Trish Kahle is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Chicago. Kahle’s dissertation, “The Graveyard Shift: Mining Democracy in an Age of Energy Crisis, 1963-1981,” examines the energy crisis of the 1970s from the perspective of the coal mining workplace. Combining the methods of labor, economic, environmental, and political history with the emerging field of energy history, this project shows how the energy crisis—better remembered for gas lines—remade the practice of industrial democracy in the energy workplace at a crucial turning point in American history. Kahle’s work has received support from the Mellon Foundation, the American Society for Environmental History, the Western Association of Women Historians, the Reuther Library, Pennsylvania State University Libraries, the Labor and Working-Class History Association, and the University of Chicago Division of Social Sciences. Kahle is also a contributing editor for Red Wedge and has written on contemporary labor organizing, energy politics, and climate justice for a variety of outlets including Dissent, Jacobin, In These Times, The Ecologist, Salvage, and Scalawag. Kahle received her B.A. in English literature and creative writing from Salem College and an M.A. in history from the University of Chicago.
The Graveyard Shift: Mining Democracy in an Age of Energy Crisis, 1963-1981
Trish Kahle’s project, “The Graveyard Shift: Mining Democracy in an Age of Energy Crisis, 1963-1981,” examines the US energy crisis of the long 1970s from the perspective of the coal mining workplace. Particularly focusing on the unionized mines in which the majority of the nation’s coal miners worked, this project traces a “long energy crisis”—which began in the mid-1960s amid debates over the future of atomic energy, and persisted into the early 1980s. In the coalfields, the energy crisis manifested as battles over industrial restructuring, occupational health, mine safety, union democracy, strip mining, and the availability of gasoline. Combining the methodologies of social, environmental, and economic history, I show how the transformation of US energy production shifted the ways in which Americans thought about, regulated, and purchased energy. This broader transformation coincided with a sustained effort to reform the United Mine Workers of America, and I argue these narratives—of energy crisis and union reform—are in fact a unitary story. Together, they illuminate the transformation of the US energy regime as a response to concerns about the viability of high-energy capitalism at a moment when its future was called into question by concerns about limited resources, the compatibility of the new energy firms with democratic politics, and the moral implications of coal production’s externalities.