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CSS Colloquium: Jenny Bulstrode, University College London

Dust and debt, coal scars and 'the coalskill'

Info about event


Wednesday 7 December 2022,  at 14:15 - 15:45


1531-215 (D3)


Drawing on technofossils, artworks and instruments from the end of the fifteenth century to the present day, this paper considers what it might mean to research the history of coal knowledge from marginalised perspectives. Tracing a trail of coal dust from Wales and the West Midlands to India and the West Indies, every episode reveals differing meanings and significances. What coal is and what coal means depends on who you ask. This local character of coal is asserted in opposition to the universalising claims of dominant ways of knowing. Claims that have had devastating consequences. Nineteenth-century notions of coal as a universal fuel and the extreme extraction of steam capitalism as a natural and inevitable tendency live on in the governing principle of twentieth and twenty-first century ‘develop-man’ economics - the development of debt that continues old colonial extraction and unfree labour in new forms. Articulating this history but not defined by it, coal had and continues to have a different primary meaning in Jamaica to the one in Britain. The people who made coal science in eighteenth-century Jamaica did so for their own purposes and within their own frameworks of meaning. This history and the history of debt are both elements in the meaning of coal for many Jamaicans today. This concern has motivated a new collaboration with independent researcher, Dr Sheray Warmington, launched to combine archival and material culture analyses of UK-based Jamaican collections with practitioner interviews in Jamaica. The research develops critical social and historical perspectives on the practices and purposes of coal and ‘the coalskill’ for Indigenous Jamaicans, past and present.

Coffee, tea, cakes and fruit will be served before the colloquium @ 2 pm.