Silver Veins, Dusty Lungs


Silver Veins, Dusty Lungs

Mining, Water, and Public Health in Zacatecas, 1835–1946

Rocio Gomez

The Mexican Experience Series

294 pages
14 photographs, 2 maps, 3 tables, 3 graphs, index


July 2020


$60.00 Add to Cart

July 2020


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

July 2020


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

July 2020


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

2021 Elinor Melville Prize for Latin American Environmental History
Honorable Mention for the 2021 Best Book of Social Science from the LASA Mexico Section Awards 

In Mexico environmental struggles have been fought since the nineteenth century in such places as Zacatecas, where United States and European mining interests have come into open conflict with rural and city residents over water access, environmental health concerns, and disease compensation.

In Silver Veins, Dusty Lungs, Rocio Gomez examines the detrimental effects of the silver mining industry on water resources and public health in the city of Zacatecas and argues that the human labor necessary to the mining industry made the worker and the mine inseparable through the land, water, and air. Tensions arose between farmers and the mining industry over water access while the city struggled with mudslides, droughts, and water source contamination. Silicosis-tuberculosis, along with accidents caused by mining technologies like jackhammers and ore-crushers, debilitated scores of miners. By emphasizing the perspective of water and public health, Gomez illustrates that the human body and the environment are not separate entities but rather in a state of constant interaction.

Author Bio

Rocio Gomez is Dr. and Mrs. Harold Greer Jr. Assistant Professor in Latin American History at Virginia Commonwealth University. She won the 2019 Edwin Lieuwen Award for promotion of excellence in the teaching of Latin American studies from the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies.


“Tracing the ‘ecology of extraction,’ Gomez brilliantly connects the ecosystems of city, mountain, body, and microbe into a comprehensive and compelling story. . . . In doing so, Gomez reminds us that silver mining haunts the past and the present of Zacatecas and that reckoning with those legacies greatly enhances our understandings of Mexican history and our capacity to imagine a more just and sustainable future.”—Emily Wakild, author of Revolutionary Parks: Conservation, Social Justice, and Mexico’s National Parks, 1910–1940

“What Gomez uncovered is not pretty, but it is important not only for environmental history but for all mining communities today.”—Myrna Santiago, author of The Ecology of Oil: Environment, Labor, and the Mexican Revolution, 1900–1938

“This book traces a previously unexplored aspect of the storied silver mines of Zacatecas. Long after the colonial bonanza had faded, the mines found new life thanks to new technology and foreign capital. Rocio Gomez shows how the mining renaissance created toxic environments that permeated the bodies of those who lived and worked above ground and below, even as it poisoned the waters on the people of arid Zacatecas depended. Silver Veins, Dusty Lungs is a major contribution to Mexican environmental history, to history of public health, and—most important—to our understanding of the relationship between the two.”—Chris Boyer, author of Political Landscapes: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico

“Well researched. . . . Focusing on the emblematic case of Zacatecas, [this book] expands our understanding of, and should appeal to a broad set of readers interested in, this important topic.”—Mikael D. Wolfe, author of Watering the Revolution: An Environmental and Technological History of Agrarian Reform in Mexico

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
A Note about Mine Names    
1. Underground Bodies: Extraction, Exposure, and Dissection    
2. The Home: Drought, Wells, and Bodies of Water    
3. The City: The Mine and the Body    
4. The Body as Land: Water, Mining, and the Revolution    
5. The Body as Nation: Silicosis-Tuberculosis, Unions, and Revolutionary Death    
Conclusion: Toxic Legacies    


2021 Elinor Melville Prize for Latin American Environmental History
Honorable Mention for the 2021 Best Book of Social Science from the LASA Mexico Section Awards