Buried Histories: Andean Miners in Early Colonial Huancavelica
As the only source of the mercury needed to refine silver in colonial Peru, the mining center of Huancavelica rose from obscurity to become a pillar of the Spanish imperial project in the Andes in the 1570s. In addition to occupying a central role in the mining economy, the use of forced labor in the toxic environment of the mercury mines made Huancavelica emblematic of the consequences of Spanish colonialism from the sixteenth century onward. Historians and colonial chroniclers alike have cited labor in Huancavelica as one of the most onerous colonial burdens, emphasizing the victimization of Indigenous Andeans who lived and worked in the mines. Recent studies in the environmental history of the mines echo these themes while incorporating new evidence. My research, in contrast, draws on the local archive in Huancavelica to document the importance of Indigenous Andeans not merely as laborers but as mine owners and operators in the early history of the mines. The partnerships between the local Andean population and Spanish entrepreneurs that made mining possible in 1560s laid the foundation for the inclusion of a group of Indigenous miners, known as the Indios Mineros, among those who received and exploited forced labor in the 1570s. Later, when circumstances threatened their position, the Indios Mineros leveraged their services to the crown to secure exemption from forced labor for their communities. The story of the Indios Mineros, visible only in the local documentary record, suggests the wealth of possibilities housed in numerous regional archives that remain in the small towns and villages of the Andes.
Dr. Mark P. Dries is an Instructor of Latin American History at Eastern Illinois University. He received his doctorate in History at the University of California, Davis in 2018. His dissertation, Mercurial Colonialism: Identity and Power in Colonial Huancavelica, Peru, focuses on the social history of the mercury mining center during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Drawing on local archives, Dr. Dries' work challenges outside depictions of Huancavelica by examining the local history of a mining center that played a central role in the colonial project in the Andes. His work has received the generous support of the Fulbright-Hays program, the UC Davis Humanities Institute, the Bilinski Educational Foundation, the Lilly Library, and Department of History at UC Davis.