Pennsylvania Mining Families

Pennsylvania Mining Families: The Search for Dignity in the Coalfields

BARRY P. MICHRINA
Copyright Date: 1993
Edition: 1
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hqv6
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  • Book Info
    Pennsylvania Mining Families
    Book Description:

    InPennsylvania Mining Families, Barry P. Michrina offers a luminous portrait of Pennsylvania coal miners and their response to economic oppression. He follows them from the great coal strike of 1927 through daily threats of injury and death in the mines to the departure of children and grandchildren as the industry has declined. Drawing on numerous first-hand interviews, as well as extensive archival research, he analyzes the change in work practices, the miners' own views about their ever-evolving situation, and relationships between miners and mining companies -- undercutting the stereotypical picture of the rebellious miner.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4900-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. 1 Being There, a Reflection
    (pp. 1-9)

    Because this book is likely to be read by people with varying expectations, I feel the need to explain its structure and style. I have not attempted to write a traditional oral history nor a traditional ethnography, though it contains elements of each.

    By placing myself in the text as a situated thinker, actor, and interactor, I have attempted to show the nature of the investigative process. Collecting and analyzing the data was not an encyclopedic project in which I simply wrote down and considered facts from sources of indelible, objective data. Rather, I interacted as a unique individual, filled...

  6. 2 Coal, a Very Hard Subject
    (pp. 10-18)

    As I traveled west from Altoona on U.S. Route 22 I could understand why the coal lands of the central Pennsylvania region were developed so late. The one thousand-foot-high escarpment was a barrier to coal transport until suitable rail lines could be wound through the foothills to the top of the plateau. This plateau is so deeply dissected by valleys that the building of branch lines to the coal reserves represented a major enterprise as well. I became curious about the early coal history of the area and sought out information in written histories and archival sources. Not surprisingly, the...

  7. 3 The Great Coal Strike of 1927
    (pp. 19-35)

    Of the topics discussed during my fieldwork, informants spoke of the 1927 coal strike with the most fervor. The reasons for this varied: several wanted the event to be documented, some wanted to convince disbelieving children and grandchildren, and some seemed fascinated by the severity of the times—as if it were a part of their identity. I found myself fascinated by the sinister and sometimes excited quality of their accounts, and I found myself surprised that these events could have occurred recently enough to be remembered.

    I wanted to document these accounts of the 1927 strike and of the...

  8. 4 Emotions Related to the Great Strike
    (pp. 36-60)

    As I interviewed people concerning the strike and “scab times” I was aware of emotions either being expressed or described. I sensed some regularities, but it was not until I began writing that I understood the significance of this information. During the interviews I had only occasionally asked how people felt about certain situations. Rather, the data emerged as people spoke in their own words about the events and conditions of those times.

    How are these emotional practices from the last great strike and subsequent time without union to be understood? I will argue that some of these practices focused...

  9. 5 Emotions, Work Values, and Exploitation
    (pp. 61-81)

    What would coal miners do if the companies for whom they worked tried to change their job from independent artisanry to highly supervised crew work? This is the question Carter Goodrich (1925) asked himself as he envisioned the era of mechanized mining. Sixty-five years later I was asking the men who made the transition how they perceived the change. My understanding of how the men felt about the change differs greatly from the picture painted by Goodrich, and the miner’s work ethic lies at the center of the discrepancy.

    I became interested in the way coal was mined after reading...

  10. 6 Work Is What You Make It
    (pp. 82-92)

    I have been haunted by troublesome thoughts since writing the previous chapter. I’ve regretted several processes in which I felt bound to engage in order to transform my field experience into a written analysis. Those are the processes of objectification and of imposed perspective.

    I felt that the process of transforming the vocal messages of my acquaintances and friends into data for analysis was a distorting act. Like Portelli (1984:115) I saw this as a “freezing of the fluidity of words as an arbitrary point.” Thus, something that was dynamic and spontaneous—perhaps worked and reworked with many tellings—was...

  11. 7 Why Worry?
    (pp. 93-113)

    It is necessary to introduce the nature of mine dangers before attempting to describe the natives’ emotions involved in living with those dangers. I considered using mine safety literature or an interview with an administratior in the MSHA office; however, I eventually rejected these alternatives so that I might bring more primary sources into the analysis: testimonies from a wide range of mineworkers, my own personal experiences, and archival newspaper accounts. Although this information may be less detailed or complete than other sources, it is more genuine because it was experienced. Some dangers have been prevalent throughout the lifetimes of...

  12. 8 Emotions Related to Danger
    (pp. 114-140)

    What is the relationship between the mine community’s feeling about danger and the companies’ responsibility for safety? I found in the discourse of the mining community very little evidence of moral indignation toward the companies concerning the dangerous conditions in the mines. I came to understand the reasons for this surprising phenomenon as I learned more about how miners and their wives had perceived and dealt with the threat of danger in the workplace, the nature of their social practices, and how these practices were likely reproduced intergenerationally. These attitudes and emotional practices actually enabled companies to scrimp on safety....

  13. 9 Dignity, a Complex Subject
    (pp. 141-163)

    I pondered over this chapter for a year or more, trying to understand the emotions involved in the union reorganization during the early to mid-1930s. I thought that the notion of “the little man” would be the key that unlocked the mysteries. I feel right in that assessment, but I mistakenly thought for a long while that the overriding issue was power. While power was an important aspect in the reorganization, it was dignity that I came to understand as the men’s most pressing issue. It was only after my fieldwork, as I was trying to teach my students about...

  14. 10 Reflections upon Leaving
    (pp. 164-178)

    My interpersonal bond-breaking had all been carried out over a year-long period of withdrawal from fieldwork. Crapanzano (1977) has pointed out that writing, following fieldwork, serves as a way to reconstitute the anthropologist as academician. Assuming Crapanzano was correct in his assessment, could one remain living among the natives and also write an analysis of fieldwork experience? I had tried this exercise and had found it to be very difficult. Writing had served to reconstitute my sense of academic self. Besides sequestering myself in the house, I had found myself often driving thirty miles to the library of the university...

  15. References
    (pp. 179-183)
  16. Index
    (pp. 184-186)