When the Mines Closed
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Stories of Struggles in Hard Times
By Thomas Dublin
Photography by George Harvan
Cornell University Press
The anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania, five hundred square miles of rugged hills stretching between Tower City and Carbondale, harbored coal deposits that once heated virtually all the homes and businesses in Eastern cities. At its peak during World War I, the coal industry here employed 170,000 miners, and supported almost 1,000,000 people. Today, with coal workers numbering 1,500, only 5,000 people depend on the industry for their livelihood. Between these two points in time lies a story of industrial decline, of working people facing incremental and cataclysmic changes in their world. When the Mines Closed tells this story in the words of men and women who experienced these dramatic changes and in more than eighty photographs of these individuals, their families, and the larger community.
Award-winning historian Thomas Dublin interviewed a cross-section of residents and migrants from the region, who gave their own accounts of their work and family lives before and after the mines closed. Most of the narrators, six men and seven women, came of age during the Great Depression and entered area mines or, in the case of the women, garment factories, in their teens. They describe the difficult choices they faced, and the long-standing ethnic, working-class values and traditions they drew upon, when after World War II the mines began to shut down. Some left the region, others commuted to work at a distance, still others struggled to find employment locally.
The photographs taken by George Harvan, a lifelong resident of the area and the son of a Slovak-born coal miner, document residents’ lives over the course of fifty years. Dublin’s introductory essay offers a brief history of anthracite mining and the region and establishes a broader interpretive framework for the narratives and photographs.
“What makes this volume of superbly edited oral histories of deindustrialization so special is the rich dimension Thomas Dublin brings, in two senses, to a subject too often approached in terms of contemporary victimization. His topic is not recent plant closings but rather the transformation of the Pennsylvania anthracite region in the 1950s, a story his subjects place in complex biographical and historical perspective more than thirty years later. And far more than its title would suggest, the interviews focus on the fuller fabric of individual, family, community, and work life that subjects brought to the closings and the struggles—and through which they understand and interpret their own historical experience. All this is complemented by a remarkable archive of both historical and current photographs, individual and contextual, by regional photographer George Harvan. The result is a landmark study in the growing documentary literature of industrial and regional transformation. It demonstrates how life histories and life images, beyond their intrinsic human dimension and power, open instructive, indispensable historical vantages onto immensely complex social processes and experiences.”—Michael Frisch, co-author with photographer Milton Rogovin of Portraits in Steel, winner of Oral History Association 1993-1995 Book Prize
|Dimensions||9.25 × 6 × 0.75 in|