On gold, settler colonial expansion, and exogenous alterities: Mae M. Ngai, ‘Chinese Gold Miners and the “Chinese Question” in Nineteenth-Century California and Victoria’, Journal of American History, 101, 4, 2015, pp. 1082-1105


Extract:  During the second half of the nineteenth century the largest gold deposits yet known in the world were discovered in the American West, Australasia, South Africa, and western Canada. From 1848 to 1891 a series of gold rushes—quick, short-term bonanzas (or failures) for individual miners—swept those regions, drawing hundreds of thousands of gold seekers from around the world. In fewer than fifty years miners and mining companies extracted from the earth some 435 million ounces of gold—more than the total that had been mined in the previous three thousand years. The sudden increase in world gold production in the late nineteenth century was produced by Anglo-American settler colonialism and capitalist development. Since ancient times gold has been valued for its beauty and purity. Indigenous populations on the settler-colonial frontiers were long aware of alluvial gold deposits in their midst, but they did not value gold as a money commodity. Thus, gold rushes furthered the dispossession of native peoples and transformed the Pacific worlds where gold was discovered, as well as the global economy. Sustained exploration and extraction required capital investment, deep-mining technology, mass labor migration, and long-distance transportation. Such activity accelerated the economic development of the gold-mining regions and strengthened the international financial power of Great Britain and the United States as creditor and investor nations.

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