“Sixteen Tons”: A U.S. and South African Mineworkers’ Archive

Unfortunately, the world tends to forget the story of the working class and labor history – especially in the domain of the mining industry. This is particularly evident at many industrial museums, such as the De Beers Mining Museum in Kimberly, South African. The story of the mineworkers, their families, and their communities is hidden behind the celebrated legacy of a successful company and its founder Cecil Rhodes, whose “ambition, enterprise, and vision” helped to tame the “madness and mayhem” of the frontier. The mining museum does little to inform visitors of the dangerous and often deadly conditions that thousands of men partook in

on a daily basis, and there is no tribute from De Beers honoring the countless workers lost while in the mines.

Created by Micallee Sullivan (PhD Candidate, History) as a complement to her dissertation work, the Sixteen Tons digital archive tells the story of these workers, their families, and their communities by creating a public archive and online exhibit that documents the history of two mining towns. In Clifton-Morenci, Arizona, the copper company, Phelps Dodge created an economic and political stronghold over the community and workers that paralleled the strength of the De Beers company in South Africa. Yet, mineworkers, their families, and the communities in each of these areas modified, shaped, contested, and sometimes resisted this economic and political control. This digital archive will focus on the rank and file workers of these two mining districts both in and out of the workplace and draw attention to how workers created their own identities, communities, and forms of resistance to counter the economic and political control of two powerful mining companies.

The ultimate goal of the Sixteen Tons digital archive is to provide an educational tool for teachers and students who are interested in studying a range of topics in history including labor, migration, community, gender, citizenship, colonialism, and comparative history. Each topic that archive explores contains a written overview, photographs and primary sources, and recommended teaching topics. The project also is designed to provide accessible information on mining and labor history to a broader public audience outside of academia.


Posted on

October 19, 2018

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