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Lecturer to be featured in PBS documentary

Elissa Sampson, lecturer in the Jewish Studies Program, is featured in the documentary “The Fire of a Movement,” about New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It’s the latest episode of the PBS series “The Future of America’s Past.”

Fire burns at the Triangle building in New York City in 1911.

“The Fire of a Movement” premieres nationally on PBS Sept. 3 but is available online now.

Sampson speaks with historian Ed Ayers at the site of the 1911 fire, the former Asch Building, now part of New York University’s campus. They discuss what happened during the fire, which killed 146 young immigrant workers, and how subsequent public outcry inspired workplace safety laws. 

In her undergraduate course The Lower East Side: Jews and the Immigrant City (AMST 4533), Sampson teaches the history of the fire and explores how it is remembered, including how activists have recently raised funds for a new interactive memorial.

“Stories travel,” Sampson said. “This one has travelled globally through sites of labor and tragedy. Airing a program like this one allows this pivotal moment in the history of immigration to remain visible. Difficult history doesn’t simply die or just go away. When we engage new generations in an ongoing dialogue across time, we can say that female immigrant lives matter then and now.”

The Triangle Fire episode also includes footage of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe, who did much of her research for her commissioned composition “A Fire in My Mouth” at the ILR School’s Kheel Center archives. The composition premiered this year at the New York Philharmonic.

– Linda B. Glaser

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli