Alex Lichtenstein

Professor, Department of History

Professor and Chair, Department of American Studies

IU; IU Bloomington

Full Biography

My work centers on the intersection of labor history and the struggle for racial justice in societies shaped by white supremacy, particularly the U.S. South (1865-1954) and 20th-century South Africa. My first book, Twice the Work of Free Labor examined the role of convict leasing and chain gangs in the remaking of the American South in the half century after the Civil War. Subsequently, I have written extensively about race relations in the U.S. labor movement, interracial agrarian radicalism, early civil rights struggles, and the impact of anticommunism on the labor and civil rights movements, in both the U.S. and South Africa. I have recently published two books: Margaret Bourke-White and the Dawn of Apartheid, based on a photography exhibited I curated at IU and in South Africa, and Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory, a collaboration with my brother, photojournalist Andrew Lichtenstein. My current research projects focus on South African labor history: one examines the history of Black workers and industrial relations in twentieth-century South Africa, and is tentatively entitled Making Apartheid Work; the other is a short study of the 1973 Durban strikes.

I also have a number of funded public history projects in the works. With my American Studies colleagues Phoebe Wolfskill and Rasul Mowatt, I am co-curating an installation of artworks focused on antilynching campaigns. And, with a grant from the US State Department, I am planning a civil rights tour of the U.S. South with a group of students from the University of Novi Sad, Serbia. To be honest, at this stage in my career, I find this kind of public and community-engaged work far more rewarding than writing for an academic audience. 

Honors and Awards

  • Visiting Research Fellow, International Research Center on Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History, Humboldt University, Berlin (2014, 2017).
  • Directeur d’études invité, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris (2013).
  • Fulbright Senior Specialist, University of Genoa (2010) and University of Belgrade (2008)
  • Aluka Award for Innovative Teaching on Southern Africa (2008-2009)
  • American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship (2006)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Writing Stipend (2005)
  • Fulbright research/teaching award for South Africa (2000)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (1994-95)

Research Interests

  • U.S. labor history
  • South African history
  • Civil Rights
  • Communism and Anticommunism
  • U.S. South


  • B.A. at Yale University, 1984
  • M.A. at University of Pennsylvania, 1985
  • Ph.D. at University of Pennsylvania, 1990

Courses Taught

  • South African History
  • The Scottsboro Case: Race, Class and Region in the 1930s
  • U.S. Labor History
  • Great Depression and World War II
  • The Cold War and Civil Rights


  • Andrew Lichtenstein and Alex Lichtenstein, Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory (Univ. of West Virginia Press 2017)
  • Alex Lichtenstein and Rick Halpern, Margaret Bourke-White and the Dawn of Apartheid in South Africa (Indiana University Press 2016)
  • “`We feel that our strength is on the factory floor’”: Dualism, shop-floor power, and labor law reform in late apartheid South Africa,” Labor History 60 (2019); 606-625.

    DOI: 10.1080/0023656X.2019.1623869

  • “’We do not think that the Bantu is ready for labour unions’: Remaking South Africa’s apartheid workplace in the 1970s,” South African Historical Journal 69(June 2017): 215-235.
  • “Challenging the Law of the Firm: Gender Relations and Shop Floor Battles for Union Recognition in Natal’s Textile Industry, 1973-1985,” Africa 87(1), (Jan/Feb. 2017):
  • “Rick Turner and South Africa’s ‘Sixties’,” Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society 19 (December 2016): 447-466.

  • “'A Measure of Democracy': Works Committees, Black Workers, and Industrial Citizenship in South Africa, 1973-1989,” South African Historical Journal, 67 (June 2015): 113-38
  • "The Other Civil Rights Movement and the Problem of Southern Exceptionalism," Journal of the Historical Society 11(September 2011): 351-377
  • "Making Apartheid Work: African Trade Unions and the 1953 Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act in South Africa," Journal of African History 46 (July 2005): 293-314.
  • "'The Hope for White and Black'?: Race, Labour and the State in South Africa and the United States, 1924-1956," Journal of Southern African Studies 30 (March 2004):133-55.
  • Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South (Verso, 1996).