“The Last Strike” (1912), Nedeljkovich, Brashich, and Kuharich / IWW, Cleveland (all images courtesy Labadie Collection, University of Michigan)

The oldest public collection of radical history completed a digital archive of over 2,000 posters. The Joseph A. Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan Library announced this month that its posters on anarchism, civil liberties, feminism, labor, and other political movements are online for the first time.

“It’s not enough for us to preserve the artifact if people cannot see it,” Julie Herrada, Labadie Collection curator, told Hyperallergic. “Posters are a difficult format because they are fragile and can only withstand so much physical handling, so providing access to these materials while keeping them safe is a complicated process, or it was, until the technology and resources became more readily available to us.”

Joseph Labadie (1890) (via Wikimedia)

While all of the posters were scanned at high resolution, they appear online as thumbnails with navigation to zoom. The posters are just a portion of the material in the Labadie Collection, which includes pamphlets, journals, political buttons, and other ephemera, some of which is also in the library’s digital collections. The collection’s strongest holdings are in anarchism, and go back to founder Joseph A. Labadie. The Detroit-area labor organizer, anarchist, and author had the idea for the social protest archive at the university in 1911.

“He knew the importance of these materials and wanted people to use them and learn from them,” Herrada explained. “Since that time we have honored the tradition of collecting and providing access to materials that document ‘history from below’ and fill in the missing stories of our past.”

Many of the posters are visually striking: a 1988 poster for a Toronto “Anarchist Unconvention” has ladies reminiscent of Matisse’s “The Dance” turning around cracking columns; a 1982 March for Peace & Justice poster in New York features colorful legs of different people emerging from a white dove; and a 1996 Boston rally poster to defend rent control has raised fists illustrated as apartment buildings.

The collection moves from one political extreme to the other, from French anarchists proclaiming: “Worse than Hitler, Stalin, and Franco: the Nuclear,” to Industrial Workers of the World attacking the Ku Klux Klan. With material going back to the early 20th century and spanning to today, it’s an essential public archive on radical history around the world, and now it’s finally available to that global audience.

“A Garland for May Day 1895” (1895), Walter Crane, original relief print
“Diseases & Crimes” (1912), Nedeljkovich, Brashich, and Kuharich / IWW, Cleveland
“What is what in the world of labor?,” Industrial Workers of the World, Chicago
“Is Colorado in America?” (1906), Western Federation of Miners, created by Charles Moyer and William D. Haywood
“Grand picnic and re-union of all the radicals of the city of Chicago” (1918), Industrial Workers of the World
“Vote for William D. Haywood for Governor” (1906), Industrial Workers of the World, Denver, Colorado

View the digitized posters from the Labadie Collection online at the University of Michigan

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...

3 replies on “The Revolution Has Been Digitized: Explore the Oldest Archive of Radical Posters”

  1. I started at UM as a freshman in 1967 and went to school/lived/worked there until 1979, when the enveloping corporate slickness became intolerable to me, and left w/o looking back, just before for the Reagan years, when the hammer really came down. With the SDS, the White Panther Party, the Black Action Movement shutting down the U, legal pot voted in by the city council in the early 70’s and much more, it was an exciting, stimulating and hopeful place to be in that time, living up to and continuing its radical roots.

    Since then my impression from a distance has been that, like virtually all “higher education, in the state of Michigan especially with its dire economic troubles and stolen and withering public funding, it’s become a mill for mostly rich kids to find spots as indentured servants to corporate rule, probably with crippling debt, with no significant questioning of norms, other than technocratic advancements, going on. I’d love for someone to tell me I’m wrong.

    I’ve known of the Labadie collection for some time now, am happy it’s more accessible, but a bit surprised it’s still in existence. It’s probably because it’s of little actual consequence, but then again the right seems to need to squash every little bug that threatens its hegemony, betraying its psychotic paranoia, the core fear that removing one card from the elaborate edifice will cause the whole house to collapse.

    May the Labadie, before it’s discovered by the goons and obliterated, be the seed for another uprising.

    1. I want to see Sanders vs Trump head on. Hell, someone should get Budweiser to sponsor this and sell it on pay per view.
      It would be awesome. I don’t like Trump but what he recently said about Mexicans is right on. Sanders is Sanders. It would be a great debate

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