Mining Language

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

By Allison Margaret Bigelow

376 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 halftones, 5 maps, 2 tables, appends., notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5438-6
    Published: May 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5439-3
    Published: April 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5944-0
    Published: April 2020

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

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Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Awards & distinctions

2021 James A. Rawley Prize, American Historical Association

2020 Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book

2022 Philip Pauly Prize, History of Science Society

Honorable Mention, 2021 Howard F. Cline Memorial Prize, Conference on Latin American History

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. Building upon works that have narrated this global history of American mining in economic and labor terms, Mining Language is the first book-length study of the technical and scientific vocabularies that miners developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as they engaged with metallic materials. This language-centric focus enables Allison Bigelow to document the crucial intellectual contributions Indigenous and African miners made to the very engine of European colonialism.

By carefully parsing the writings of well-known figures such as Cristóbal Colón and Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés and lesser-known writers such Álvaro Alonso Barba, a Spanish priest who spent most of his life in the Andes, Bigelow uncovers the ways in which Indigenous and African metallurgists aided or resisted imperial mining endeavors, shaped critical scientific practices, and offered imaginative visions of metalwork. Her creative linguistic and visual analyses of archival fragments, images, and texts in languages as diverse as Spanish and Quechua also allow her to reconstruct the processes that led to the silencing of these voices in European print culture.

About the Author

Allison Margaret Bigelow is assistant professor of colonial Latin American literature at the University of Virginia.
For more information about Allison Margaret Bigelow, visit the Author Page.


"Bigelow has an impressive range of historiographical influences, which includes literature on mining and metallurgy from archaeology, art history, cultural studies, geography, history, and linguistics. . . . a methodological model for reconstituting knowledge production in different imperial settings.”—William and Mary Quarterly

"An exemplary and erudite study in how deep attentiveness to language and to the challenging work of locating and comparing disparate and often fragmentary sources can yield new insights into knowledges and agencies that have been rendered invisible by colonialism."—H-LatAm

“…A remarkable achievement. . . . A novel and important contribution to our understanding of early modern science and empire.” --Hispanic American Historical Review

“An original and fascinating study that reveals the significant contributions that indigenous and African peoples have made to the emergence of new scientific ideas and technologies.” --Bulletin of Spanish Studies

“[Mining Language] contributes to many of the most important discussions currently ongoing in modern scholarship. . . . [T]he book’s methodological blueprint will prove inspirational to many young scholars.” --H-Early-America

“An insightful addition to a growing body of work on the emergence of early modern scientific and technological epistemologies.” --The Americas