Mining, Technology, and the Environment in the Americas (Part 1)
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Chair and moderator: Rachel O'Toole, Associate Professor, UCI Department of History
Renée Raphael, Associate Professor, UCI Department of History
"How to read the mining archive: “Useful” knowledge and technical innovation in 16th-century Potosí"
In October 1588, silver production in Potosí came to a standstill as miners and refiners awaited the secrets of a new refining method held by one of the town’s citizens, Garçi Sánchez. Historians have argued that the sixteenth century saw the fostering of an empirical culture in the Iberian world through the mutually beneficial relationship between artisanal experts and royal officials and the institutionalization of such methods for the pursuit of useful knowledge in administrative bodies. Using Sánchez’s case, this contribution focuses on the textual production that resulted from the relationship between artisanal experts and royal officials. It probes the motivations of local officials in generating a textual record of artisanal knowledge, knowledge which, within communities of refiners and miners, tended to be transmitted tacitly and orally. I argue that while historians have tended to view and actors at the time often stated an interest in inscribing artisanal knowledge as expertise and experience, what often motivated the inscription of such knowledge by municipal officials was a desire to demonstrate one’s competency as an administrator. This conclusion suggests historians should expand their conception of “useful” to better reflect how early modern actors in the Iberian world viewed their pursuit of scientific and technical knowledge.
Gustave Lester, PhD. Candidate, History of Science, Harvard University
"Mineral Lands of the Western Great Lakes and the Union of Settler Colonialism and Territorial Capitalism, 1815-1854"
In the late nineteenth century, North American mineral resources became the crucial raw materials powering the global economic ascendancy of U.S. manufacturing. Much of this material came from land expropriated from Indigenous communities in the western Great Lakes in the first half of the nineteenth century. But how and when did U.S. leaders come to believe that these lands contained an abundance of valuable minerals? How were they incorporated into a political economy of dispossession and continental industrialization? How was U.S. sovereignty exercised over land where it was previously contested or non-existent? This paper examines the political and economic contexts motivating state sponsored geological investigations of the copper, lead, and iron embedded in lands now called Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. After the War of 1812, a new political economy of economic independence, centering the capture of mineral-rich territories for future growth, fused with existing settler colonial aspirations for the continent. Linking dispossession to visions of national industrial strength, state officials imagined mineral-rich Indigenous lands as the territorial basis for the establishment of self-sufficient manufacturing industries and the capture of overseas markets. Tracking the initial efforts to transform mineral-rich Indigenous lands into industrial resource frontiers for the settler state reveals the early conjunction of settler colonialism and a capitalism increasingly obsessed with the territorial control of industrial raw materials.