Mining the Americas

From the time of Columbus until today, the Americas have been perceived as one of the earth’s greatest storehouses of mineral treasures. In addition to industrial metals, coal, and soft minerals such as clay and asbestos, the Americas still produce significant quantities of gold, silver, diamonds, and emeralds. The history of mining in the Americas stretches far back into pre-Columbian times, but it has changed most rapidly in the last 150 years or so with the advance of mechanized techniques of extraction and refining and ballooning global demand. Awareness of the negative environmental and health effects of mining also has a long history, but the numerous problems caused by mining and refining, from worker deaths to polluted air and streams, have only reached a wide audience and prompted legislative controls in recent decades. This course explores the history of mining and its effects on humans and their surroundings in the Americas from ancient to modern times with a special focus on precious metals.