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Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) 585-586
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Mine et métal, 1780-1880: Les non-ferreux et l'industrialisation
Mine et métal, 1780-1880: Les non-ferreux et l'industrialisation. By Anne-Françoise Garçon. Rennes: Les Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1998. Pp. x+276; illustrations, maps, figures, notes/references, bibliography, index. Fr 140.
This well-researched book focuses on technological changes in the mining, metallurgy, and processing of copper, zinc, and lead from 1780 to 1880 in France, and more broadly in Europe. Anne-Francoise Garçon considers these three metals to be related through their geology and metallurgy, and they were often substituted for one another in manufacturing. During the eighteenth century, France used lead from Great Britain, copper from Sweden, and brass from Liège; in the nineteenth, France used lead from Spain and Sardinia and zinc from Belgium and Silesia. Garçon claims that "public power" in France had a hard time coming to terms with the dominance of foreign raw materials and the mundane and strategic uses of nonferrous metals. In addition, the silver-bearing nature of ores contributed to a more complex story of technology and politics.
The first part of Mine et métal analyzes technological change in different regions of France and the dynamics between supply and demand. Here the focus is on reverberatory furnaces, rolling mills, and coal and coke. The second part examines the development of the zinc industry, arguing that geology and economics contributed to an oligopolist industrial structure. From an early date, Silesia and Belgium competed with each other using different production technologies. Because zinc was largely a metal of substitution, without a specific market, the producers, led by the Belgian company La Vieille-Montagne, worked aggressively to create market niches. The third part of the book shows how the mining of silver-bearing lead found support in the banking and investment communities because of silver's strategic and monetary value. Eventually, the traditional French model of integrated mining and processing broke down because Marseilles and Nantes imported most of their raw materials and dominated the processing of lead and silver until Mediterranean nations asserted their own political and economic power.
Historians of technology will appreciate Garçon's contextual interpretation. She analyzes the late-eighteenth-century trend in coppering ships bottoms, although with more of an emphasis on technological adaptation and less on espionage than John Harris's Industrial Espionage and Technology Transfer: Britain and France in the Eighteenth Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998). Mine et métal also provides an ongoing account of the roles of French mining engineers in rationalizing mining and processing. For example, Garçon describes adaptations of Hugh Lee Pattinson's 1833 technique for separating silver from lead, including the contributions of French mining engineers. (Logan Hovis and Jeremy Mouat described the much [End Page 585] later trend of rationalization in American mining in "Miners, Engineers, and the Transformation of Work in the Western Mining Industry, 1880- 1930," Technology and Culture 37 : 429-56, but with no attention to French precedents.)
Broad though it may be, Mine et métal skips over some important issues. There is only a little coverage of workers in these industries. Garçon touches only briefly on the insalubrity of nonferrous production in Marseilles. Her discussion of mining at Huelgoat and Poullaouen in Brittany does not address environmental concerns such as those raised for a slightly earlier period by J. Morton Briggs in "Pollution in Poullaouen," Technology and Culture 38 (1997): 635-54. The book could have benefited from closer editing. The maps at the end of the volume would have been more helpful had they been located at appropriate points in the text and accompanied by more descriptive and easily readable captions. Names or terms are often explained only at their second, third, or even later appearance in the text; for example, the mining town of Pontgibaud is mentioned on pages 153, 166, and 185, but it is only in a tiny caption on page 198 that we...