A Town Without Steel: Envisioning Homestead

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9780822940715: A Town Without Steel: Envisioning Homestead
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In 1986, the USX Homestead Works closed, with the loss of thousands of jobs. This book looks at the people of Homestead and how they dealt with the trauma that affected them, detailing the modifications and revisions of domestic strategies in a public crisis.

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In the tradition of Walker Evans and James Agee, who depicted the ravaging effects of the Great Depression in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, anthropologist Judith Modell and photographer Charlee Brodsky combine words and images to document the heroism of ordinary people in the face of disaster. They take as their subject the closing of one of the world's most famous and productive steel mills, the Homestead Works, once the main employer of the people of Homestead, Pennsylvania.

Documented at the turn of the century by Margaret Byington and Lewis Hine in Homestead: The Households of a Mill Town, this town seven miles from Pittsburgh was "cluttered, crowded, smoky," and thriving. In townspeople's reminiscences, Modell hears the rough stories of mill work forged into near myth: "Like Paul Bunyan tales, these were tales of extremes: the heat, the size of machinery, the endless hours, the flaring tempers." By the late 1980s, citizens were nostalgic for the sooty skies that meant prosperity. "Once people were buying T-bone steaks," comments a disappointed shopkeeper, "and now they're buying jumbo [bologna]." Brodsky's photos record the dismantling of town life. Her images of the mill--demolished iron works and quiet smokestacks, the blackened bones of a factory raw and empty in the bright postindustrial sunlight--convey Homestead's painful idleness. Modell doesn't retreat from this state of affairs, but neither does she allow it to stand alone. She elicits from her subjects stories that include the work of women, the joy of weddings and births, and the traditions of the town's many ethnic groups. In these non-mill stories, Modell finds a source of hope. "Residents recreated a core of life apart from steel," she explains in closing, and "upon this core, a new community can be imagined." --Maria Dolan

About the Author:

Judith Modell is professor of anthropology, history, and art at Carnegie Mellon University. She is the author of Ruth Benedict and Kinship with Strangers, as well as a number of theoretical and methodological articles. A Town Without Steel extends her explorations into the value of visual materials for linking anthropology and history.

Charlee Brodsky is associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the School of Design, where she teaches photography. She has received two Pennsylvanhe Museum of Art at the Carnegie. She is the author, with Linda Benedict- Jones, of Pittsburgh Reve aled: Photographs Since 1850.

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9780822956761: A Town Without Steel: Envisioning Homestead

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ISBN 10:  0822956764 ISBN 13:  9780822956761
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998
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