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Making emergency responders visible: working-class responses to industrial disaster in 19th-century journalism and poetry


Hidden beneath the ground in coalmines, or behind the walls of factories, injured bodies of workers have too often been overlooked. Using the 1842 Hartley Colliery disaster as a case study, this paper contrasts journalistic neglect with the ways in which working-class poets illuminated responses to large-scale injury. Often the greatest difficulty in industrial disaster was in securing access to trapped victims. Arriving late on the scene, neither journalists nor doctors were able to influence the outcome of events: in most cases emergency treatment was provided by workers themselves. While journalists struggled to portray these men’s stories, working-class poets such as Joseph Skipsey brought attention to their collaborative actions even in the face of injury or death. The actions of these colliers as first responders had a lasting significance, foreshadowing working-class involvement in the wider cultural shift towards collective responsibility for healthcare.

  • medical humanities
  • literature and medicine
  • poetry and prose
  • literary studies

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. No datasets generated or analysed for this study.

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