Ordering the Underground in the Bourbon Era

Throughout the colonial period the Spanish crown encouraged its subjects in America to prospect for minerals and to work mines. Mining codes varied from one region to another but all were intended to ensure a steady labor supply, maximize the flow of bullion into royal coffers, and minimize the circulation of untaxed precious metals. In the eighteenth century Spain's American empire witnessed widespread efforts to reform the mining industry. Although the supply and management of labor continued to be central to mining legislation, late colonial mining codes and commentaries also reveal a growing preoccupation with technological modernization.


21. Antonio de Ulloa, Noticias americanas (Madrid, 1772).

The author, a Spanish military officer and scientist, spent decades living in the Americas and served six years as governor of the mercury mines at Huancavelica, Peru. Ulloa lamented the fact that metallurgical laboratories had never been established in Spain's American territories, even though silver and gold constituted the crown's principal source of revenue.


22. Francisco Javier de Gamboa, Comentarios a las ordenanzas de minas (Madrid, 1761).

Lawyer Francisco Javier de Gamboa's commentaries on the mining ordinances that were in use in New Spain clearly convey his belief that the viceroyalty's mines should be worked with the utmost efficiency. The dimensions of each mine, he declared, should be measured with greater care and precision than the finest lace or most costly spun gold or silver.


23. Spain, Reales ordenanzas para la dirección, régimen y gobierno del importante Cuerpo de la Minería de Nueva-España (Madrid, 1783).

Drafted within the context of late colonial reforms intended to revitalize the mining industry, a new mining code was implemented in New Spain in 1783. Three years later, a modified version of this code was adopted for use in the Viceroyalty of Peru.


24. Chile, Nuevas ordenanzas de minas para el Reyno de Chile (Lima, 1757).

These mining ordinances were passed following a general inspection of Chile's mines. The code supplemented the Peruvian mining ordinances that were in use in late colonial Chile. Ordinance XVIII laments the "excessive liberty" with which mines were being worked in Chile and stipulates penalties intended to punish those who worked mines without proper authorization.


25. Medidas de minas y beneficio de los metales segun Gamboa y otros para el uso de su dueño ([Mexico City?: s.n.], 1789).

A manuscript copy of Gamboa's Comentarios (also included in this exhibition), this manual was undoubtedly intended for practical use at a mining site. The manual describes local as well as European techniques for measuring and working mines. The foldout illustrations permit the reader to refer simultaneously to the text and accompanying diagrams.

  the Exhibition may be seen in the reading room from April 2015 through august 2015.