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Brown Bag Talk: Nathan Kapoor on “Grounding Empire: The Electrification of Mining in Late- Nineteenth Century New Zealand”

Photograph of the dynamo at Bullendale, New Zealand

Nathan Kapoor is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of the History of Science at the University of Oklahoma. His dissertation examines the electrification of New Zealand.

Abstract: In 1884, the Phoenix Mine installed a hydroelectric scheme to power mining equipment and provide electric lighting. It was to be the first of its kind in New Zealand and, according to some, the world. For the miners and investors in that region, electricity offered a way to put mines in new locations and uncover the country’s mineral wealth. New Zealand’s electrification helped fulfill its status as a productive colony and a desire to increase self-sufficiency. Electricity fueled the hope for building a “better Britain.”

Histories of electrification center on well-worn concerns like public lighting and electrically-powered appliances, and they seldom concern peripheral spaces such as New Zealand. Early applications of electric power in mining remains understudied. The success of electric power in New Zealand was not simply a result of an enthusiasm for electric power or modernity. Electricity promised to better extractive industries and make the colony more economically viable and serve imperial desires. As much as New Zealand tries to separate itself from its imperial past, it is worth considering how these systems were connected to imperial initiatives, and how the electric infrastructure evolved favoring imperial trends that manifest in the country’s energy decisions.

Sponsored by the Department of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst