Nicholas A. Robins – Mercury, Mining, and Empire
6 September, 2021 - examPrep
- 4 – Just as the explosion of silver production would have far-reaching consequences on the global economy, it also had a profound and enduring effect on the people and communities that were linked to mercury and silver production. This book explores those effects in the Andes and tells a multifaceted and interwoven tale of what the early stages of the development of modern capitalism left in its wake.
- Fundamentally, it is a socioecological history which explores the noxious interrelationships between mercury and silver production, urban environments, and the people who lived and worked in them. It tells the story of how native peoples in the region were conscripted into the toxic ranks of foot soldiers of proto-globalism and how their fate and that of their communities were chained to it. Within this context is an account of the oppressive, caste-based colonial system in which they labored and a description of how it affected people’s minds and bodies, as well as their relationships at both the individual and community levels.
- 9 – Insidious, subtle, and multifaceted in its noxious effects, mercury was an exacerbating element in what was already a violent, ruthless, and brutally exploitative society
- 18-19 – The trick was the right amount of wind, for too much would burn the fuel without transferring the necessary heat to the ore, and too little would not generate sufficient heat. The portability of the colonial guayras allowed their operators to place them in the most advantageous location, which was often on hilltops.//Such was the dependence on a good wind that when it would cease for a few days, Potosí’s clergy would lead religious processions and prayers for a steady breeze.
- 27 – While water-driven mills were able to pulverize greater quantities of ore in considerably less time, any that would be constructed closer to the city were subject to the seasonal vagaries of rainfall, which generally fell from January to April. Toledo’s solution was to order the construction of eighteen interconnected dams among the hills above Potosí, where rainwater could gather and ultimately provide a year-round supply for the mills. The water would then be released and run through the city in a canal known as the ribera which, by the 1580s, linked around 100 mills, like beads on a necklace, enabling water passing through one stamp mill to be used by the next one downstream.
- 42 – In many ways, the native population in Potosí ran on chicha and coca, and it was a vital, if underestimated and indirect, element in silver production.
- 101 – In order to gauge the health effects of mercury exposure on the residents and workers of Huancavelica and Potosí, it is necessary to understand how a multitude of dynamic factors interact. These include the amount of mercury and silver actually produced, how and under what climatic conditions quicksilver was lost to the atmosphere and waterways, and the effects of elemental mercury on people and animals when it is absorbed through different means.
- 178 – Similarly, in the region of Huancavelica, the kenua trees were the first to go beginning in the mid 1560s. Having deflowered the region of kenua, the use of ichu for fuel beginning in the 1570s led also to its disappearance from the vicinity of Huancavelica by the mid 1580s. These events, however, only foreshadowed the forced labor, mass poisoning, mass migration, and mass market which were about to unfold
- 189 – The mita, and its toxic companion mercury, were only components of the larger process of human, cultural, and ecological destruction which ravaged the Andes during the colonial era.
- 194 – Despite these changes, there are still indigenes in the Andes who adhere to their ancient beliefs, languages, and traditions. Forced from the beginning into the capitalistic world, they ironically enabled it to have a global embrace, while being sacrificed in the mercury and silver mines and mills of the Andes. Now, the modern global economy which they helped to produce is insistently knocking at their doors on the altiplano and valleys, through enchanting consumer products, the wonders of the Internet, and telephones and television.
- Inextricability of capitalism, genocide, and environmental degradation