A World of Copper: About

The World of Copper project is led by Chris Evans, Professor of History at the University of South Wales.

Project Rationale

A 'new global history' has been a major feature of historical writing in recent years. Dramatic shifts in the balance of power within the modern world economy have been the backdrop to a rethinking of the global past. Traditional narratives about the coming of modernity, narratives that focused on the 'West' and the industrial transformations of the nineteenth century, have fallen from favour. Instead, historians have adopted a longer time frame, taking in the early modern era, and concentrated on the relationship between Europe and Asia. The gains in understanding have been considerable, but the new scholarship has difficulty in accommodating some hard-to-ignore features of the older narrative. This project will re-integrate British heavy industry, once centre stage in the traditional telling of the nineteenth century, into the new global history.

Between 1830 and 1870 the Swansea district in South Wales became the hub of the world’s first globally integrated heavy industry. Swansea's copper smelters, who often accounted for 50% of world output in these decades, drew ore from Australia, Chile, Cuba and elsewhere. 'Swansea copper' was a truly global phenomenon, involving mining complexes on different continents and the mobilisation of capital, labour and technology across immense distances. As such, Swansea copper was a strikingly early example of transnationalism at work.

However, Swansea copper has never been considered as an historical totality. Each of the component parts of the mining-smelting complex has a literature – fairly substantial in the case of Chile, much slimmer elsewhere – but these sub-literatures remain separate and unconnected. By studying the Swansea-centred copper industry as a whole, this project broaches issues that are of compelling importance in social science: the problems of transnational corporate governance, the nature of technological transfer and hybridity, the elaboration of diasporic identities, and the impact of modernity in peripheral/frontier zones of the world economy.

Key Facts

  • Project title: A World of Copper: Globalising the Industrial Revolution, 1830-1870
  • Funded by the Leverhulme Trust's International Networks scheme
  • Total funding: £122,000
  • Duration: January 2012-June 2013
  • Led by Prof. Chris Evans, Division of History, University of South Wales
  • Network Facilitator: Dr. Olivia Saunders, Division of History, University of South Wales
  • Brings together research partners from within the UK (University of South Wales, Swansea University, University of Exeter) and overseas (University of Western Australia, University of Santiago de Chile, University of Toulouse-Le Mirail)