Ethan Michael Karnes
Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationGeorge Washington U.
Grant numberGr. 10519
Approve DateApril 6, 2023
Project TitleKarnes, Ethan (George Washington U.) "Coalfield Encounters: Memorialization and Materiality of the West Virginia Mine Wars."
My research examines the interconnections among memory, cultural heritage objects, and geologic materials enabling the incremental unearthing of an arrested history of the West Virginia Mine Wars. Two questions guide this research: (1) How did the memory of the Battle of Blair Mountain go from being suppressed to a valorized event commemorated with permanent monuments? (2) What are the social and environmental dynamics driving the emergence of cultural heritage objects associated with the history of the conflict? The Mine Wars are comprised of both intense acute violence at the turn of the 20th century as miners struggled to unionize, and in the slow violence of environmental harm. Formed over millions of years the coal under the Appalachia Mountains has been systematically displaced in the name of progress and modernity. Written out of textbooks, the memory of the labor movement in southern Appalachia has reemerged in the last decade as the material remains of conflict, the spent bullets, personal effects and check tags have been unearthed. Drawing on the literature of memory and materiality this project integrates ethnographic and archaeological methodologies to address the interconnectedness of memory, landscape, and the labor of diverse beings within the processes of unearthing.