Even before Columbus set forth on what became the first voyage to the New World, the pursuit of precious metals played a central role in Spanish imperial ambitions. From the gold mines of Santo Domingo in the late fifteenth century, to the silver mines of the northern New Spain in the eighteenth, the productivity of colonial mines underwrote Spanish colonialism and, in the process, reshaped the global economy. No single mine represents the economic and symbolic significance of precious metals in the Spanish empire better than the great silver mines of Potosí in Upper Peru. Over the course of colonial period Potosí alone accounted for eighteen percent of all silver produced in the world during that period (TePaske 2010). The incredible productivity and longevity of colonial mines is matched by the scholarship based on their archival footprint. The documentary record related to mining and mining centers occupies a significant place in national, regional, and even local archives throughout Latin America and Spain, and historians and scholars of other disciplines have long looked to these documents as sources vital to understanding the economic and political structures that sustained Spanish rule. In the last two decades, scholars have developed methods and foci that shed light on the social, cultural, and environmental impacts of colonial mining (Mangan 2005, Robins 2011, Guerrero 2017, Murillo 2016). The continued productivity of scholars whose work focusses on mining and its broader ramifications reflects a wide range of methodological approaches that are drawn from fields like archaeology, geography, literature, and philosophy. These transdisciplinary frameworks shape our definitions of colonial archives and ask that we interrogate them further.
This panel has the dual purpose of considering new fields of inquiry associated with mining in Latin America but also shedding light on the archival sources, strategies, and methods that contribute to the vitality of scholarship related to colonial mineral extraction. From the integration of new documentary evidence to the innovative use of canonical sources, each of the papers in this panel sheds light on the process of archival work that allows scholars to continue adding to our understanding of fields and topics related to mining. As such, this panel represents an important contribution to ongoing conversations in the field, building on discussions initiated in a roundtable at the American Historical Association meeting in 2015. The panel is made up of senior faculty and junior scholars who will share their current projects while also discussing the sources, strategies and methods that produced them, allowing process and product to share the same analytical plane. Our objective is to discuss the emerging scholarship in the field as well as generate conversations linking approaches and methods of archival research to new and expanding areas of inquiry.