Seeing Underground
Maps, Models, and Mining Engineering in America

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Author: Eric C. Nystrom

Format: Paper
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780874170078
Published Date: 2016

Digging mineral wealth from the ground dates to prehistoric times, and Europeans pursued mining in the Americas from the earliest colonial days. Prior to the Civil War, little mining was deep enough to require maps. However, the major finds of the mid-nineteenth century, such as the Comstock Lode, were vastly larger than any before in America. In Seeing Underground, Nystrom argues that, as industrial mining came of age in the United States, the development of maps and models gave power to a new visual culture and allowed mining engineers to advance their profession, gaining authority over mining operations from the miners themselves.

Starting in the late nineteenth century, mining engineers developed a new set of practices, artifacts, and discourses to visualize complex, pitch-dark three-dimensional spaces. These maps and models became necessary tools in creating and controlling those spaces. They made mining more understandable, predictable, and profitable. Nystrom shows that this new visual culture was crucial to specific developments in American mining, such as implementing new safety regulations after the Avondale, Pennsylvania fire of 1869 killed 110 men and boys; understanding complex geology, as in the rich ores of Butte, Montana; and settling high-stakes litigation, such as the Tonopah, Nevada, Jim Butler v. West End lawsuit, which reached the US Supreme Court.

Nystrom demonstrates that these neglected artifacts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have much to teach us today. The development of a visual culture helped create a new professional class of mining engineers and changed how mining was done. Seeing Undergound is the winner of the 2015 Mining History Association’s Clark Spence Award for the best book on mining history.

Author Bio
Eric C. Nystrom is a historian in the College of Science and Letters at Arizona State University. He is the editor of Mining History News and the author of ”Underground Photography and American Mining before 1920,” which won the 2010 John Townley Award for best journal article from the Mining History Association.

“No previous historian has attempted anything like Nystrom’s study. This book will be the standard reference for information on the history of mine mapping for years to come.” —Terry Reynolds, Professor of history, Emeritus, at Michigan Technological University

“There are no other works that explore maps and models and their relationship with the industrialization of mining—it is a significant contribution.” —David Wolff, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Black Hills State University

"Eric Nystrom’s book is a welcome addition to understanding American underground and anthracite mining technology and engineering and its professionalization in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries. The historiographical explorations make it a valuable contribution to the history of science as well as technology." —Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society