Private Eyes and Ears: Covert Surveillance in American Life, 1865-1941

Project overview

Robertson_PIThis project examines the covert surveillance conducted by private investigators in the United States prior to World War Two, activities that ensured that, despite the restricted apparatus of the government, being watched was an everyday experience for many Americans. By focusing on the work of individual investigators, the project will provide a framework for interpreting personal surveillance and, by examining the circulation of individuals and practices between the private sector and government that extended state surveillance beyond the scope allowed by the Constitution, offer a new perspective on the American state and its surveillance apparatus, and ideas of freedom.

Research Grants

  • Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, 2008-2010
  • Faculty of Arts Research Seed Grant, University of Sydney, 2006

In Progress

“The Pinkertons and the Paperwork of Surveillance: Reporting Private Investigation in the United States, 1865-1940”

“Private Detectives and the Invasion of Privacy in the United States, 1880-1940”

Publications

The Company’s Voice in the Workplace: Labor Spies, Propaganda and Personnel Management, 1918-1920,” Labor: Studies in the Working-Class History of the Americas 10, 3 (Fall 2013): 57-79

Harlem Undercover: Vice Investigators, Race and Prostitution in the 1920s,” Journal of Urban History 35, 4 (May 2009): 486-504

Presentations

Private Detectives and the Paper Work of Surveillance in the United States, 1855-1939,” presented at Paper Work: the Materials and Practices of Modern Information Cultures, University of Otago, May 24, 2013 [invited]

Private Detectives and Privacy in the Early Twentieth-Century United States, presented at the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association Conference, Brisbane, July 4, 2012

Private Eyes and Ears –The Emergence of Covert Surveillance in America, presented at ASIS NSW, May 29, 2012 [invited]

The Company’s Voice in the Workplace: Labor Spies, Propaganda and Personnel Management, 1918-1920, presented at the Department of History Seminar, University of Sydney, March 19, 2012

“Private Detectives and Privacy,” presented at Surveillance and/in Everyday Life, University of Sydney, February 20-21, 2012

“The Company’s Eyes, Ears, and Voice in the Workplace: A Reconsideration of Labor Spying in Interwar Bag and Cotton Mills,” presented at the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association Conference, Adelaide, July 2, 2010

“We Are Very Anxious To Have An Intelligent [Woman] Worker’s Point Of View”: Gender and the Practices of Workplace Surveillance in Interwar Cotton Mills,” presented at the Organization of American Historians Conference, Washington, DC, April 10, 2010

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *