Imagining and Transforming the Underground: Towards a Cultural History of the Mine (Conference Announcement and CFP)


From carceral underworld to proletarian vanguard, the unique status of the mine as a site of labour and social upheaval transcends centuries and cultures. Whether directed towards the extraction of precious metals for growing Nation States, or coal for the surging energy demands of the Industrial Age, the mine has always been a space of political and social significance. In its early days, mineralogy was an imperfect science, rife with myth, supernatural entities and amateur methods of extraction. Mines were part of the “secrets of nature”, both physically dangerous for the labourers below and morally dangerous for the societies above. In more modern times, industrialisation meant the expansion of mining and the rationalisation of exploitation practices. Not only miners and engineers, but writers, philosophers and artists, have all contributed to the history of the mine as an eminently cultural space. How is the mine imagined as a space of social and political relationships? What were the narratives that contributed to the reimagining of the mine as a space of innovation, transformation and empowerment? 

This one-day interdisciplinary conference seeks to uncover the rich depictions of mining and uncover its historical imaginings in the early modern to contemporary worlds. We welcome 200-word proposals in English or French for 20 minute papers from diverse backgrounds (historical, literary, political, sociological, anthropological, etc.) and who study any area of the globe. Please send your proposals no later than 30 December 2016 to Richard Spavin ( and Matthew Kerry (, along with a short biography, describing research interests and listing previous publications. Proposals may focus on one or more of the following:

●        Danger, fear and emotion in cultural representations of mining;

●        Property claims, royal privileges, legal rights, indigeneity;

●        Perceptions of the mine over technological change and innovation;

●        Mines within folklore, superstition and wider belief systems;

●        Deindustrialisation, decay and the recoding of mineral zones;

●       The mine as imagined in the long term, with regards to sustainability, depletion and the environment.