Historian looking for Coalfield Community for Oral History of the 1950s


Short Bio:

I grew up in Hancock County, West Virginia. I have been living in Washington County, Pennsylvania, for the past 12 years. I now teach history at Chatham University. My dissertation was largely based on oral history interviews I conducted with retired steel and pottery workers in my home county. When I put them all together, I realized that they did not have the same beliefs and values as did urban-industrial workers. Since getting my phd in 2008, I have spent the last four years revising my dissertation and bringing to the forefront the rural-industrial working-class culture I see in the historical record of my county. Specifically, workers have tended to prefer local organizations and local control over jobs and have been suspicious of distant, impersonal bureaucracies. They have also focused on “making do,” especially during the mid twentieth century. That meant growing much of their own food, building their own houses, and limiting their purchases from stores.

My/our needs are:

As I have become more involved in the fight against mountaintop removal, I have become more interested in the history of coalfield communities in southern West Virginia. Between 2012 and 2014, I intend to conduct oral history interviews that will help me understand the history of local communties that experienced job loss in the 1950s. Other historians have written about this on a regional scale, but I hope to reconstruct the history of one community (or county perhaps) struggling with mechanization and mine shutdowns. In order to do this project right, I will need to interview people who lived that period of the 1950s and can recall the impact of job loss on their family, friends, and neighbors. I think that some of the things I will learn about is how resilient people were in the face of economic collapse and how creative they were in solving various problems.

My/our wishes are:

Ideally, I would like to find a community organization that would be interested in teaming up with me to identify people who are interested in being interviewed. Not only would I like to find participants who still live in the community, but it would also be ideal to find people who left the community in the 1950s and would like to talk about their decision to leave.


Chatham University – Department of History