Prof. Guy Geltner, 'Towards an Environmental History of Mining in Preindustrial Europe'

23-10-2023 from 14:30 to 15:30
Ghent University, Campus UFo, Henri Pirenne Lecture Room (1st floor), Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 35, 9000 Gent
Stefan Meysman

Invited expert afternoon lecture on medieval mining by Prof. Guy Geltner (Monash University) for the Ghent Medieval Seminar Series

On Monday 23 October (2.30pm), the Henri Pirenne Institute welcomes Prof. Guy Geltner (Monash University, Australia) for the first invited specialist lecture of the 2023-2O24 cycle of the Medieval Seminar Series. Prof. Geltner will deliver a paper titled 'Towards an Environmental History of Mining in Preindustrial Europe'. After the paper there will be time for questions and discussion.

All welcome! Please note that this lecture will take place at the Henri Pirenne Lecture Room on the first floor of the UFo-building (Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 35, 9000 Gent).


While industrial extraction undergirds Euro-American modernisation, globalisation, colonialism and the Anthropocene, it has deep roots in medieval Europe, and specifically in a mining boom that commenced around the late twelfth century. Beyond sketching the contours of this mostly rural and understudied phenomenon, this paper argues, first, that pre-industrial mining profoundly transformed landscapes and ecologies, casting a shadow that accompanies us to this very day; and, secondly, that the communities mining helped create responded to this process in diverse ways, including medically—by developing preventative measures to curb mining's risks, and culturally, by revisiting their perceptions of Nature, or Creation, and humans’ place in it. Preindustrial extraction, in other words, shook the very ground upon which many communities stood, both cognitively and geochemically, yet it is a phenomenon that, outside specialists circles, remains largely unknown. In part this has to do with the type of evidence miners and their observers left behind (or didn’t), which requires a combination of methods and specialisations that sometimes sit together awkwardly. My talk will reflect on the challenges of working across history, landscape archaeology and the paleo-sciences, and the rewards of reviving rare but often typical non-elite voices from the countryside.


Prof. Guy Geltner is a social and urban historian of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, who has particularly worked on the archival record of the Italian city states of that period. Perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work on the history of crime, punishment, and especially incarceration (see a.o. his The Medieval Prison: A Social History, 2014), he has a notably broad and comparative research interest and has also written extensively on the mendicant orders, urban policing and medieval public health and hygiene. This last strand led him to engage intensively with a variety of (bio)archaeological evidence, which in turn informed his latest project on the environmental and social history of preindustrial mining.