Image: Workers on the second Tay Bridge, Dundee. Copyright of the Wilson Collection, Dundee Central Library, Wellgate, Dundee. Reproduced with permission.

Welcome to Piston, Pen & Press, an AHRC-funded project which aims to understand how industrial workers in Scotland and the North of England, from the 1840s to the 1910s, engaged with literary culture through writing, reading, and participation in wider cultural activities. The project began in September 2018 and will run for three years.

As the popular press, workers’ periodicals, published poems and autobiographies, surviving records of local libraries and reading rooms, and society accounts show, industrial workers spent substantial amounts of their working lives and brief leisure time in writing, reading, and discussing works of literature.  Piston, Pen & Press seeks to recover these activities through archival research, and to bring them to life and engage new audiences through our partnerships with museums and libraries, and through creative responses to our findings. We have chosen miners, railway workers, and textile factory workers as our key industries, but we are investigating beyond these professions too, as we consider how profession, location, and the perception of being part of a specific workforce community influenced workers’ activities as authors, performers and readers.

Over the course of the project, we will host academic conferences, run public events and exhibitions with our partners, and work on a database for launch in 2021.