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Re-evaluating our coal-mining legacy

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11:30 AM, Mardi 30 Août 2022 (20 minutes)
Coal mining is an industry that used to elicit intense emotional, political and cultural memories, having played a huge role in the industrialisation and evolution of so many countries. Today, however, mining in many regions has already ceased, is in the process of closing down or is enduring substantial contraction. In the process, it is rapidly receding from memory as new generations of younger people move on and those who once worked in the industry pass away. At the same time, some mining areas have experienced significant landscape ‘rehabilitation’ in a process that has eradicated a lot of the physical evidence of historic mining activity. As a result, to the untutored eye at least, it is already difficult to recognise some of the world’s most important historic coal-mining regions. A further factor that is changing perceptions is the increasing awareness of the Climate Change challenge, which has radically complicated the way in which our coal heritage is perceived. To many, coal is the ‘villain’, having been the main driver of the industrial revolution, and its continued use on an enormous scale in some countries is seen as a one of the biggest factors behind global warming. 
Coal, therefore, is a complex subject, and although it has a difficult legacy, the associated mining heritage is a vital asset if we are to understand our history and make it work for our future. Back in 2001, TICCIH recognised its importance by publishing its ‘The International Collieries Study’, the product of several experts, led by Stephen Hughes. This was an extremely useful start from which it has been possible to expand our horizons. Since then, a number of coal mining sites have been inscribed by UNESCO onto its World Heritage List, starting with Zollverein in Germany, and most recently in in Ombilin in Sumatra, Indonesia.
The significance of coal therefore continues to be recognised at the highest, international level, but its resonance is greatest at regional and local levels where rapid change threatens to destroy communities and induce the loss of some extraordinary mining heritage. With this in mind, this paper aims to explore the positive impact that coal mining heritage can have at a local, regional and national levels. It will draw on recent initiatives aimed at saving and re-purposing mining heritage, and against the background of Climate Change, assess how the legacy of coal can be used to enhance the lives of future generations.


Dr Miles Oglethorpe


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