Peter Friedemann/Michael Farrenkopf:
Courrières Pit Disaster Remembered in France and Germany:
New Lines of Research
Reflections on a Conference at the German Mining Museum in Bochum
Recently a great deal has been published on the mining disaster that occurred at Courrières in northern France on 10 March 1906. This was one of the most devastating coal dust explosions in Europe with an official death toll of 1,099. In addition, there have been numerous initiatives that dealt with or intend to deal with this tragedy in terms of the history of science and technology, trade union policy or museum pedagogy. One such initiative was the scientific conference entitled "The 1906 Courrières pit disaster. Aspects of transnational history", which was held at the German Mining Museum in Bochum in March 2006.
Considering that the risk of explosions in European coal mines is now largely kept under control by engineers and managers, that the zenith of indigenous coal production has long passed and that structural change in so-called old industries is well advanced, this public attention to a disaster occurring so long ago is surprising. The article therefore asks why there is evidently international interest in the Courrières disaster. To find an answer, it is first examined how our French neighbours have been remembering the disaster of late. A key question is which overriding aspects are stressed in recent French publications in the light of new research. The second part of the article takes a critical look at the Bochum conference and particularly its interdisciplinary and "transnational" approach.