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October 17, 2011

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Human cost of mining the subject of major research

Funding has been awarded for an ambitious five-year research project exploring the history of injury, disability and industrialisation in the British coal-mining industry.

The Wellcome Trust is subsidising the research – which brings together a team from Aberystwyth, Swansea, Strathclyde and Northumbria universities – through a £1m grant.

The research, entitled ‘Disability and Industrial Society: A Comparative Cultural History of British Coalfields’, and led by Professor Anne Borsay at Swansea University’s College of Human and Health Sciences, will focus on how industrialisation shaped perceptions and experiences of disability between 1780 and 1948.

The researchers will address four themes: the effects of economic and technological developments; the role of medical and welfare services; the consequences of politics, trade unionism and social relations; and the implications of these factors on understanding the history of coalfields.

The project will produce a number of books and articles, as well as a web page of statistical data. Further events planned to publicise the findings include a roadshow in south Wales in 2012, a workshop for health and social-care professionals, and an exhibition on coalfield disability at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea.

Supporting Prof Borsay, Swansea University’s Dr David Turner said the project would “contribute to current debates about welfare relief and ability to work, by revealing the changing role of social, political and medical factors in determining eligibility for assistance”.

Commenting on the regional importance of the research, Dr Hywel Francis, MP for Aberavon, said: “This project is exciting for south Wales, as it will look at a part of our coal-mining history that has been previously neglected. While coal-mining communities in this region are renowned for their social solidarity, it will be interesting to learn if disabilities caused as a result of working in this dangerous and unpredictable industry impacted on social unity, with what results, and if this changes our understanding of our industrial past.”

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