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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: East Asian Studies


This project is an intervention into transnational mining history and heritage research, building on existing contacts between researchers in Japan and the UK with the aim of developing long-term, sustainable research collaboration.

The history of coal mining in Japan is intimately connected with the UK, with Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover central in the creation of Japan's first modern coal mine in 1868. In both countries, the evolution of the industry tracked wider technological and social transformations. Coal mining was also a significant driver of industrial recovery from war. Over the last decades of the 20th century, however, the coal industry in both countries was in steep decline. The closure of the last deep mine in the UK occurred in 2015 and much of Japan's domestic coal industry had been shuttered prior to 2011. Following on from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of that year, Japan's energy orientation turned back to coal with plans to decrease Japan's reliance on nuclear energy being compensated for elsewhere. That has not led, however, to a resurgence of domestic mining. Recent years have nevertheless seen a re-engagement with and popularisation of sites of coal mining and its decline through tourism, heritage campaigns, community-led commemorative processes and popular culture.

These processes of decline and reengagement have sparked new interest by scholars in how histories of coal mining are both written and engaged with by the broader public. Researchers have explored the development of the coal industry, its workplace cultures, industrial identities, politics and individual and collective experiences, including mining community, miners' family lives, education and social mobility. Official records have been re-examined; previously unexplored archives uncovered, including grassroots and ephemeral collections; and new archives created through oral history and other methodologies. Historical materials are also being made more accessible through digital tools. Project partner NCMME for example, provides access to digital collections through its online catalogue, and the AHRC-funded 'On Behalf of the People' project is building an extensive archive of pit-related materials, including photographs and oral histories, to be made available online. While similar developments are less well advanced in the case of Japanese researchers and institutions, small-scale digitisation initiatives are a core focus of network members' ongoing work with Japanese cultural institutions.

The post-closure experience of Japan and the UK also reflects a wider recent interest in transnational experiences of deindustrialisation. In this project we are particularly interested in comparing the post-closure experiences of those who lived in mining communities, to explore what Sherry Lee Linkon (2018) has argued in the US context is the 'half-life of deindustrialization' and the extent to which these sites and communities experience, in Avery Gordon's (2008) terms, from 'social haunting.'

Management of former mines as heritage sites and how engagement with these sites is framed for both former residents and the general public are also important focal points for both heritage professionals and affected communities. These concerns structure the work of partners at the NCMME, NUM and GFTU, similar heritage initiatives in Scotland and Wales and the growing number of coalfield community and heritage organisations. In Japan too, initiatives exist across a wide range of locations, including the successful 2015 bid to have the Hashima and Miike coal mines included on the UNESCO World Heritage list, as well as local associations and institutions across a number of former coalfields.

This project seeks to share best practice and innovative methodological approaches from this new coal mining history and heritage scholarship in both the UK and Japan by building on the nascent connections between national networks.

Planned Impact

The project will have significant public impact by extending existing impact generating activities of the two respective networks and building in explicitly transnational opportunities for development.

In the UK, 'On Behalf of the People' project led by CI Gildart and involving project participants Perchard, Miller and Curtis, are building an extensive online presence, which outlines the project and provides access to oral histories and digitised archival materials. These websites will be extended with bilingual (Japanese and English) pages that allow for existing users of the website from UK-based former miners groups, heritage groups, historians and members of the general public to generate knowledge of international comparisons. The expansion will also open up new avenues for engagement from Japan. The website will also provide links to existing mining researchers, heritage organisations, local history societies and groups of former miners, providing a single source of information for key resources in the study of coalmining in Japan and the UK. Social media platforms on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will also be established and linked to existing networks in UK and Japan

The involvement of mining museums in the UK and Japan provides a significant platform for dissemination of findings and sustained impact, particularly through the participation of curators Shaun McLoughlin and Hiroto Inoue. The academic research, subsequent findings and the opportunities for knowledge sharing between the two countries will inform new ways of exhibiting, characterising and understanding the history of the industry. A co-curated exhibition that looks at how the industries were experienced in both national contexts will also be explored. By putting curatorial professionals in regular contact over a period of some months, sharing of best practice in curating historical materials and sustaining community and public engagement will also be shared, generating opportunities for each set of curators to learn from each other.

Project participants from the GFTU are committed to 'bringing history back' into trade union education. Our project builds on CI Gildart's efforts to embed labour history in the GFTU education ethos by extending this to international comparative elements. Similarly, CI GIldart's project is working to develop downloadable study pack that will contain documents, images and testimony relating to the development of the eight collieries under their study, making these available in the first instance to local primary and secondary schools in former coal mining communities. By providing additional materials to these downloadable study packs, and making UK-based project members available for talks and workshops for pupils, this project will lead to the development of new ways of thinking about local experiences in a global context.

PI Pendleton has a long track record with public engagement and dissemination, including co-curating the Japan Now North festival of Japanese arts and culture in 2018 and speaking in public events as part of the Off the Shelf literary festival; Festival of Social Sciences; and Japan Now at the British Library, amongst others. Strong public interest in the history of coal mining in South Yorkshire will provide opportunities through these regularly curated public festivals. PI Pendleton will work with the University of Sheffield's Public Engagement team to develop innovative and engaging public events that communicate research for the 2020 iteration of Sheffield's Festival of the Mind.


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