Gold & Mercury | Metals in Transit


7 - 10 June 2022

Venue: Lorentz Center@Snellius

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Gold & Mercury | Metals in Transit is an interdisciplinary workshop that convenes scholars working at the intersections of science, artisanal practice, and humanities. This research project is the first to present a comparative examination of gold and mercury, how their entwined chemical histories have reshaped cultures, bodies, and environments across the millennia to our present time. From June 7–10, 2022, we will probe the meanings and contexts behind the products and controversies that the chemical connection between gold and mercury sets up. We will challenge the vaunted status of gold and its association with such human constructs as wealth, beauty, spirituality, and purity in addressing the uncomfortable ethical questions that have always attended its commerce. 

The workshop presents an important opportunity to support the production of “Gold & Mercury: Amalgamated Histories in Chemistry, Culture, and Environment,” a Special Issue in Ambix: The Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry scheduled for publication in February 2023. Workshop participants will profit from the opportunity to share works-in-progress and elicit valuable, cross-disciplinary feedback from the group through roundtables scheduled to take place during the week of the workshop. So, from one perspective the workshop is timed to convene Special Issue contributors and present their draft preparations for peer review in July 2022. 

That said, the benefit of mobilizing international networks for Gold & Mercury at the Lorentz Center extends beyond support for the Ambix Special Issue. The workshop aims to spark the development of a new, socially impactful historiography in the cultural history of chemistry, technology, resources, and sustainability in which knowledge gained from linking artisanal creation with humanities research can be applied to addressing current issues and controversies affecting industry, environment, and society. Post-workshop outputs might include production of a podcast series based on the conversations and insights generated by our group, and an art exhibition that (for example) combines jewellery and photography to explore the bodily, environmental, and socio-cultural issues that get pulled into the wake of mercury-gold amalgamation mining—among other possibilities. 

Our work together in June has the potential to articulate a connection between humanities research and artisanal practice—and through this, to industry. Doing so opens up important, socially impactful conversations about the future of gold in society.


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