City That Ate Itself
Butte, Montana and Its Expanding Berkeley Pit

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Author: Brian James Leech

Format: Cloth
Pages: 376
ISBN: 9781943859429
Published Date: 2018

Brian James Leech provides a social and environmental history of Butte, Montana’s Berkeley Pit, an open-pit mine which operated from 1955 to 1982. Using oral history interviews and archival finds, The City That Ate Itself explores the lived experience of open-pit copper mining at Butte’s infamous Berkeley Pit. Because an open-pit mine has to expand outward in order for workers to extract ore, its effects dramatically changed the lives of workers and residents. Although the Berkeley Pit gave consumers easier access to copper, its impact on workers and community members was more mixed, if not detrimental.
The pit’s creeping boundaries became even more of a problem. As open-pit mining nibbled away at ethnic communities, neighbors faced new industrial hazards, widespread relocation, and disrupted social ties. Residents variously responded to the pit with celebration, protest, negotiation, and resignation. Even after its closure, the pit still looms over Butte. Now a large toxic lake at the center of a federal environmental cleanup, the Berkeley Pit continues to affect Butte’s search for a postindustrial future.

Author Bio
Brian James Leech is a Montana native and an assistant professor of history at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. He currently serves as Secretary of the Mining History Association.

The City That Ate Itselfbrings together environmental history, labor history, social history, and history of technology in an entirely novel and highly compelling way. Many historians have taken on one or more of these topics in analyzing the history of Butte, yet none has brought them together as skillfully as Leech does here. Moreover, Leech’s focus on the postwar period is still fairly rare in the literature and highly valuable. The scholarship here is superb. Leech has immersed himself in both the primary and secondary material, and almost every page bristles with footnotes derived from entirely original archival research.” —Timothy J. LeCain, professor of history, Montana State University

The City that Ate Itself: A Social and Environmental History of Butte, Montana and Its Expanding Berkeley Pit is an in-depth history of Butte, Montana, that focuses on its infamous open-pit copper mine, the Berkeley Pit. Overall, the book’s scholarship is impeccable. Leech makes a persuasive case that Butte’s modern history has been dominated by the switch to open pit mining and the growing Berkeley Pit. While Butte has received a good deal of attention from social historians and historians of western mining, Leech’s focus on the modern open pit era of mining is genuinely new. Leech’s manuscript also makes outstanding use of oral history interviews as a source base. He has clearly devoted an enormous of amount of time and effort to research so many oral histories, even conducting many of them himself. The oral histories allow him to bring a fresh perspective to the social and cultural dimensions of open pit mining and community change. Other books in this field have emphasized technological changes or policy shifts, but the oral histories allow Leech to really get at the lived experience of those individuals in Butte who lived beside the growing Berkeley Pit.” —Jeffrey T. Manuel, author of Taconite Dreams: The Struggle to Sustain Mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range, 1915-2000