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The Alchemy of Modernity. Alonso Barba's Copper Cauldrons and the Independence of Bolivian Metallurgy (1790–1890)

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Artículo de revistaPlatt, Tristan The Alchemy of Modernity. Alonso Barba's Copper Cauldrons and the Independence of Bolivian Metallurgy (1790–1890). [Trad. La Alquimia de la Modernidad. Calderas de Cobre y la Independencia de la Metalurgia Boliviana (1790-1890)] Journal of Latin American Studies, 2000 vol. 32 no. 1 p. 1-53. Palabras claves:
América del Sur
Bolivia
Economía, Empresas, Industria | Historia

Resumen:

A linear mode of historical understanding relegated alchemy to a ‘pre-scientific’ era, with the enlightenment's New Chemistry creating a break between ‘empirical’ and ‘scientific’ metallurgies. Similarly, Bolivia's early Republican silver-production has been regarded as ‘stagnant’ and ‘colonial’ from the ‘modern’ perspective of late nineteenth century liberalism. This article questions both periodisations by documenting an ‘alchemical renaissance’ in Bolivian silver-refining methods during the first part of the 19th century. The relaunch of Alonso Barba's ‘hot method’ of amalgamation in copper cauldrons (1609), and its associated technical discourses, expressed a creole desire for an independent ‘modernity’. This rediscovery of a seventeenth century technology, carried out shortly before the Independence War in the Potosí provinces (Chichas), and slightly later in Oruro and Carangas, is distinguished from the version reinvented in Central Europe by Ignaz von Born (1786), as well as from two pre-Bornian experiments in Potosí and New Spain. Its nineteenth century consolidation was, in part, a little-known reaction to Nordenflicht's failure to introduce the new European method of rotating barrels to the Andes during the 1790s. The article shows that this ‘alchemy of modernity’ held its ground for several decades, suggesting a fresh approach to America's postcolonial ambiguities from the perspective of a comparative history of technology.

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