CfP: Material Cultures of Mining

Call for papers, deadline 15 June 2019

December 5-7, 2019

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum (Germany).

The history of mining spans millennia. Given the lack of other sources, it is overwhelmingly a history of (archaeological) artifacts. In contrast, the abundance of written sources in the modern era has largely diverted the historiographic view from considering objects and artefacts. This is especially true in the case of industrialized mining in the 19th and 20th centuries. Accordingly, there has little work been done so far in terms of a methodology to integrate and approach the material heritage of mining both in historiographic and museal practice.

Researching objects is always shaped by an ambiguous balance between materiality and the allocation of meaning. As artefacts they are entangled in networks of human-nonhuman relationships which are reflected in specific forms of knowledge and usage. Rather than being static or autonomous, objects can be understood as „temporary bundles of matter, energy and information“ (Hodder) which are subject to change. Even in archaeology itself historical artefacts are seen as „assemblages“, bound together in both synchronous and diachronous relations between things and between things and their social uses.

At the same time, objects have a material functionality. Thus, experimental reconstructions can provide insights into the ways of production and uses of an object. Likewise, the interpretation and analysis of signs of use in archaeology is based on the essential materiality of an object. Furthermore, object research is not necessarily restricted to individual artefacts but can involve groups of objects in order to gather information on similarities and differences, lines of development etc.

The conference aims to discuss new approaches in the study of material culture and see whether and to what extent such approaches can be usefully applied to the history of mining. We intend to encourage a cross-disciplinary debate among historians of mining, technology and science as well as contemporary historians, museologists and archaeologists.

Contributions should potentially focus on the following themes:

  • Objects of knowledge:
    Mining objects are part and parcel of mining related vocational training and education, e.g. the use of geological and technical models in mining colleges and schools. At the same time, the history of their subsequent uses, storage and collection histories can shed light on changing allocations of meaning. The integration of mining objects, visitors’ mines and dioramas into the museum sphere constitutes a further aspect of knowledge production through objects.
  • Objects of memory: 
    Often, artefacts such as mining banners or representations of Saint Barbara define a cross point between individual memory and an industry related memorial culture. On the one hand, the specific narratives and constructions of history linked with these objects can be analyzed; on the other hand one could ask for the institutional frameworks in which collecting and presenting these objects is constituted.
  • Everyday objects:
    By everyday objects we mean mass produced, serial and standardized objects. The thermoplastic hard hat, for instance, stands in for a specific history of health and safety underground. What is the role of such objects in the history of mining and what can the potential traces of the everyday tell us about the tensions between standards and norms on the, one hand, and lived practice, on the other?
  • Technical objects:
    Technology objects constitute a central part of most historical mining collections, from tools and machinery to mining architecture above and below the surface. To what extent does materiality and form add to our knowledge about the specific mining historical contexts (e.g. the role of materials such as plastics and aluminium agents of change)?

The international conference will take place from December 5th to 7th 2019 at the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum. It is organized by the Montanhistorisches Dokumentationszentrum (Mining History Document Centre) – short form: montan.dok – at the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum.

The conference will be held in German and English.

Please submit your paper proposal as an abstract of no more than 500 words and a CV until June 15th 2019 to Dr. Stefan Siemer ( Selection of the proposals is scheduled for June 2019, notification by July 15th 2019 latest.

The organizers can cover basic expenses for travel and accommodation for accepted contributors. It is intended to publish the contributions of the conference.


  • Breidbach, Olaf (Hrsg.): Experimentelle Wissenschaftsgeschichte, München/Paderborn 2010 (= Laboratorium Aufklärung, 3).
  • Daston, Loraine (Hrsg.): Things That Talk. Object Lessons from Art and Science, New York 2004.
  • Hodder, Ian: Entangled. An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things, New York 2012.
  • Joyce, Rosemary/Pollard, Joshua: Archaeological assemblages and practices of deposition, in: Hicks, Dan/Beaudry, Mary C. (Hrsg.): The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies, Oxford 2010, S. 291-309.
  • LeCain, Timothy J.: The Matter of History. How things create the past, Cambridge 2017.
  • Ludwig, Andreas: Materielle Kultur, Version: 1.0, in: Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte, 30.05.2011,


Dr Stefan Siemer
Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum
Mining History Document Centre
Am Bergbaumuseum 28
44791 Bochum 
Tel.: +49 (0) 234 5877 158