Renaissance Underground: Women's Knowledge, German Miners, and Sustainability in the Medici Mines
2023-2024 (January - June)
Gabriele Marcon received his PhD from the European University Institute in Florence in 2022. He has held positions as a Lecturer in Early Modern European History at Durham University (UK) and as a Teaching Fellow at the University of Padova. His research focuses on the social and economic history of mining in Early Modern Europe, with a particular emphasis on labour migration, women's work, and natural resources in Renaissance Italy. Marcon has authored articles and book chapters exploring topics such as wage negotiation, coercion, and labour mobility in early modern mines. Currently, he is working on his first monograph, tentatively titled "Renaissance Underground: Labour, Gender, and Science in Early Modern Italy."
This project explores sustainable practices in pre-industrial mining sites from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Using the lens of labour history and the history of science, it aims to understand the contribution of female miners and German experts to sustainability in the mining districts of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In the sixteenth century, the Medici mining initiatives extracted metals such as alum, lead, and silver from mines in Massa Marittima, Campiglia, and Pietrasanta. To increase productivity, Medici officials recruited skilled miners from the German-speaking lands, and employed women in coerced, low-paid, gendered, and unskilled labour regardless of their provenance. The project relies on a wide range of German and Italian sources housed in the Florence State Archive, which shed light on labour and scientific practices related to sustainability. Court cases, letters, and mining reports will be used to show women’s engagement with natural resources and the hands-on knowledge of German experts regarding the natural and built environment. By zooming out from top-down sustainable solutions brought about by expanding economic and mercantile industries, the project aims to reclaim the cultural, folkloristic, and place-based knowledge of male and female workers at the centre of the relationship between humans and nature.