New project: Mining Activities, Public Health Strategies and Pollution Legacies in Europe, 1200-1600

We are excited to announce we have received funding from Monash Arts Faculty for a Health and Medical Research Accelerator project on preindustrial public health.

This research project builds on the work done in our two (previous/ current) projects, Healthscaping Premodern Europe, and Pursuing Preindustrial Public Health, by exploring the environmental health of miners in preindustrial Europe.

Pollution and environmental health threats from mining are often seen as recent phenomena. Yet their history as a nexus dates back many centuries, with a particular acceleration in thirteenth-century Europe.

Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas “De re metallica libri XII”
Public domain

Europe experienced unprecedented demographic and economic growth between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, as well as an increase in industry and trade, all of which generated a need for metals and coinage. Mines and miners proliferated in an effort to exploit the region’s numerous ore deposits.

Extraction could last several centuries and fostered human settlement and economic growth, but it also threatened communities with pollution, deteriorated health and irreversible ecological changes. While mining products and their economic value are well known, miners’ health and extraction’s environmental impacts remain poorly understood, despite abundant evidence.

Our new project, which runs until the end of this year (thus the “Accelerator”), gathers researchers across disciplines including history and archaeology, to produce original and systematic comparison of three mining sites. We will compare:
1) short- and long-term medical and environmental consequences of Europe’s medieval mining boom; and
2) how mining communities understood and addressed such threats.

Map of known preindustrial mining sites in Europe 1200-1600, with our case studies identified in red.

The team will focus on the three mining regions of Brandes (France), Harz (Germany) and Colline Metallifere (Italy),  moving beyond the scale of single sites and (sub)disciplines, and towards a continental synthesis. Our project also has public engagement in mind: we will build a database of environmental and health data across these regions, and produce interactive maps visualising these comparisons. See our track record of historical GIS here.

The innovative pilot program will challenge the narrative of a single path to current environmental health threats, one that began namely with the Industrial Revolution in urban north-western Europe and culminated in a global Anthropocene.

Our research team consists, non-exhaustively, of the following researchers and research assistants based across western Europe; Australia; and Malaysia.

Guy Geltner (Monash University, Australia)
Léa Hermenault (Universiteit Antwerp, Belgium)
Nicolas Minvielle Larousse (Ecole française de Rome, Italy)
Giovanna Bianchi (Università di Siena, Italy)
Tina Asmussen (Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, Germany)
Sarah May (Monash University, Australia)
Kallum Robinson (Monash University, Australia)

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