The closure of steel works in the UK has had well-documented social and economic effects on former steelmaking communities. The most tangible remains of former steelworks is often the industrial waste product: steel slag. Steel slag is the by-product of steelmaking and was historically dumped in heaps adjacent to steelworks and their associated communities. This PhD project will adopt an interdisciplinary approach combining human geography, earth science and archaeology research methods to investigate the social, historical and environmental legacies of steel slag. The former steelworks at Glengarnock in North Ayrshire, Scotland, will be used as a case study site for the project. The Glengarnock Steelworks was in operation from the 1850s to the 1980s, with historic maps showing the dumping of slag throughout this time. When the steelworks was closed in the 1980s, the site was cleared and landscaped. The physical legacy that remains is the slag.
Archival research and oral history recording will shed light on how the local community reacted to historical dumping of slag in their midst. Chemical analysis will provide a baseline of present-day pollution to gauge, through archaeological site walkovers and interviews, how the present-day community view the steel slag legacy of their former steelworks. This interdisciplinary approach will create a holistic view of the varied aspects of the legacy of steel slag on a community – social, historical and environmental. This approach complements and extends recent work in the social sciences and humanities on the formation of heritage identities in former industrial regions and the management of sites of industrial ruination and decline. In particular this project promises to extend recent investigations into community responses to landscapes of environmental degradation and community contributions to the development of visions for landscape appreciation and change.