Coal dust in the wind: Interpreting the industrial past of South Wales

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Department of Social Sciences


South Wales was once synonymous with coal, now among the most globally controversial natural resources due to its association with anthropogenic climate change. In the early twentieth century, Wales was the largest worldwide producer of coal, and mines employed more than ten percent of those living in the country. With rapid closure of coal mines between the 1960s and 1980s, Welsh communities lost the main source of their social and economic identity. Thirty years after the era of mass pit closures, industrial tourism attractions throughout the region relate the story of coal’s heritage. With calls for renewed mining gaining traction in many countries, consideration of how coal mining is remembered in South Wales is beneficial to those advocating for a move towards the use of sustainable resources and to scholars interested in the relationship between tourism, place, and memory. An analysis is given of the interpretive discourses presented at the five most prominent coal tourism attractions in Wales, Big Pit National Coal Museum, Rhondda Heritage Park, Cefn Coed Colliery Museum, South Wales Miners’ Museum, and the National Waterfront Museum, complemented with consideration of visitor perceptions at two of the sites. Among the interpretive themes highlighted are: the importance of coal, dangers of coal mining, union activity, the centrality of coal to communities, and the absence of descriptions of coal’s environmental impacts. Visitor engagement with these themes is discussed along with the potential for attractions to impart insight into the broader consequences of coal mining. The positive, often nostalgic, portrayal of coal and the calls for renewed mining within South Wales’ attractions are not complemented with a reckoning of the negative environmental legacy of the resource at the local or global scales.

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© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1080/14616688.2020.1801825

Publication Title

Tourism Geographies