• University of Strathclyde

Working Lives in the Coal Mines: Mining History and Heritage

Explore the experiences of workers in the coal mining industry from the 1840s to the 1920s and learn about its impact on Britain.

4,651 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Uncover the lives of coal industry workers and miners in the long 19th century

On this course, you’ll explore the history and heritage of British mining labour. You’ll discover the evolution of the role of coal-miners in the 19th century, the hardships they endured, and learn how mining has affected British industrial heritage today. Through online resources and museum archives, you’ll gain historical, literary and genealogical research skills, and learn to critically assess mining artefacts and representations of life in the mines. You’ll also learn how these representations relate to wider issues of class, gender, and political and professional identity.


  • Week 1

    The collier

    • Welcome to the course

      We're thrilled you've joined us on this course. Here you'll learn a bit more about your educators and the course overall.

    • The industry and the workers

      This introduction to the industry and the workers provides crucial context for the workers' lives we'll explore in the weeks to come.

    • What did coal miners do?

      Here you'll learn a bit more about the varied jobs that coal miners did and their importance to mining industry.

    • Describing and representing mining work

      What did people think of miners in the nineteenth and early twentieth century? How did miners describe themselves? Here we find out more.

    • Dangers and diseases

      The mines were a dangerous place to work. Here we'll find out more about the hazards and illnesses associated with mining and their impact on mining communities.

    • Forces for change

      This activity explores state intervention and mechanization in the mining industry and the effects these changes had on workers. Trade unions as a force for change is covered in week 4.

  • Week 2

    The child miner

    • Welcome to week two

      An introduction to the week.

    • What kinds of work did children do?

      Here we discuss the kinds of work that children might do, and briefly consider the changes in legislation throughout the long nineteenth century.

    • Representing and remembering the child miner

      In this section we look at various representations of the child miner in literature and song, thinking about how we remember the child miner.

    • The child miner in the museum

      In this section we look at how the child miner is represented in museums, asking how best to locate the child miner.

  • Week 3

    The surface worker

    • Welcome to week three

      An introduction to week three

    • What did surface workers do?

      Here we explore the labour of surface workers, in their own words, and in newspaper reports and fiction by outside observers who were especially fascinated by the 'pithead lasses.'

    • Dangers and health

      In this section we'll look at what happened to miners when they were injured or disabled and the health hazards of surface work through a range of sources.

    • Work in the mining communities

      In this section we'll look what life was like in the broader mining communities, including the work done by women and girls.

  • Week 4

    The trade unionist

    • Welcome to week four

      Here we'll introduce the final figure we'll be exploring in the course: the trades unionist.

    • Conflict and strife

      In this activity we'll look at the relationships between the workers and the bosses, focusing on the trade union struggle for workers' rights.

    • Mining unions and health and safety

      In this section we'll look at the role played by mining trade unions in relation to the health and safety of workers in the mines.

    • Descriptions and representations of mining trade unionists

      Here we'll learn about how mining trade unionists were represented and depicted in oral history testimonies, their autobiographies, songs and images.

    • Modern day trade unionism

      In this section we'll hear from a current miners' trade union leader and think about how things have changed.

    • Reflections on the course

      As we approach the end of the course, we'll look back at what we've learned about mining history and heritage and discuss ways to find out more.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Discuss the range of activities involved in working in the mining industry in the long nineteenth century, and how these changed during the period covered by the course.
  • Assess representations of working lives in the mines and mining artefacts and discuss how they relate to wider questions of class, gender, and political and professional identity.
  • Reflect how mining work impacted on the body in this period
  • Engage with written and oral material on workers’ lives within the appropriate historical and material contexts.
  • Engage with online resources, including museum archives, and perform searches in these and other archives for material relevant to mining history and workers’ lives.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for people with an interest in mining history or heritage, or industrial heritage more broadly.

The course will also be of interest to professionals working in or aiming to work in the heritage sector and students at school or university who have an interest in the long Victorian period.

Who will you learn with?

I am the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Stirling, and from 2018-22 have led the research project 'Piston, Pen & Press: Literary Cultures in the Industrial Workplace.'

Professor of Social History, University of Strathclyde, & Director of the Scottish Oral History Centre. My research interests lie in the history of work, occupational health & deindustrialization.

Who developed the course?

University of Strathclyde

The University of Strathclyde is a leading international technological university located in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, committed to useful learning.

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