Local Historian Wins National Award

September 22, 2018

Local Historian Wins National Award

The man who many consider Northeast Pennsylvania’s premier anthracite mining historian has won a prestigious national award.

Dr. Robert Wolensky, an adjunct professor of history at King’s College, has been named winner of the Mining History Association’s Rodman Paul Award for “outstanding contributions to mining history.”

Dr. Wolensky’s in-depth books on the Knox Mine disaster, the Avondale Mine disaster, anthracite labor wars and other mining-related topics are must-reads for those interested in the region’s rich mining history.

He also is the pivotal player in the annual anthracite heritage programs held in Northeast Pennsylvania.

The 2019 events include the annual Anthracite Heritage Conference in January and a September focus on the 150th anniversary of the Avondale Mine fire in which 110 men and boys died.

The 100th anniversary of the Baltimore Mine Tunnel explosion in which 92 were killed and 44 injured, and the 60th anniversary of the Knox Mine disaster when 12 died in flooded underground workings, will be noted in January.

Wolensky is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The Mining History Association, a national organization of individuals concerned with the mining history, cited him for his research and writings at the annual Mining History Conference in historic Deadwood, South Dakota, in June.

The cash and engraved sampling pan award are given annually in honor of scholar and mining historian Rodman Paul, whose influence in the field of Western mining research inspired a generation of mining historians.

Dr. Wolensky was recognized for research and publishing crucial aspects of coal mining history in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region. His family’s roots are in the region,He has worked with miners and their families in oral history projects to record and capture the personal recounting of life in and around the anthracite mines.

Dr. Wolensky was co-author of two books on the The Knox Mine Disaster, recounting the January 1959 flooding of the Wyoming Valley’s anthracite mines when the Susquehanna River broke through the mine roof. He co-authored (with Joseph Keating) of Tragedy at Avondale, focusing on the 1869 mine fire that killed 108 men and boys (anthracite’s worst disaster), and led to the nation’s first mine safety law — The Pennsylvania Mine Safety Act of 1870. His background in labor studies and the involvement of organized crime in the anthracite industry which resulted in a book (with William A. Hastie), Anthracite Labor Wars.

The award winner speaks on anthracite history often. He has presented talks before the Huber Breaker Preservation Society, historical societies and on public television, offering rich detail on the mining era.

He also is doing additional research into he garment industry (“Needlepoint Narratives: An Oral History of Women Garment Workers and the ILGWU in Pennsylvania.”) that had an extensive impact on the region during the coal mining era. Oral history interviews have been collected, transcribed, and digitized and constitute a specific collection within the larger the Northeastern Pennsylvania Oral and Life History Project, which Dr. Wolensky directs. His work will be a companion to his earlier co-authored work, “Fighting for the Union Label: The Woman’s Garment Industry and the ILGWU in Pennsylvania.”

Dr. Wolensky has served as visiting professor at UW-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the London School of Economics, Wilkes University, and the University of Exeter in England (the latter as a Fulbright scholar). He earned an A.B. from Villanova University and master’s and doctoral degrees from Penn State University.

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