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Faces of FRIAS: Petra Dolata

Meet the people behind the research projects! In our Faces of FRIAS series we introduce you to current and former Fellows of our institute. 

For this first article of the series we asked Associate Professor Dr. Petra Dolata to tell us a bit about herself and her field of research:

faces-of-frias dolata2

I am originally from…

   … the Ruhrgebiet in Germany but have lived in Berlin and London before moving to Calgary, Canada


My academic field of research:

   I am an Associate Professor (Energy History) at the History Department of the University of Calgary in Canada


In my CV it doesn’t say that …   

   … I love snow! I am a big football fan (Borussia Dortmund supporter), and I am also a certified Scottish Country Dance teacher


You have been a FRIAS Fellow from February to the end of April 2021 working on a research project on Women in Energy Transitions: Agency, Resilience and Complicity.

If you had to explain your project to the person in front of you in the queue at the supermarket checkout, how would you describe it?

   Did you know that in the Ruhr region in the late 1960s women spent as many calories cleaning their coal mining husband’s clothes as their husbands did mining coal? No one studies how important women were in keeping up the Ruhr region’s coal economy and how they coped with the Strukturwandel (structural change) in the Ruhr region, which really was an earlier example of an Energwiewende (energy transition), in which coal was replaced by petroleum. Women have an important role to play in past, present and future energy transitions. We better understand that role.


No one thinks that my work involves a lot of ….

   … listening, because many of my sources are not found in archives, I have to talk to people or listen to oral histories


Zeche im Ruhrgebiet (c) Jonas Tebbe bei Unsplash
Was there a special moment in your life that made you decide “Yes, I want to find out more about the role of women in the history of coal mining and energy transitions and deindustrialization more broadly ?”

   I studied North America because I loved to travel and I loved the English language, but when it came to writing my PhD dissertation, I wanted to work on something that allowed me to combine my personal background (both my grandfathers were coal miners and my dad and uncle worked for the coal mining company) and my degree in North American studies, so I focused on the transatlantic dimension of the German coal crisis of the late 1950s. I liked bringing in my personal connections and my own experience of having grown up in the region when it deindustrialized. Bringing in my own family background was such a formative and satisfying experience that ever since, I have been an advocate for giving workers and women who live through such dramatic changes their own voices. We need to be careful lest we forget about those who are left behind by structural changes and energy transitions and we also need to listen to their worries as we face similar challenges today as the world decarbonizes and eradicates many jobs in traditional energy industries.

Smithsonian Institution from United States, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons


If you could choose a famous researcher or scientist (dead or alive) to have dinner with, who would it be?

   Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring. Her work which was informed by an ecological understanding of the environment but also the human body spoke to the public and many women who experienced pollution through their own bodies while experts and professionals criticized Carson’s work as too emotional.


What do you enjoy most about being a Fellow at FRIAS?

   I was at FRIAS during the pandemic, so many events were virtual, but I was still able to meet either virtually or during socially distanced walks many colleagues from different disciplines and countries and with very different research interest. I learned to think about my own project differently and began new collaborations. It is this openness to scholarly exchange and intellectual curiosity of all fellows which made my stay at FRIAS a very enjoyable and insightful one.


What do you like to do in your free time?

   I love going for walks, and when it rains, I knit (while I was in Freiburg, I knitted three pairs of socks, which tells you a bit about the weather during my stay).


Münstermarkt © FWTM - Schoenen Tell us, what is your favourite spot in Freiburg, or the Black Forest region?

   There are two, first, I loved the Münstermarkt, as a German I miss these farmer’s markets, and I was there when white asparagus and rhubarb were in season, the second is not so much a spot as the walk along the river Dreisam to the SC Freiburg football stadium. During the pandemic, the first division Bundesliga games were played without spectators in the stadiums, but it was nice to walk past it and hear the stadium commentator. Also, it was wonderful to see how spring was taking over along the river during the three months that I stayed in Freiburg.



Thank you very much, Petra!

Find out more about Petra Dolata and her research project at FRIAS.




Petra Dolata © Petra Dolata

Impression from the Ruhrgebiet © Jonas Tebbe on Unsplash

Rachel Carson © Smithsonian Institution

Münstermarkt  © FWTM/Schoenen


Interview by Ines Bachor, Head of Public Relations, FRIAS