A World of Copper: Swansea Workshop

 A World of Copper: Globalising the Industrial Revolution, 1830-1870

A World of Copper, the research initiative funded by the Leverhulme Trust’s International Network Scheme, held its first workshop at the University of Swansea in April 2012, with participants drawn from Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Ireland, the UK, and the USA. The theme of the workshop was ‘Technology, Labour and Industrial Development’.

After words of welcome from Professor Noel Thompson, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Swansea, project leader Chris Evans (University of South Wales) opened the workshop with some suggestions on how the Swansea-centred copper industry of the mid-nineteenth century could be interpreted in terms of the ‘new global history’ that has emerged since the 1990s. Three papers that focused on Swansea itself followed. Delegates were given an overview of the Lower Swansea Valley’s significance in the broader copper industry by Roger Burt (Emeritus Professor of Mining History at the University of Exeter); Louise Miskell (Swansea University) provided an analysis of how Swansea assumed a position of dominance within Britain in the eighteenth century; and Stephen Hughes (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales) spoke on the topography of ‘Copperopolis’ (having earlier that day provided delegates with an expert tour of the copper-works sites at White Rock and Hafod). Tour of the Hafod and White Rock sites led by Stephen Hughes of the RCAHMW. Photo by Dee Cleary.

The following session addressed the all-important technological question: what exactly was the secret of Swansea’s success in smelting? What, asked Robert Protheroe Jones (National Museum of Wales) was the ‘Welsh process' and what made it so enduring? The answer, Jones suggested, was that the ‘Welsh process’ was rarely stable: it was a dynamic, developing practice whose scale and complexity grew over time. Jay Fell (University of Denver at Colorado) addressed a parallel issue – with what success did the ‘Welsh process’ internationalise? – by tracing its use in the American West in the period after the Civil War, while Jeremy Mouat (University of Alberta) spoke on the eclipse of Welsh copper smelting by new technological systems in North America. Mel Davies (University of Western Australia) provided a thorough-going commentary that located these issues within a wider economic literature.

What forms of corporate organization knitted the nineteenth-century world of copper together? Jason Shute (Flinders University) revealed the difficulties that the South Australian Mining Association had in connecting with the international market in its formative years. Luis Ortega (University of Santiago de Chile) spoke on the success of the Chilean mining sector in the period 1840-1870 but reminded delegates that this took place on the basis of archaic technologies and conservative organisational forms. The period, Ortega argued, certainly saw no Industrial Revolution in Chilean ore mining. Igor Goicovic (University of Santiago de Chile) also dwelt on the pre-modern character of the mining sector in his presentation on the Illapel region of Chile.

View of the Hafod site. Photo by Dee Cleary.The smelting sector that emerged in that district, on the other hand, was capital-intensive and technologically contemporary. The situation contrasted starkly with the structure of the Mansfeld copper industry, the subject of a paper by Alf Zachäus (IG BCE). The Mansfeld mining/smelting complex, which stood outside the Swansea network, was marked by the close integration of industrial functions and reliance on banking credit.

The final session saw papers by Sharron Schwartz (South Wales) on Cornish mineworkers' attitudes to faith, class, race and slavery in the copper mines of Latin America and by Des Cowman (Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland) on differing management regimes in Irish copper mining companies. Both presentations dealt with mining industries that were to a greater or lesser extent colonial in nature. Both touched upon the difficulties that arose from confessional divides, with Schwartz paying particular attention to the difficulties that Cornish Wesleyans encountered in countries where the privileged position of the Catholic Church was constitutionally guaranteed.

Swansea Workshop Programme

Abstracts of the presentations can be found here.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Afternoon: The Swansea background

14.00: Chris Evans (South Wales), 'Copper History – World History'

14.30: Roger Burt (Exeter), 'The evolution of the Swansea copper industry - background and general introduction'

15.30: Coffee break

16.00: Louise Miskell (Swansea), 'To the Cost of the Costers: Swansea's copper entrepreneurs and the re-configuration of the industry in the eighteenth century'

16.45: Steve Hughes (RCAHMW), 'The Topography of Copperopolis/Swansea' 

Friday, 13 April 2012

Morning: The 'Welsh Method'

09.30: Robert Protheroe Jones (National Museum Wales), 'From leader to laggard? Reassessing the technology of copper smelting and refining in Wales'

10.15: Jay Fell (Denver), 'Technological transfer and technological change: the Swansea process in the American West, 1865 to 1885 and after'

11.00: Coffee break

11.30: Jeremy Mouat (Alberta), 'E.D. Peters, James Douglas, and the genesis of the American copper moment'

12.15: Mel Davies (Western Australia), commentary

1:00: Lunch

Afternoon: Corporate structures and organisation

14.00: Luis Ortega (Santiago), 'The rise and fall of the Chilean copper mining industry. The tensions between modernization and tradition 1810-1885'

14.45: Jason Shute (Flinders), 'South Australia’s opening encounters with "Copperopolis"'

15.30: Coffee break

16.00: Igor Goicovic (Santiago): 'The corporate structure of copper mining during the growth cycle: Illapel, Chile, 1840-1870'

16.45: Alf Zachaeus (IG BCE), 'The Copper Countess dances on the high wire: the Mansfeld Company from 1830 to 1900'

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Morning: Miners

09.30: Sharron Schwartz (South Wales), 'The "aristocracy of labour": Cornish mineworkers' attitudes to faith, class, race, slavery and collective action on the copper mines of Latin America'

10.15: Des Cowman (Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland), 'From the Benign to the Malign: Three Different Irish Mining Experiences'

11.00: Coffee break

11.30: Open forum: 'Where next?'