Seeing Underground: Maps, Models and Mining Engineering in America




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Eric Nystrom never really intended to study mining history. But his fascination with an underground mining map he found in a Smithsonian storeroom—and the fact that it wasn’t nearly as filthy and sooty as it should have been—changed all that.

Through his research, Nystrom, associate professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts, realized that this map, and many others, weren’t actually being used by miners but by mining engineers who were able to “see” underground and bear witness to a new visual culture, the growth of a new profession and the creation of a modern industry.

Seeing Underground: Maps, Models and Mining Engineering in America sheds light on the age of industrial mining in the United States and illustrates how maps and models helped the mining engineers gain authority over mining operations,” said Nystrom. “These extraordinary maps—often like works of modern art—became necessary tools in creating and controlling those spaces, making mining more predictable and profitable. They were also used at exhibitions and museums to educate the public on the importance of this industry. In short, they helped make mining engineering into a modern profession.”

Nystrom’s book also shows how specific developments in mining maps and models were impacted by safety regulations, helped understand complex geology and settled high-stakes litigation cases.

“These mining maps and models seem so mysterious, but might teach us much today. My hope is that the book also helps readers reflect on the origins of their own practices and disciplines.”