In Robert Wolensky’s eyes, the area’s mining history shared the same fate as the coal breakers that once dotted the local landscape.
“Anthracite history was a history to be forgotten for many years locally,” said Wolensky, a member of the Anthracite Heritage Foundation board of directors and adjunct professor of history at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre. “People did not want to remember our greedy coal town past. We were just a greedy, dusty old coal town and let’s forget about it and get on with the future. That was a real problem around here, but a few of us said, ‘No, we have to remember this history — preserve it.’”
Members of the heritage foundation set out with that mission in mind when they created Mining History Week in 1999. The event expanded three years ago to encompass the entire month of January, now recognized regionally as Mining History Month. This year’s celebration of the area’s mining heritage includes a full slate of events, including
a program from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 25, at Misericordia University’s Mary Kintz Bevevino Library called “Oral History Projects in Northeast Pennsylvania: The Importance of Stories.”
Program moderator and Misericordia University Assistant Professor of History and Government Jennifer Black said she has a special focus on public history — history written for citizens, not academics. She has helped her students build a library of local history at MULocalHistoryProjects.org for the public, including a series of historical content centered around the Pittston area.
Jan. 25’s program, featuring local authors, academics and proponents of history, will address topics like the importance of everyday accounts of life in a community, not just highlighting specific incidents from a history text book.
“Oral histories aren’t just an important way to study the past, but also help us put a voice to that history, to connect the lived experience of people in the past to remnants of that experience that we see in our own contemporary society today,” Black said.
Wolensky said a renewed interest in local history among young people like the students of Misericordia University is a prevailing reason for the revived focus on mining history.
“The different mindset is we should now celebrate this history,” Wolensky said. “It’s really taken off and it’s just delightful to see the recognition of this aspect of our industrial history.”
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts