Mining Language: Racial Thinking, Indigenous Knowledge, and Colonial Metallurgy in the Early Modern Iberian World

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EST (UTC -5)

Mineral wealth from the Americas underwrote and undergirded European colonization of the New World. American gold and silver enriched Spain, funded the slave trade, and spurred Spain’s northern European competitors to become Atlantic powers. Indigenous, African, and mixed-race miners formed the overwhelming majority of the workforce in colonial Latin America, but the structures of white supremacy and colonial power ensured that they left little written record of their scientific and technical contributions. Using visual analysis, historical linguistics, and translation case studies, Bigelow’s talk will outline methods of documenting indigenous knowledge production in the gold and silver industries of the 16th-century Caribbean and the 17th-century Andes. In these very different cultural, linguistic, and scientific contexts, I show how Taíno-, Quechua-, and Aimara-speaking miners influenced the technical infrastructures and material practices of one of the most lucrative and largest colonial scientific industries of the Americas.

About the Speaker


Allison Bigelow, headshot, outdoors

Allison Bigelow

Allison Bigelow is the Tom Scully Discovery Chair Associate Professor of Spanish in the department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese at the University of Virginia. Her work on indigenous knowledges, racial ideologies, gender systems, and vernacular sciences (especially mining and agriculture) has been published in journals such as Anuario de estudios bolivianos, Early American Literature, Early American Studies, Ethnohistory, Journal of Extractive Sciences and Society, and PMLA. Her first book, Mining Language: Racial Thinking, Indigenous Knowledge, and Colonial Metallurgy in the Early Modern Iberian World, was published in April 2020 by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture for UNC Press. She is supposed to be working on her second book, a comparative study of maize agriculture among female farmers in the Chesapeake and male farmers in Mesoamerica, but she doesn't have childcare during COVID. Instead, she plays a lot of peekaboo and teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on colonial Latin America between games.


About the Series

Now combined with our Saturday Speaker Series, Lunchtime Lectures take a rigorous and entertaining approach to exploring topics for scholars and anyone interested in stories about the history of science. The talks help expand perceptions of the nature of science and how it’s done. This season, our speakers are exploring issues of gender, race, and colonialism in the history of the physical and biological sciences from the early modern period to the 21st century.