A Town Without Steel

Envisioning Homestead

"In 1986 after three generations grew used to reaping the benefits of well-paying, unionized jobs, the mills closed. They were razed soon after that, leaving a vast empty expanse down by the river and a vast empty hole in the economy of the region. As morale plummeted, so did the constitution of the town, which brings us to today's situation: Homestead, a town without steel, struggling for a new identity and a chance to survive intact. . . . The hundred -year journey undergone by the people of homestead is grippingly chronicled in documentary fashion by Judith Modell, who spoke to several dozen residents in this town of 42 churches. From their running commentary, she pieces together a saga both heroic and tragic: The people who built the American way of life suffer the most from its consequences. . . . There are probably plenty of other books chronicling the history of the Pittsburgh region and its famous, now-defunct industry, but A Town Without Steel is probably one of the few to do so with a personal touch and the intelligence of an academic source book."repeated quote: "There are probably plenty of other books chronicling the history of the Pittsburgh region and its famous, now-defunct industry, but A Town Without Steel is probably one of the few to do so with a personal touch and the intelligence of an academic sourcesbook. After reading it I felt as if I'd taken a whole course at Pitt on the subject and learned something without paying for all the credits. With such enlightenment at hand, A Town Without Steel is a must-read for anyone interested in the history our region and won't remain unperused on anyone's coffee table for long."—In Pittsburgh Newsweekly, 12/16/98
IN PITTSBURGH

In 1986, with little warning, the USX Homestead Works closed. Thousands of workers who depended on steel to survive were left without work. A Town Without Steel looks at the people of Homestead as they reinvent their views of household and work and place in this world. The book details the modifications and revisions of domestic strategies in a public crisis. In some ways unique, and in some ways typical of American industrial towns, the plight of Homestead sheds light on social, cultural, and political developments of the late twentieth century.

In this anthropological and photographic account of a town facing the crisis of deindustrialization, A Town Without Steel focuses on families. Reminiscent of Margaret Byington and Lewis Hine’s approach in Homestead, Charlee Brodsky’s photographs document the visual dimension of change in Homestead. The mill that dominated the landscape transformed to a vast, empty lot; a crowded commercial street turns into a ghost town; and an abundance of well-kept homes become an abandoned street of houses for sale. The individual narratives and family snapshots, Modell’s interpretations, and Brodsky’s photographs all evoke the tragedy and the resilience of a town whose primary source of self-identification no longer exists.

about the authors

Judith Modell

Judith Modell is professor of anthropology, history, and art at Carnegie Mellon University. She is the author of Ruth Benedict and Kinship with Strangers, as well as a number of theoretical and methodological articles.

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Judith Modell
Charlee Brodsky

Charlee Brodsky, a professor of photography at Carnegie Mellon University, is the coauthor of Pittsburgh Revealed: Photographs Since 1850, A Town Without Steel: Envisioning Homestead, and, with Jennifer Matesa, Navel-Gazing: The Days and Nights of a Mother in the Making. Brodsky and Matesa have both won numerous awards for their work, and both live in Pittsburgh.

Stephanie Byram was an active, athletic young woman entering the prime of her life. She held dreams of earning her doctorate, pursing a career, falling in love, and starting a family. A doctor’s visit, shortly after her thirtieth birthday, changed everything. Knowing Stephanie tells her incredible story.

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Charlee Brodsky