vitae

Jeff Helgeson earned his PhD in U.S. history from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2008, and has become a nationally-recognized expert in the 20th-century history of race, gender, class, and urban politics in the United States. His first book, Crucibles of Black Empowerment: Chicago’s Neighborhood Politics from the New Deal to Harold Washington (University of Chicago, 2014), examines how black Chicagoans developed a unique political culture through the everyday struggle to access housing, jobs opportunities, and political power in a city that was both “the capital of black America” and one of the most segregated and unequal places in the nation. Crucibles was a finalist for the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change National Book Award, and was named a “Highly Recommended” title by Choice Magazine. Helgeson is also the Historical Expert on the design of the museum at the new Pullman National Monument in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to other publications, he has published a definitive essay on American working-class history in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of America. His current book project, The Politics of Bewilderment: Reimagining the History of Fragmented Urban America, tracks the rise of corporate power over urban politics since the 1970s in Boston, Massachusetts, as well as the ways that parent and community activists, artists, and writers both recognized the limits of corporate-led urban reform and reimagined paths to a more democratic city.

Helgeson’s research has been informed by his work in public history. He began his career as a research associate for the Gilder Lehrman Collection in New York City. And since 2002 he has been the administrative director of The Labor Trail, a collaborative project of the Chicago Center for Working Class Studies. The Labor Trail is both a paper map and an online interactive map of Chicago’s labor and working-class history. (For more information, please see: As part of the Labor Trail project, Dr. Helgeson has given dozens of tours of Chicago’s history, he has been interviewed on network and public radio, and he has appeared on the British Broadcasting Company’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” episode detailing the family history of British actress Zoë Wanamaker and their history’s relationship to the 1910-1911 garment industry strike in Chicago.

Select Publications

In Progress

The Politics of Bewilderment: Reimagining the History of Fragmented Urban America (Research Funded by Texas State University Research Enhancement Program Grants).

“Politics in the Promised Land: The Influences of the Great Black Migration on the Midwest,” Invited by Jon Lauck, ed., Finding the Lost Region: A Conference on Rediscovering the Midwest, America’s Most Common Ground (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, Under Contract).

“Redbaiting the Anticommunist Left: Lola Belle Holmes, the FBI, and the Negro American Labor Council.”.


Crucibles of Black Empowerment: Chicago’s Neighborhood Politics from the New Deal to Harold Washington, University of Chicago Press, Historical Studies of Urban America, James R. Grossman, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, and Becky M. Nicolaides, eds., 2014.


American Labor and Working-Class History, 1900–1945,” American History: Oxford Research Encyclopedias (September 1, 2016).

“‘Who are you America but Me?’: The American Negro Exposition, 1940,” Black Chicago Renaissance: A Second Awakening, 1930-1970, ed. Darlene Clark Hine. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012).

Chicago: Protest and the American City,” in Supplement to 126th Annual AHA Meeting, January 2012,

“Labor and Livelihood,” American Centuries: The Ideas, Issues, and Trends that Made U.S. History, Volume V, Robert Johnston, ed. (New York: Facts on File, 2011).

“Review Essay: The State of Blame in American Cities: Race, Wealth, and the Politics of Housing,” Journal of Urban History 37 (November 2011): 992-999.

“Chicago’s Labor Trail: Labor History as Collaborative Public History,” International Labor and Working-Class History, 76:1 (2009), pp. 60-64.

“A Brief History of North Lawndale,” The Chicago Greystone in Historic North Lawndale, Feldman, Roberta and Jim Wheaton, eds., (Chicago, IL: City Design Center, College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2006), pp. 63-73.

Helgeson has also published reviews in the Chicago Tribune, The Journal of American History, The American History Review, Urban History, International Labor and Working-Class History, Business History Review, The Journal of Southern History, The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, The Journal of Illinois History, The Middle West Review, and Working-Class Notes. He is also on the Editorial Board of the Middle West Review, a peer-reviewed journal on the history of the American Midwest published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Courses Taught

HIST 5351C—Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in American Labor History
This graduate seminar explores how race, gender, and ethnicity have influenced American labor history. The course introduces graduate students to a way of thinking about colonial American history and the history of the United States that takes seriously the ways in which the expansion of freedom for some has relied upon the subordination of others. We then read and discuss a wide range of case studies of American working-class history from the colonial era to the present. Students regularly report that the course helps them progress as professionals and intellectuals.

HIST 5351D—Politics and Society of Postwar America, 1945-Present
This graduate research seminar will examine the various and conflicting ways the American people conceived of the nature of “progress” after World War II, and how they sought to act upon their often-competing visions of what postwar America should be. The course will introduce students to key arguments regarding the narrative of postwar U.S. history with a particular focus on the political and social dynamics of race, class, and gender in the United States. The course will challenge students to engage relevant texts and then to identify and analyze a set of primary sources that will allow them to test the hypotheses historians have been putting forth.

HIST 4399—Senior Research Seminar
This course is required for history majors not seeking teaching certification. In this course students refine skills and techniques essential to the historical profession. Students analyze primary and secondary sources, apply methods, and write a term paper.

HIST 3375A—History of American Workers 1877-1945
This course introduces challenges students to come to an understanding of why the period between 1877 and 1945 has been essential to historians’ arguments regarding the nature of American history more broadly. I provide the students with the resources they need to learn the basic narratives of the time period, and then to write an essay about the ways that what they learned might inform understanding of an issue in contemporary American workers’ lives.

HIST 3371A—Conflict and Creativity in American Urban and Suburban History
This course surveys the changing functions, scale, and quality of urban society in the United States. Special emphasis will be placed upon urban politics, or how changing demographics, physical environments, public and private institutions, and economies both grew out of and gave rise to political tensions between Americans. The course is intended to introduce students to the main theoretical approaches to studying urban life and to the key themes in the history of cities in the United States. By the end of the semester, students will be expected to be able to make verbal and written arguments about the origins and development of American cities, the role cities have played in the broader history of the United States, and the lessons of urban American history for one key debate regarding the future of urban life.

Honors 2309—Great Ideas: Humanities II
What we learn in study of the humanities is that ideas have origins. Ideas grow and develop or wither and die (and sometimes resurrect), depending on the political, social, and cultural contexts in which they occur. This humanities course considers a contemporary novel, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, in light of a number of philosophical, political and historical perspectives on Western culture. In so doing, we hope to foster a discussion that brings a critical perspective on foundational ideas that affect our understanding of today's world. The goal of the course is to engage creatively with a contemporary text that has been deemed one of the best novels in the English language in recent years. The novel raises fundamental questions about themes critical to the study of the humanities, including, among others, freedom and slavery; race, segregation, and oppression; human psychology, ambition, and failure; the meaning of history and progress, if any; individual agency and power; popular culture; the absurdity of large-scale social systems; existentialism; love and sex; and the social significance of comedic and absurdist art.

HIST 1310—History of the United States to 1877
History 1310 is an introduction to American civilization from the first encounters between Europeans and Native Americans through the Civil War and Reconstruction. The course focuses on central themes and issues in the development of European colonization, American growth, institutional change, cultural development, and political conflict. Themes treated in the course include: encounters and colonization; early America and the British Empire; the American Revolution; state formation in the early republic; democratic politics in the era of Andrew Jackson; technological, industrial, and transportation revolutions; social and cultural life in 19th century America; slavery, expansion, abolitionism, and the sectional crisis; and the Civil War and Reconstruction.

HIST 1320 History of the United States to 1877
This course introduces students to the major problems in modern U.S. history, particularly concentrating on social, economic, and political developments from Reconstruction to the 1980s. We will focus on the people of the United States, their responses to modern life in the industrial era, and how they transformed the nation’s domestic politics and its roles in international affairs, as well as the political paths not taken. The course will examine how individuals and organized groups sought to reform public policy and social conditions according to deeply held moral values and political commitments.