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Mined Earth: Transnational Environmental Histories of Extraction

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

Session Submission Type: Panel


Mining history traditionally functioned as part of national foundation myths in North and South America - El Dorado and the California Gold Rush being obvious examples. Environmental history’s emergence in the late twentieth century did not change this basic trajectory, although the scholarship’s tone became more critical of the ecological and human consequences of extraction.

The recent rise in transnationalism in environmental history signals new possibilities for the role of mining in our cultural narratives. Although environmental effects of mining (pits, tunnels, and tailings) are distinctly local phenomenon, mining zones are intrinsically linked through the market economy, war, media, human migration, diplomacy, and global balances of power. New publications in transnational mining history illustrate the rising popularity of looking beyond national borders to understand our extractive pasts.

Our papers examine a “mined earth” connected across international borders since at least the early nineteenth century. Most modern mining projects are transnational collaborative efforts linked by shared technologies, geological knowledge, and capital. Governments encouraged prospecting to fulfil geopolitical purposes, corporations imported technology and capital from distant mining frontiers, and miners travelled the world in search of well-paid labor. Each paper examines a different place in geography and time, but shares a focus on its subject’s role in a global mining context.

In the Anthropocene, connectivity offers hope: Precedents exist for international cooperation when it comes to solving environmental problems related to mining. Rock offers a universal intelligibility regardless of the vagrancies of overlaying flora, fauna, and vegetation. In the past rock’s universality facilitated shared extractive knowledge. Now, a reexamination of mining history under a transnational lens provides a useful foundation for understanding modern mining issues including legacies of colonialism, neoliberalism, and climate change.

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