Bryant Simon

Tandem Fellow in Global and Transnational History
German Historical Institute
1607 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington DC 20009
Phone +1.202.387.3355

Biographical Summary

Bryant Simon is a former Humboldt Research Award receipt and currently professor of history at Temple University. His work explores popular culture, built environments, and the political economy of recent US history. As a Binational Tandem scholar in Global and Transnational History at GHI with Professor Anke Ortlepp, he will investigate the practice and appeal of public(ish) spaces in the United States over the course of the long 20th C.  

Most recently, Simon is the author of Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America and Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks, and the editor, along with Jurgen Martschukat, of Food, Power, and Agency. His work and commentary have been featured in the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, and numerous other outlets. 

His newest book, The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives (New Press, 2017) tells the story of the small, out-of-the-way American town, Hamlet, North Carolina, a town that had thrived for decades as a jobs-rich railroad center. But by the 1970s, this place, far from a city or an interstate, had become a postindustrial backwater, a magnet for businesses searching for cheap labor with little or almost no official oversight. One of these businesses was Imperial Food Products, which paid its workers a little above the minimum wage to stand in pools of freezing water scraping gobs of fat off frozen chicken breasts for hours on end. These same workers were often fired them if they complained or if they went to the bathroom too many times during a shift. Then, on the morning of September 3, 1991, the day after Labor Day, this factory that had never been inspected by local, state, or federal official caught fire. Twenty-five people—many of whom were black, and many of whom were single mothers—perished behind the plant’s locked doors. Eighty years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, industrial disasters were supposed to have been a thing of the past in the United States. But this clearly, and sadly, wasn’t the case. Simon’s book looks at how this can, and still does, happen. He has written a social autopsy of this town, this regional, this nation, and this time that shows how cheap labor, cheap government, and cheap food came together in a way that was bound for tragedy.

Main Areas of Interest

  • Food Studies
  • Labor History
  • Southern History
  • Urban Studies
  • Global Education