Thursday, May 2, 2013

Changing the Perspective: The View from Underground

In my last post, I wrote about setting students in Donetsk to the weekend task of finding and interviewing miners.  Early Monday morning, we arrived at school to hear the results,  which were amazing!  Each group had found a miner to interview--and in addition, one group had asked if they could research one student's great-grandfather, as a way of memorializing him.  Each group had prepared a Power Point presentation, in English and one group even re-enacted the interview with one student reading his grandfather's answers while other students asked the questions.

What did I learn about miners in Donetsk?
Victor (above), who's been working for about 30 years in a mine and is an uncle of one of the students,  , said, 
Well, it’s a very hard work. The preparations and the transportation take a lot of time, so that we spend ten hours per hour in the mine. And besides physical burdens, our job is very risky.
You know, every time you're going down to the mine, you understand that you may not come back this evening. Of course, it is much better when you don't think about it, but it is really hard not to think of it in real life. You say "hello" to people and in an hour you understand that by this words you've already said "good bye". If you try to think detailed about this job you'll become more than scared.
In such conditions, which we have underground the friendship is highly valued, so our best friends are our workmates. 
P.F. Seregin was the great-grandfather of one of the students.  This group shared historic photos and archival material, including his workbook (below).  We were so pleased that they understood that these simple historic materials can enhance a historical story.
 The group that interviewed a grandfather learned about his different jobs at the mine:
At first I worked as a horse-driver. Until the 20th century, when there were no electric tubs, the coal could be delivered from beneath the earth to the surface only with help of horses. Then I became a lining-master. There is an arc lining inside the tunnels. Over the time such a lining is loosening under the rock’s pressure, so that even a tub can’t pass through the tunnel. So my work was to fix those linings. After that I worked as a tunneller for 16 years and as a miner in mine drifts, extracting coal for 6 years.
And what did your family think of your work?
They worried. But I had a high income, so it was totally worth it.
Accidents were--and are--common in the mines. 
You know, accidents happened frequently… I had been working for 20 years when I got under the rock collapse… I got a thorax injury. Sometimes, it would crumble on somebody… Such a mishap…
We learned a great deal about the miners of Donetsk--but we wanted to know what students had learned.  None of them had ever had any conversation with their family members about working in the mines, despite the fact that virtually every student had at least one family member who worked in one.  But these students, with their smartphones and bound for college are now far away from that world.  One said that he now realized that miners were like everyone else, that they worked for money, not for the glory of country (as was very much promoted in the Soviet Union).  Several students also said that they gained a measure of respect for workers they had tended to dismiss--and learned that all knowledge is not gained through books.

For me, the big takeaway is that there are many potential tremendous projects to be done in Donetsk related to the industrial history, but that the first step of many was this one, the simple act of a grandson sitting with a grandfather to learn about his life and sharing that story with others.  Thank you, members of the Polyglot Club, for reminding us all about the importance of stories.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post, Linda. It underscores how important personal meaning-making is in creating (and viewing) exhibitions. I'll just shamelessly add that the Spring 13 issue of the museum journal Exhibitionist is called Meaning-Making Revisited and looks at current thinking on this theme. Your post is further evidence!
Gretchen Jennings, Editor

Linda Norris said...

Thanks Gretchen--it was a great time with the students, and a pleasure to watch them construct new meanings from their family expereinces...and I'll look at Exhibitionist when I finally return home....