Mining Treatises and Trans-Atlantic Circuits of Knowledge

In colonial Spanish America, the authors of mining and metallurgical treatises drew on many centuries of Mediterranean and northern European knowledge, and simultaneously contributed to the emergence of distinctive colonial forms of knowledge and technical expertise. Just as European mining texts crossed the Atlantic and circulated in colonial Latin America, knowledge that took shape in the New World traveled in the opposite direction to be disseminated in Europe.


Alvaro Alonso Barba. Arte de los metales


26. Alvaro Alonso Barba, Traité de l'art métalique (Paris, 1730).

27. Alvaro Alonso Barba, The First book of the art of mettals (London, 1670).  

28. Alvaro Alonso Barba, Gründlicher Unterricht von den Metallen (Ephrata, 1763).

Numerous editions of Barba's treatise were published in Spanish as well as in translation between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The author's innovations in the silver refining process remained in use throughout colonial times. The preface to a German edition published in 1763 describes the manual as a "precious gem" for which readers in Spain and the Americas were willing to pay any amount.


29. Joseph Garcés y Eguía, Nueva teórica y práctica del beneficio de los metales de oro y plata por fundicion y amalgamacion (Mexico, 1802).

This metallurgical treatise outlines an improved method of refining silver that makes more economical use of mercury. In his dedicatory address, Garcés y Eguía acknowledges the generosity of the Spanish monarch in sending European mining experts to the Americas at the crown's expense. In doing so, the author honors the king's dedication to fomenting the advance of mining technology in Spain's American possessions.


30. Francisco Javier de Sarría, Ensayo de metalurgia, ó descripcion por mayor de las catorce materias metálicas, del modo de ensayarlas, del laborío de las minas, y del beneficio de los frutos minerales, de la plata (Mexico, 1784).

Francisco Javier de Sarría's metallurgical treatise, published in Mexico in 1784, was heavily informed by the publications of French chemists Pierre Macquer and Antoine Baumé and of the German mining expert Christoph Andreas Schlüter.


31. Ignaz von Born, Ueber das Anquicken der gold- und silberhältigen Erze, Rohsteine, Schwarzkupfer und Hüttenspeise (Wien, 1786).

Ignaz von Born, author of a metallurgical treatise published in Vienna, expressed grudging respect for the significance of Barba's refining technique. Like many central and northern Europeans, however, he expressed disdain for Iberian scientific practice. Barba's discovery, he claimed, should be attributed more to chance than to careful experimentation based on sound scientific principles.

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