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Swansea Copper

A Global History

Eighteenth-century Swansea, Wales, was to copper what nineteenth-century Manchester was to cotton or twentieth-century Detroit to the automobile. Beginning around 1700, Swansea became the place where a revolutionary new method of smelting copper, later christened the Welsh Process, flourished. Using mineral coal as a source of energy, Swansea's smelters were able to produce copper in volumes that were quite unthinkable in the old, established smelting centers of central Europe and Scandinavia. After some tentative first steps, the Swansea district became a smelting center of European, then global, importance. Between the 1770s and the 1840s, the Swansea district routinely produced one-third of the world's smelted copper, sometimes more.

In Swansea Copper, Chris Evans and Louise Miskell trace the history of copper making in Britain from the late seventeenth century, when the Welsh Process transformed Britain's copper industry, to the 1890s, when Swansea's reign as the dominant player in the world copper trade entered an absolute decline. Moving backward and forward in time, Evans and Miskell begin by examining the place of copper in baroque Europe, surveying the productive landscape into which Swansea Copper erupted and detailing the means by which it did so. They explain how Swansea copper achieved global dominance in the years between the Seven Years' War and Waterloo, explore new commercial regulations that allowed the importation to Britain of copper ore from around the world, and connect the rise of the copper trade to the rise of the transatlantic slave trade. They also examine the competing rise of the post–Civil War US copper industry.

Whereas many contributions to global history focus on high-end consumer goods—Chinese ceramics, Indian cottons, and the like—Swansea Copper examines a producer good, a metal that played a key role in supporting new technologies of the industrial age, like steam power and electricity. Deftly showing how deeply mineral history is ingrained in the history of the modern world, Evans and Miskell present new research not just on Swansea itself but on the places its copper industry affected: mining towns in Cuba, Chile, southern Africa, and South Australia. This insightful book will be of interest to anyone concerned with the historical roots of globalization and the Industrial Revolution as a global phenomenon.

About the Authors

Chris Evans is a professor of history at the University of South Wales. He is the author of Slave Wales: The Welsh and Atlantic Slavery, 1660–1850 and the coauthor of Baltic Iron in the Atlantic World in the Eighteenth Century. Louise Miskell is a professor of history at Swansea University. She is the author of "Intelligent Town": An Urban History of Swansea, 1780–1855 and the editor of New Perspectives on Welsh Industrial History.

Endorsements

"An exceptionally interesting addition to the study of the economic, social, and industrial history of modernity. Ranging over a long period and many localities, Swansea Copper is beautifully written."

- Kristine Bruland, University of Oslo, editor of Essays on Industrialisation in France, Norway and Spain

"There is no comparable history of copper manufacturing in any part of the world or at any period that places it at the center of a global system of competition. This book can be seen as a key contribution, one that will easily find a wide readership beyond economic historians and those interested only in the history of copper or metals processing and manufacture. Extremely well written; an engaging and fascinating read."

- Pat Hudson, Cardiff University, coeditor of Routledge Handbook of Global Economic History

"This powerful book represents the culmination of several research projects that consider the copper industry in a global framework, well before the so-called First Globalization of c. 1870 to 1914. It makes valuable scholarly contributions in diverse fields, including the histories of globalization, commodity chains, slavery, and international trade, as well as local Welsh history."

- Manuel Llorca-Jaña, Universidad de Valparaíso, author of The Globalization of Merchant Banking before 1850: The Case of Huth & Co.

"This well-written, long-awaited study draws attention to a neglected subject: the role of the metal trades in the making of the modern world. The authors persuasively insert copper into recent discussions on capitalism, technology, institutions, and labor. A necessary read for anyone interested in the global development of modern society."

- Göran Rydén, Uppsala University, editor of Sweden in the Eighteenth-Century World: Provincial Cosmopolitans

"A ground-breaking account of the local roots and international reach of a profoundly important facet of the Industrial Revolution, Swansea Copper interweaves technological, commercial, social, and cultural narratives in a brilliant exemplar of global and transnational historical scholarship. Evans and Miskell are to be congratulated on a stunning achievement in writing this fascinating history across (and beneath) the surface of the Earth."

- Chris Williams, University College Cork, editor of The Richard Burton Diaries
Johns Hopkins University Press
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