Forging Communities: Knowledge, Culture, and Race in Colonial Latin American Mining Centers

AHA Session 212
Conference on Latin American History 50
Saturday, January 8, 2022: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Napoleon Ballroom C1 (Sheraton New Orleans, 3rd Floor)
Mark Dries, Southeastern Louisiana University
Tatiana Seijas, Rutgers University–New Brunswick

Session Abstract

The search for and exploitation of mineral resources played a central role in the history and historiography of colonial Latin America. From the gold mines of the fifteenth century Caribbean to the great silver mines of the Andes, colonial contemporaries and subsequent historians alike have recognized the importance of mineral extraction to the colonial project. As a result, the historiography of mining has continually evolved thematically and methodologically. Historians initially examined colonial efforts and institutions designed to promote extraction through the exploitation of Indigenous populations, as well as the impressive scale of mineral production. Subsequent investigations have credited the productivity of colonial mines with reshaping the global economy, facilitating trade between Europe, Asia, and Africa (Lane 2018, Flynn and Giráldez 1995). Even as scholars uncovered the importance of these commodity flows to the emerging world economy, others revisited the experiences of African and Indigenous peoples, acknowledging both their resistance to and influence in the colonial mining regimes (Mangan 2005, Velasco Murillo 2013). Yet another burgeoning avenue of inquiry emerged with studies that centered the environmental impact of colonial extraction and its public health consequences for contemporaries and subsequent generations (Brown 2012, Robins 2011). Interdisciplinary studies incorporating the methods of literature, art history, and science and technology studies have added thematic diversity and methodological innovation (Bigelow 2020, Scott 2011). The cumulative effects of these innovations have revealed the varied and vital role of populations previously understudied, particularly those whose presence in archives were minimal. As this brief description demonstrates, despite the developed historiography of extraction, the field remains as productive and diverse as the mining centers on which it is based.

This panel, therefore, seeks to generate conversation among scholars whose work shares a focus on the communities that emerged as a result of colonial extraction. As these papers make clear, the diversity of scholarship on mining communities with respect to topics and methods contributes to its vitality, but also demonstrates the importance of generating conversations across those lines. Examining mining centers from Cuba to present-day Bolivia, the panelists consider the presence, persistence, and contributions of Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in colonial mining centers. It is our hope that this panel will shed light on emerging scholarship, while stimulating interest in new avenues of inquiry.

See more of: AHA Sessions