Gold Vs. Grain: Ancillary Ecologies of Hydraulic Mining in California

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It has been more than 50 years since Robert Kelly’s Gold Vs. Grain (1959); a study of the hydraulic mining controversy in California’s Sacramento Valley in the 1870s and 1880s. Kelly’s gold vs grain couplet aligns with a broader Enlightenment-based culture-nature dichotomy that appears in this and similar accounts that depict hydraulic mining as an enterprise of ecological erasure. This paper works against those framings by exposing the ancillary and accidental ecologies of hydraulic mining during its years of operation on the San Juan Ridge and, more recently, in its staging as industrial heritage within a State Historic Park. Archive material from hydraulic advocates claiming their mining waste to be a fertiliser, weed killer, growth medium and drainage enhancer, accompanies more recent management guidelines on planting to spotlight the vegetative agencies typically left out in ‘anti-natural’ hydraulic mining histories. The amodern, trans-natural, machinic ecologies of anthropocene research, and the emerging geohumanities movement demands that we attend to nature through bodies, forces and affects rather than treat it as an external realm. One way of contributing to that effort is by challenging the conceit wrapped up in stories of nature’s removal with instances of presence and persistence
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe American Environment Revisited
EditorsYolanda Youngs, Geoffrey Buckley
PublisherRowman & Littlefield
ISBN (Print)978-1442269965, 1442269960
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2018


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