Contamination as Artifact: The New Heritage of the Anthropocene

Authors: John Baeten*, Indiana University
Topics: Anthropocene, Historical Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Industrial Heritage, Geospatial Science, Landscape
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Post-mining landscapes embody ongoing societal and environmental transformations, witnessed in the economic booms and busts that accompany extractive industries, and the widespread environmental impacts that it produced. Historically, mining produced tremendous economic benefits, providing raw materials used in nation building across the globe. However, with these benefits came environmental costs that post-mining communities have been left to negotiate. Mine waste and legacy contamination residing within post-mining landscapes is a growing international concern. Today, historic waste streams continue to manifest from a vast global network of abandoned mine lands. This new heritage of the Anthropocene has been treated as an environmental problem by both reclamation agencies as well as heritage organizations, a practice that obfuscates both the cultural value of the wastescapes themselves and the significant historical lessons that contamination and pollution may hold for future generations to reflect on.

Using Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range as a case study, this paper provides a geospatial approach to reconstruct the environmental demands produced from historic mining over a 120-year period. Although waste is arguably the most ubiquitous artifact of historic mining, its location and what it contains is consistently missing from the official heritage discourse. Using a theoretical model that frames contamination as a culturally significant artifact, this paper presents a geospatial approach that heritage managers, policy makers and the public can apply to recreate an historic mining landscape and illuminate the location, origin, and cultural significance of the wastescape.

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