Making Minerals Modern: Mineral Science and Political Economy in Late-Nineteenth-Century Peru

Authors: Matthew Himley*, Illinois State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Latin America
Keywords: Earth science, territory, extractive industry, Peru
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Galerie 2, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Peru, the late nineteenth century saw an expansion of scientific investigation into the country’s territorial features, including its subsoil resources. Scholarship on these earth-scientific activities highlights their linkages to political-economic agendas, namely the expansion of extractive industries and the creation of a modern territorial nation-state. However, the techno-scientific practices that scientists used to produce and circulate knowledge about Peru’s subterranean features remain underexplored. This paper takes up this issue through an examination of the techniques and methodologies through which Peruvian minerals were identified, classified, and constructed as objects of potential economic value (i.e., as resources) by late-nineteenth-century scientists. Focusing on the work of Antonio Raimondi, I draw attention to two interrelated aspects of Raimondi’s investigations into Peru’s minerals: his use of laboratory techniques to establish the chemical composition of mineral specimens, and his translation of vernacular names for minerals into a ‘universal’ language of scientific mineralogy. I contend that Raimondi’s mineral science can be understood as an effort to make Peru’s minerals legible to international audiences though a process of epistemic modernization. As such, Raimondi’s work illustrates the growing role of techno-scientific actors in Peruvian political economy during the late nineteenth century. Yet, close attention to Raimondi’s practices of mineral science suggests potential frictions between the logics and aims of these activities and those of mining interests. I explore this issue through an analysis of Raimondi’s acts of translation, highlighting how the movement from a vernacular to a scientific taxonomy introduced complexity into understandings of minerals.

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