EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Minerals as lenses to illustrate the relationships between Geology and colonialism

Selby Hearth1 and Carrie Robbins2
Selby Hearth and Carrie Robbins
  • 1Dept. of Geology, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, United States of America (
  • 2Special Collections, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, United States of America

When the core ideas of Geology were being developed in the 19th century, geologists used colonial expeditions for transport, access, data, and -- critically -- specimens. Mineral specimens were sent from colonized and mined localities around the world to centralized collections in Europe and European settler states, forming diverse repositories of minerals, rocks, and fossils that geologists could then draw on without having to leave their home country. The accumulation of these specimens contemporaneously spurred the growth of museums and formed the collections at the heart of object-based pedagogy. As curators of these collections today, how can we use these specimens and their histories to illustrate these connections? This presentation will examine how the Bryn Mawr Mineral Collection is using mineral specimens in cataloging, display, and teaching to provoke reflection on this critical social dimension of our science. One of these strategies has been to recruit student research into mine sites and the provenance and provenience of individual specimens. Activating historical collections in this way helps make them relevant to today’s students. It also helps students recognize that geo-colonialism is not restricted to the past. Lithium, cobalt, and other rare minerals will be central to the production of batteries and anti-carbon technologies for the new “green economy” in the coming decades. It is important that mineral collections begin to use specimens to teach broader social histories of mining, extraction, and Western colonial relationships so that differential distributions of power are taken into account.

How to cite: Hearth, S. and Robbins, C.: Minerals as lenses to illustrate the relationships between Geology and colonialism, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-4443,, 2023.