Social Approaches to an Industrial Past: The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining

By A. Bernard Knapp; Vincent C. Pigott et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

The mining camp as community

William A. Douglass

ABSTRACT

The social anthropological literature on mining is surprisingly sparse. In part this stems from the mining camp’s dubious status as a community with any degree of permanence. Drawing upon field and archival research, the present chapter examines social recruitment to the mining boom triggered by the discovery in 1900 of a rich silver lode in Tonopah, Nevada. It is argued that this discovery and ancillary ones represented the end of an era initiated by the discovery of gold in California in 1848. Half a century later there was an established mining community in the American West disposed to relocate whenever there was a new discovery—in effect a focus without a locus—yet stitched together with kinship, friendship, and business and ethnic ties. Anthropological methodologies—including genealogical reconstruction, network analysis, ethnic stratification and the articulation of part societies with wider social wholes— proved to be particularly effective ways to study the mining camp phenomenon. The approach holds considerable promise for a better understanding of mining history in other periods and world venues.


INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

At first blush, from an anthropological perspective the mining community presents us with a unique scholarly anomaly. Most of the literature regarding it has been generated by historians, both professional and amateur, whereas there are few anthropological treatments. This is so despite anthropology’s notorious fixation upon community studies, a legacy that the discipline has transcended (and then not entirely) only in recent years. Upon closer examination, however, there are logical explanations for anthropology’s relative neglect of the mining community.

First, despite the plethora of anthropological subdisciplines, there has yet to emerge something called ‘industrial anthropology.’ In the modern world, mining is a form of industrial activity conducted in First World settings and by First World economic interests in Third World venues. To the extent that there is

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