January 17, 2018

Cruising for Pinelands: Knowledge Work in the Wisconsin Lumber Industry, 1870–1900

Kinnear Figure 2-550

by Craig William Kinnear

Timber cruisers, those workers hired to locate and assess the value of trees, blazed the trail for the lumber industry’s expansion across northern Wisconsin between 1870 and 1900. This article demonstrates that, in addition to tough physical labor, timber cruisers did significant cultural work to gather the information needed to expand industrial logging operations. They chatted with those they met on the trail, trading exaggerated stories about the difficulty of travel in the region. From these tall tales, cruisers gleaned local knowledge about the forests. Even as they

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shared local environmental knowledge, however, the cruisers kept some information, like the location of valuable pine stands, private. By gathering shared local knowledge and hiding valuable information, cruisers did the “knowledge work” with which capitalists selected the parcels of timberland best suited to industrial logging. That tall tales and outright lies were essential to cruisers’ labor suggests that this unexpected and often exploitative knowledge work was central to late nineteenth-century industrial capitalism.

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