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Unearthing Latin American Metals: Tropical Gold in the Nineteenth-Century Mining Booms

Thu, March 15, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Riverside Convention Center, MR 9


Traditionally, gold mining historiography has mainly focused on Canada, Australia, Africa, and the United States. Moreover, historians portray geological and mining knowledge production as coming out of these gold mining regions and mining rushes in the 1850s and slowly reaching outposts of the mining regions. However, much before the mining rushes of the 1850s, since the seventeenth century, Colombia was the main gold producer of the Spanish empire. Moreover, in 1881 Colombia was the fourth largest gold exporter in the world.

Colombian gold mining history is not integrated into the history of global gold production. Columbia’s contributions to mining knowledge is also unacknowledged, and the country’s history of environmental transformation following the industrialisation of mining in the nineteenth century remains unexamined. This paper analyzes the connections between the British, American, and Colombian mining enterprises undertaken at the end of the nineteenth century to understand how Latin American gold was linked with the larger gold mining production in the world. Natural conditions in isolated places in Colombia significantly impacted the mining enterprises in a country that, according to some geologists of the time, could have produced as much gold as California. Although these statements could be hyperbolic, gold mining has certainly been big enough to produce as deep ecological transformations as the production of coffee or other commodities that changed Latin American landscapes in the nineteenth century.