Melissa Meade, KLN '19, is the recipient of two prestigious dissertation awards for her dissertation "In the Shadow of 'King Coal': Memory, Media, Identity, and Culture in the Post-Industrial Pennsylvania Anthracite Region." Meade, who attended Klein College of Media and Communication for her doctoral degree in media and communication, earned this year's Best Dissertation award from the National Communication Association's ethnography division and this year's Constance Coiner award from the Working-Class Studies Association. Her ethnographic work in the post-industrial Anthracite coal-mining region of northeastern Pennsylvania was the focus of her research.
Meade, who hails from the anthracite region, was inspired to write her dissertation while in Media and Social Memory, a class taught by Carolyn Kitch, the Laura H. Carnell professor of journalism. Kitch pushed Meade to consider how the changes to the anthracite region not only affected the physical environment but also how it affected longtime residents and recent immigrants to the area. Although many families have lived in the anthracite region for generations, a new wave of Latinx immigrants has moved there. New cultural dynamics have emerged while much of the long-time tangible history tied to anthracite coal has been erased, making for a rich location to study.
Meade considered how she could combine both online and offline methods to effectively provide firsthand accounts of the anthracite region. In addition to her dissertation, she created a popular Facebook page for the anthracite region's residents to contribute posts and multimedia material about their histories and experiences, along with a website with more in-depth information.
"I was always thinking about how I could innovate methods and so [with] the work I was doing, some people would just go online and they would observe. The people were working on this project with me and I was working beside them. So that was the whole point: I was applying my social justice research skills and abilities to digital humanities, and working beside the community and in the community," Meade says.
Others outside of Klein were impressed by Meade's research, especially as it culminated in her dissertation. Meade is the previous recipient of awards from the ethnography and American studies divisions of the NCA and of the association's Donald P. Cushman Memorial Award, where she was recognized as the first scholar who used an ethnographic method for her article. For this year's best dissertation award, reviewers from the ethnography division of the NCA noted that her research offered a "rich and compelling telling of the small-town experience."
The WCSA chose Meade's dissertation as the winner of the Constance Coiner award for similar reasons, with judges remarking that her work "is an affirmation of the importance of working-class stories and provides the working-class subjects with agency. The work also considers the intersections of race/ethnicity and gender in its examination of identity formation and also considers the 'environmental classism' which is a result of polluted and poisoned landscapes."
Nancy Morris, a Klein professor and chair of Meade's dissertation committee, believes that Meade's skill as a writer was more than enough reason to make the case for her awards.
"She's a fantastic writer, so she was able to take those findings and really express them in a way that causes the reader to really feel like they are inside the community as well," Morris says.
Patrick Murphy, associate dean for research and graduate studies who was also a part of Meade's dissertation committee, is a fellow rural Pennsylvanian. He found that he could easily understand the universal appeal of Meade's dissertation.
"Her focus on deindustrialization and extractivism is something that resonates with our own state but it's also something that's global," Murphy says. "You can find these kinds of relationships around the world and then within those there are all sorts of things to talk about in terms of social class, gender, race, ethnicity, because some of these communities are experiencing changes in the demographics."
Meade, who is currently a visiting assistant professor at Villanova University, plans to continue her research studying post-industrialization on a local scale at several intersections, including class, gender, race and ethnicity.