Faculty of Education and Arts

CRCAH Director invited to gold mining and global history conference at University of Oxford

In April Federation University Australia historian and Collaborative Research Centre in Australian History (CRCAH) Director Professor Keir Reeves was invited to present on regional connections at the Gold Rush Imperialism: Gold Mining and Global History in the Age of Imperialism, c.1848-1914 conference hosted by the Rothermere American Institute and the Oxford Centre for Global History at the University of Oxford. Keir presented his paper,'Exploring the regional and international historical connections of the nineteenth century South-West Pacific gold rushes,' and chaired a keynote address.Keynote speakers included globally renowned New Zealand Professor James Belich (based at Balliol, Oxford) and Professor Mae Ngai (Columbia University). A number of key Australian and New Zealand mining historians, including Gippsland based Professor Erik Eklund, who is currently in Dublin as the Keith Cameron visiting Professor of Australian History, were in attendance. The conference looked at how the transformative power of nineteenth and early twentieth century gold rushes has long been accepted by historians. For successive generations of scholars, the desire to better understand the gold rush phenomenon – its drivers and its effects – has provided a rich field for historical exploration from global and transnational perspectives. This conference brought to the fore the global, transnational and imperial dimensions of gold rushes.

From the end of 1840s down to 1914 gold rushes played a key role in shaping the course of global history. They connected regions, nations and empires via complex communications, information and migration networks; financial and trading relationships; and systems of extraction, coercion and imperial expansion. The drive to exploit new discoveries fostered transnational and trans-regional flows of capital, labour, technology, culture and politics. In the goldfields themselves, rushes could initiate profound and complex processes of political, social and economic change. Gold might bring with it a new sense of cosmopolitanism, freedom and economic opportunity. Alternatively it might incite political, social and racial tensions, reinforce systems of coercion, and prompt the imposition of new ones. On the ground lived experiences were vast and varied, but bound together as part of gold rush imperialism.

Key themes included:

  • Capital: speculative bubbles, joint stock companies, and the City of London 
  • International engineers and geologists
  • Global institutions: consultancies, exploration companies, mining institutes, and technical schools
  • Causes: celebrity, rumour, and romance
  • Colonial frontiers: Californian '48ers, the Eureka Stockade, South African Wars
  • Labour: mining culture and technologies, trade unionism, and health
  • Migration and race relations
  • Camp culture: social organisation, gender and race relations, property rights
  • Law and order: policing, pass systems, and local power relations
  • Goldfields environments: impacts of hydraulic mining, river dredging, and the treatment of "slimes"
  • After the rush: from boom town to ghost town

CRCAH at Federation University Australia looks forward to playing a role in the next conference and showcasing the FedUni's research strengths in Australian mining history. The conference was organized by Corpus Christi College, Oxford based historian Dr Benjamin Mountford who is visiting CRCAH at Federation University this month. Part of Professor Reeves' research trip to the United Kingdom included negotiating a research exchange with the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King's College London.