Comparative Coalfield Histories

Conference at the University of Glamorgan

Stefan Berger and Andy Croll are organising a conference on Comparative Coalfield Histories at the University of Glamorgan in the spring of 2002. They are also still looking for papers for the conference. Any proposals of papers should be submitted to Prof. Stefan Berger, Dept. of History, School of Humanities and Social Studies, University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd CF37 1DL, E-mail: Among the list of current speakers are Klaus Tenfelde, David Gilbert, Alan Campbell, Nina Fishmann and Chris Williams.

Towards Comparative Coalfield Histories

Regional conference of the Society for the Study of Labour History to be held at the University of Glamorgan in Spring 2002

Much is familiar about the history of miners, their unions and their industrial struggles. However, with the demise of trade union and labour movement histories it could be argued that there is a need for a rethinking of approaches to the subject. The proposed two-day conference will encourage one such approach by focussing upon the comparative history of 'coalfield societies' for long a favourite term of description, but much less commonly a rigorously defined category of analysis. The University of Glamorgan, situated at the heart of the South Wales coalfield, will be an ideal place to examine questions regarding the distinctiveness of coalfield societies, the similarities that unite coalfields otherwise separated by time and space, and the differences that mark them out from one another. Thus, both the singularity and the plurality of the coalfield experience will be emphasised. Comparisons could either focus on different coalfields within Britain or they could attempt to put the British experience in an international context. We would particularly like to encourage comparisons with European, North American or other coalfields anywhere in the world. Comparative papers that do not include Britain are also welcome.

We intend to group some fifteen to twenty papers together into three separate, although interlocking, strands: 'communities, 'identities' and 'organizations'. The different lifeworlds of workplace, neighbourhood, family and political-organisational sphere have for too long been treated as separate entitites. This conference aims to present papers which bring these different realms together and emphasise their connectedness. It wants to shed some light on the interface between community, identity and organisation as well as problematise the solidarities and fissureswithin and between them.


Coalfields and coalfield societies have for long been represented in distinctive ways. The nature of the work processes, the character of the social structure of the communities, the topography of coalfields and the often turbulent histories that unfolded within them, are all factors that have contributed to strong public images of the world of mining. 'The miner', 'the miner's wife', 'the mining community', not to mention 'the mine' itself, are all charged with meaning. Papers that explored the construction of these, and other, identities would be solicited. Possible themes for discussion could include:

  • Identities and work
  • Impact of unemployment/pit closures
  • Gender and coalfield identities
  • Representations of coalfields and coalfield societies (literary and visual)
  • Coalfield heritage
  • Identities constructed from within coalfield societies and from without
  • Historians and the creation of identities


Historians have become increasingly aware of the importance of 'place' in the development of political, cultural and social patterns. The 'community' and the 'neighbourhood' have become categories of analysis in their own right, independent variables in the historical process. This session aims to explore the comparative history of coalfield communities and neighbourhoods focussing on themes including:

  • Housing in the coalfields (development of, ownership patterns, spatial relationship to the workplace, etc.)
  • Sociability in the neighbourhood (clubs, institutes, pubs, streets, etc.)
  • Transport and communication links
  • Migration
  • Gender relations
  • Family
  • The topography of mining towns and villages
  • The social structure of coalfields
  • The role of the middle class in mining communities
  • From frontier townships to civic settlements: the development of the mining community
  • Pit disasters, rituals of mourning and remembrance
  • Strikes and lockouts: a cultural and social history


Perhaps most is known about the organizations which miners formed and participated in. Trade unions in particular have attracted the attention of generations of labour historians. However, the comparative approach to trade union history is still in its infancy, and there are many other organizations (cultural and political) which have generally gone unremarked. Possible themes for discussion could include:

  • The death of trade union history? Rethinking the history of miners' unions
  • Political parties and the coalfield experience
  • Coalowners' associations
  • Voluntary organizations in the coalfields
  • Women and organized labour in the coalfields

Posted: 22 March 2000