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The Transnational Veins of Coal: Regional Coal Ecologies and the Revival of Coal in the 1970s

Sat, April 1, 1:15 to 2:45pm, The Drake Hotel, Superior


Following John F. Kennedy’s tour of the Appalachian coal regions during the 1960 West Virginia primary and President Johnson’s Great Society project, coal began to epitomize the poverty of peripheral rural regions in the United States. As the 1960s progressed and environmental concerns further exposed the repercussions of coal production (particularly strip mining) as well as its consumption (air quality), the social-cultural meaning of coal broadened to include ecological attributes beyond those previously associated with coal. The United States was not alone in this respect. At the same time coal played an important role beyond the United States. It defined workplaces, regions and communities far and wide and it served as an export commodity that was a significant part of transatlantic trade. When the 1973/74 energy crises hit the Western world, it thus kindled hope for a renewed global demand and for a revival of both coal production and, with it, coal-producing regions. Governments in various states, in order to diversify their energy base and ensure security of energy supply, passed legislation to facilitate greater coal production and use. However, the increasingly interdependent transatlantic and global energy markets pitted different coal regions against each other vying for customer.

This paper will focus on U.S. and West German coal mining communities and the various ways their coal ecologies interlinked and intersected across the Atlantic in a time when coal went through revival.