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Mercury, Mining, and Empire

The Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes

Nicholas A. Robins

Publication Year: 2011

On the basis of an examination of the colonial mercury and silver production processes and related labor systems, Mercury, Mining, and Empire explores the effects of mercury pollution in colonial Huancavelica, Peru, and Potosí, in present-day Bolivia. The book presents a multifaceted and interwoven tale of what colonial exploitation of indigenous peoples and resources left in its wake. It is a socio-ecological history that explores the toxic interrelationships between mercury and silver production, urban environments, and the people who lived and worked in them. Nicholas A. Robins tells the story of how native peoples in the region were conscripted into the noxious ranks of foot soldiers of proto-globalism, and how their fate, and that of their communities, was -- and still is -- chained to it.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Preface

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pp. ix-x

In many ways, this book is as much about colonial mining as it is about contemporary Huancavelica, Peru, and Potosí, Bolivia, where mercury and silver respectively were produced throughout the colonial era, and where the effects of the colonial amalgamation economy continue to reverberate. Today, the residents of both cities shoulder these tragic and ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

This volume is the result of a series of journeys: historical, scientific, theoretical, and physical. Research in documentary archives opened the door and introduced me to the archive of the land and the lethal legacy of colonial mining, much of which today is literally bound with the soil. Many have been the parallels with mining itself, such as the prospecting ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-12

In late January 1757, an elderly cleric named Juan Antonio de los Santos appeared on the outskirts of the quiet village of Laguna, in present-day Bolivia. As he rode his mule into town, Father de los Santos was gripped first by surprise, and then increasingly by rage, as he discovered that the customary celebrations had not been organized to commemorate his arrival at his new parish. ...

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1. Amalgamating an Empire

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pp. 13-46

When Francisco Pizarro and his band of conquerors landed on the coast of Peru in 1532 they, like many of their compatriots, were inspired in no small measure by the legendary success of Hernán Cortés in New Spain. In 1521, following an epic and bloody saga, Cortés and his followers finally conquered the Aztec empire. Their victory rendered to Spain, and themselves, one of the New World’s most powerful ...

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2. Toxic Travails: Mining in Huancavelica

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pp. 47-72

While Toledo was censured for his execution of Túpac Amaru, it was his adaptation and implementation of the mita which would have a much broader, longer lasting, and destructive effect on the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Indians and their communities for generations to come. For those who lived in towns subject to either the Huancavelica or Potosí ...

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3. Blood Silver

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pp. 73-99

So wrote the mining guild to the crown in 1702, revealing in a single sentence their tendency to exaggeration and their single-mindedness. Although Potosí in the days before amalgamation had thrived on the basis of free labor, the mining guild became addicted to this human subsidy that almost all other mining centers in the Andes had prospered without. The ...

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4. Connecting the Drops:The Wider Human and Environmental Costs

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pp. 101-147

In order to gauge the health effects of mercury exposure on the residents and workers of Huancavelica and Potosí, it is necessary to understand how a multitude of dynamic factors interact. These include the amount of mercury and silver actually produced, how and under what climatic conditions quicksilver was lost to the atmosphere and waterways, and the effects of elemental ...

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5. From Corrosion to Collapse:The Destruction of Native Communities

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pp. 149-175

The mita, mercury, and silicosis did not just kill and maim individuals, they also did the same to countless indigenous communities throughout the altiplano and valleys as their effects reverberated throughout the region. As a key element in the colonial exploitative equation, the mita exacerbated both the ongoing abuses against Indians by their overlords as ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 177-195

The silver mines of Latin America, and specifically those of Potosí, were a vital component in the rise of modern global capitalism. The tens of thousands of tons of silver that traveled the globe, and were exchanged in countless markets and salons, reflected the hopes of traders while eclipsing the despair of those who had produced the metal. This flow of silver ...

Glossary

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pp. 197-204

Notes

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pp. 205-266

Bibliography

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pp. 267-290

Index

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pp. 291-298


E-ISBN-13: 9780253005380
E-ISBN-10: 0253005388
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253356512

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 14 maps
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Mercury mines and mining -- Health aspects -- Peru -- Huancavelica.
  • Environmental degradation -- Peru -- Huancavelica.
  • Mercury mines and mining -- Peru -- Huancavelica -- History.
  • Silver mines and mining -- Environmental aspects -- Bolivia -- Potosí (Dept.).
  • Indians, Treatment of -- Peru -- Huancavelica -- History.
  • Indians, Treatment of -- Bolivia -- Potosí (Dept.) -- History.
  • Environmental degradation -- Bolivia -- Potosí (Dept.).
  • Silver mines and mining -- Health aspects -- Bolivia -- Potosí (Dept.).
  • Silver mines and mining -- Bolivia -- Potosí (Dept.) -- History.
  • Mercury mines and mining -- Environmental aspects -- Peru -- Huancavelica.
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