New Directions In Coal Mining History and Heritage in the UK and Japan

ESRC/AHRC SSH International Networking Grant

Workshop One: UK (11th – 13th July 2019)

Through the GFTU’s partnership with my supervisor’s AHRC-funded project on nationalisation of coal mining, I have the opportunity to be a part of an international research partnership looking at shared coal mining heritage between the UK and Japan. We had our first workshop with out Japanese colleagues here this summer (I wrote about the latter part of our visit to the Durham Miners’ Gala here), in which we heard about research from the NCB team here in the UK and the delegates from the JAFCOF research group in Japan.

There is no better welcome to the UK than to go out for a curry!

I’ll give a brief summary of some of the papers given, but my overriding feeling from our discussions about research content and methods is that there were many avenues of comparison to be made when thinking about how coal mining is remembered both nationally and within communities. one particular example of a shared experience of erasure stuck in my mind: The site of one of the former collieries that NCB looks at is now a shopping centre; the exact same fate has befallen one of the Japanese colliery sites.

During the workshop, I tweeted sections from each of the presentations. I’ll try to include them in order here:

I thoroughly enjoyed Dr Pendleton‘s introduction, as he brought out images and testimonies of daily life within coal mining communities through Marie Stopes’ diary from her visit to Japan in 1910. He talked about Kato Shidzue, a politician and birth control activist who had been brought up in a coal mining community, and how her experiences had led directly to her work within birth control campaigns. Mark set the tone of the ‘New Directions’ aspect of our research group: talking about the wider fields of work and community found within coal-mining, and bringing together new ideas found through different historical and sociological lenses.

We then heard briefly from some of the postgraduate researchers that would be contributing papers to our next workshop in Japan in December. Taku Shimizu works on mechanisation and mining equipment (he had a great time at the NCMME!), Miyuki Kikuchi researches occupational health issues in coal mining, Ryota Kasahara looks at the effects of mining disasters on children, and Longlong Zhang looks a the immigration of Japanese War Orphans. Then Professor Kei Shindo briefly described their research into education within coal mining communities, Associate Professor Shisei Kimura talked briefly about ideas of heritage and conservation in former coal mining areas, and Mr Hiroshi Fukumoto talked about his work with the UNESCO Yamato collection of paintings, diaries and notebooks that preserve memories of coal mining.

The main difference between the UK and Japan in terms of coal mining is that Japan never saw any nationalisation of their coal industry. Our first discussion took place around the reasons for this, led by Professor Tomoki Shimanishi, and the reasons why the UK experienced both nationalisation and private ownership:

This part of the workshop was very useful: the mix of historians, sociologists, former miners and curators/managers of museums and archives paved the way for really interesting information and viewpoints to be shared. Coal mining is often characterised as being defined through kinship and solidarity, and it was clear that that experience of community was a common theme in coalfields, regardless of the country.

After lunch (by the way, Sheffield University catering was top notch! My second favourite conference food ever… sorry, Lincoln was superb and I don’t think they can be beaten), we heard from Professor Hideo Nakazawa on the fate of the miners’ ‘union’ Rodo Shiseikai (they used the term ‘association’, as unions were illegal). There were clear parallels between the experience of striking workings in Japan and the UK; Minami, the leader of the mining association, was a big admirer of John Burns of the 1889 Dockers’ Strike in England. He went on to talk about how the legacy of unionsim and the experience of mining is being forgotten, as fathers tended to hide their mining past from their children in order to not ‘taint’ their lives with the stigma of coming from a former mining community. Former miners have since professed regret in Professor Nakazawa’s oral history interviews at keeping details from their children, as the shared understanding of labour history became lost. Details of Professor Nakazawa’s paper are here:

Next came Professor Keith Gildart’s outline of the ‘On Behalf Of The People’ project that he is working on alongside Professor Andrew Perchard, Dr Grace Millar and Dr Ben Curtis. Details here:

The remit of the project allows a closer look at mining communities without the wider, national lens. Prof Gildart believes this will re-evaluate the common ‘moderation and militancy’ narrative, with emphasis on how the mining communities didn’t entirely disappear after the strike of 84/5.

Professor Makoto Nishikido then delivered his paper on miners’ wives’ groups. He started by saying it was a very under-researched area in Japan – the problematic nature of identifying groups of women according to the men they had married means that it they have a tendency to be overlooked – but argued that the womens’ groups were self-run, and provided extensive opportunities for agency and activism. Thread here:

After these papers, we had a discussion about commemoration and the extent to which miners themselves want to celebrate or remember their past in a public way:

The next exchange gave me a lot to think about, as Dr Millar raised the key point that sometimes forgetting is as historically important as remembering; the shedding of a cultural identity when physically or even mentality moving to a new sphere of work or community is very notable.

This last discussion of movement from mining communities into other areas led nicely into the next paper from Naoko Shimazaki on the mobility of mining families. As there is a specific weakness in literature about the role of kinship and families within the history of industrial transformation, Professor Shimazaki is looking at chain migration throughout the world and establishing specific patterns. Most interestingly, she talked about the creation of kinship ties (family friends pretending to be parents or siblings) to enable further movement of the rest of the family.

Dr Millar then began to talk about her research on leisure activities within coal mining communities:

I loved hearing the recordings of some of her interviews, as it was so refreshing to hear such direct historical sources!

Dr Ben Curtis finished up the day talking about his oral history research into Tower Colliery:

Again, it was brilliant hearing people talk first hand about their experiences. The way that both Dr Curtis and Dr Millar pieced the snippets of testimony together was very engaging and informative. This was particularly poignant when the subject of disasters was raised:

All in all, the workshop was thoroughly enjoyable. There was such a good crossover between disciplines, which gave the group a lot of energy for sharing ideas and discussing possibilities. The next day, we visited the NCMME and the Miners’ Union Headquarters together, which will be paralleled on our visit to Japanese coal fields in December. Can’t wait!

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