Allison Margaret Bigelow deposited The Nature of Metallic Matter: Materials-Based Methods in the Study of Mining in the group LLC Colonial Latin American on MLA Commons 6 days, 23 hours ago
In 1526, royal refiner and natural historian Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478-1557) praised the singular quality of the “muchos tesoros de oro labrado / en poder delos indios q̄ se hā cōquistado” (lxv, v). By 1535, however, he had to define what, exactly, he meant by gold: “No hablo aquí en el oro que se ha habido por rescates, o en la guerra, ni en lo de su grado o sin él han dado los indios en estas islas o en la Tierra Firme; porque ese tal oro, ellos lo labran e lo suelen mezclar con cobre o con plata, y lo abajan segund quieren, e así es de diferentes quilates e valores” (lxv). As this example suggests, some 40 years after Colón’s landing, Spanish writers could no longer assume a shared, stable definition of what the most noble, perfect metal meant; there were multiple ways to mine, refine, and evaluate gold in the early Americas. The story of Spain’s golden empire thus looks quite different when it is viewed from the perspective of the metals themselves. To complement this panel’s focus on silver mining in Potosí, this paper will present two anecdotes from gold and copper mining districts in the early Americas (Oviedo 1526, 1535; Gaytán de Torres 1621) to suggest how a materials-focused approach to colonial archives can shed new light on understudied issues in the mining industry, such as indigenous knowledge production and Afro-Latin community life. In so doing, I will analyze the possibilities and limitations of transdisciplinary approaches from literary studies (Bigelow 2016, Bentancor 2017) and new materialisms (Parikka 2015) in the study of colonial mining.