I am a final year history student from the University of Stirling – a historian in training, so to say.
My studies focus on Scotland and Europe during the early modern period but throughout the past year, as I started volunteering on the ‘Landscape Legacies of Coal Mining’ project, I have developed a deep interest in environmental and industrial history as well.
Admittedly, I often struggle to explain what it is we do when going out to Clackmannanshire to trial routes with local community volunteers or take pictures for the Coal App. Instead of trying to break it down, explaining the premise and individual steps of the project, I have come to refer to the field trips as “going coal mining with Catherine”.
Working on the app was a steep learning curve: I had never studied modern Scottish history before, neither in school nor at university level, so my knowledge of coal mining technology and miners’ villages was rudimentary at best. My initial trip to Clackmannanshire in August 2019 was simultaneously my first time in the field and my first time working with members of the public who had lived through a time period I was studying and could share their personal experiences with Scotland’s mining heritage with me.
Until then, most of my research had taken place solely in the university library with the occasional visit to archives in Edinburgh or Perth – collaborating with local societies and heritage groups were uncharted waters for me at the time.
But volunteering on the Landscape Legacies of Coal Mining project helped me become a better historian. I learned the fundamentals of reading the landscape (never trust a straight line of trees out in the open field), went back to being an urban explorer and developed a better understanding of Scotland’s more recent past. Obviously, I still spent time in the library to research coal mining and the history of Clackmannanshire with its various villages, but I also got to interact with and learn from people like Murray Dickie and the members of the Clackmannan Heritage Group.
Even though the birthday party planned for the beginning of April 2020 had to be postponed indefinitely, I look forward to returning to Stirling to have a celebration with everyone involved at a later date when it is safe to do so.
A year has passed since I signed up to volunteer on the Coal App, but I’m still as excited to be part of this project, that makes history accessible to so many people, as I was when I first started. I can’t wait to go back into the field to continue exploring Scotland’s mining heritage.
Katharina Pruente, July 2020