“Brilliantly underscores how the manifestations of modern alienation and social inequality must be at the center of any truly anthropological analysis in the twenty-first century. This fantastic volume makes us comprehend the immense complexities of violent modernity and will compel us to critically interrogate our past, our present, and our future.”—Daniel O. Sayers, author of A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp
Drawing on material evidence from daily life in a coal-mining town, this book offers an up-close view of the political economy of the United States over the course of the twentieth century. This community’s story illustrates the great ironies of this era, showing how modernist progress and plenty were inseparable from the destructive cycles of capitalism.
At the heart of this book is one of the bloodiest yet least-known acts of labor violence in American history, the 1897 Lattimer Massacre, in which 19 striking immigrant mineworkers were killed and 40 more were injured. Michael Roller looks beneath this moment of outright violence at the everyday material and spatial conditions that supported it, pointing to the growth of shanty enclaves on the periphery of the town that reveal the reliance of coal companies on immigrant surplus labor. Roller then documents the changing landscape of the region after the event as the anthracite coal industry declined, as well as community redevelopment efforts in the late twentieth century.
This rare sustained geographical focus and long historical view illuminates the rise of soft forms of power and violence over workers, citizens, and consumers between the late 1800s and the present day. Roller expertly blends archaeology, labor history, ethnography, and critical social theory to demonstrate how the archaeology of the recent past can uncover the deep foundations of today’s social troubles.
Michael P. Roller is a research affiliate of the Anthropology Department of the University of Maryland. Currently, he is employed as an archaeologist for the National Park Service.
A volume in the series Cultural Heritage Studies, edited by Paul A. Shackel