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A Town Without Steel: Envisioning Homestead

Modell, Judith Schachter

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ISBN 10: 082294071X / ISBN 13: 9780822940715
Published by University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998
Used Condition: Good
From Better World Books (Mishawaka, IN, U.S.A.)

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Former Library book. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP87829401

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Bibliographic Details

Title: A Town Without Steel: Envisioning Homestead

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press

Publication Date: 1998

Book Condition:Good

Edition: illustrated edition.

About this title


In 1986, with little warning, the USX Homestead Works closed. Thousands of workers who depended on steel to survive were left without work. A Town Without Steel looks at the people of Homestead as they reinvent their views of household and work and place in this world. The book details the modifications and revisions of domestic strategies in a public crisis. In some ways unique, and in some ways typical of American industrial towns, the plight of Homestead sheds light on social, cultural, and political developments of the late twentieth century.

In this anthropological and photographic account of a town facing the crisis of deindustrialization, A Town Without Steel focuses on families. Reminiscent of Margaret Byington and Lewis Hine's approach in Homestead, Charlee Brodsky's photographs document the visual dimension of change in Homestead. The mill that dominated the landscape transformed to a vast, empty lot; a crowded commercial street turns into a ghost town; and an abundance of well-kept homes become an abandoned street of houses for sale. The individual narratives and family snapshots, Modell's interpretations, and Brodsky's photographs all evoke the tragedy and the resilience of a town whose primary source of self-identification no longer exists.


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

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