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Community at Risk: Identity, Economic, and Civic Challenges on the Iron Range

Authors: Benjamin Trumble*, Macalester College
Topics: Rural Geography, Cultural Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: regional geography, development geography, political economy, Iron Range, Minnesota, mining, community, identity, patriotism, immigration, unions
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota has long been known for its immigrant heritage, strong unions, straight ticket Democratic voting, and rich iron ore that helped to build the country’s skyscrapers, railroads, and weapons. Over the last forty years, the region has faced economic, identity, and cultural difficulties, all combining to challenge the power of local civic community.
To discover how these issues are entwined, this research includes semistructured interviews with Iron Rangers, study of public art and memorials, and examination of the narrative surrounding mining today in the popular press and on social media. Research focuses on the construction of a mining identity in the region, specifically of the white working class masculine male miner. In addition, this paper examines the role of whiteness and American identity in the region, with a focus on the immigrant past of white ethnics.
Research findings show how the immigrant past has been forgotten, the power of unions lost, politics have swung rightward, and the iron ore largely deemed too expensive to mine. These original distinctiveness characteristics of the Iron Range have largely faded, but identity has remained strong, and shifted in some places to become more American. While becoming part of the larger country’s narrative, this paper will contribute to the scholarship on how Iron Range relates to the rest of the American Heartland, while also retaining individuality in that community under fire.

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