The extraction of mineral resources has sharply increased over the past hundred years, and the ongoing transition to “green energy” is driving demand for minerals such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt. SCARCE provides a critical history of today's stakeholder conflicts by showing how contradictory principles of resource management – economic development, sustainability, and technological innovation – were forged in proto-industrial settings. It explores alternative, historical ways of provisioning for communities, making them available for current debates on environmental degradation and climate emergency.

SCARCE will analyse thousands of archival documents about mining in proto-industrial (East) Central Europe, using automated text recognition and a new method based on historical epistemology. Mining is high-stakes case that sits squarely at the intersection of debates in the history of science and technology, social and economic history, and environmental history. In Central Europe, the sector entered a crisis around 1550, prompting the rise of specialized bureaucracies staffed with skilled scientists and expert workers. This provided a rare socio-economic niche in which theoretical and practical knowledge interacted and merged. Through collaborations, SCARCE will establish how Central Europe compared with Iberian America, West Africa, and East Asia, and explore how metal-mining regions across the early modern world were increasingly entangled through trade and colonial extraction. 

This case, within its European and global entanglements, allows us to answer urgent questions across a range of fields: How did labour rationalization and joint ownership – building blocks of modern capitalism – emerge in locations outside of Atlantic commercial societies? How did administrative procedures (accounting, reporting) shape scientists/technicians’ understanding of natural processes? And how did the contradictions of extracting non-renewable resources shape modern sustainability thinking?

SCARCE is hosted by the History Department, which in turn is part of the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies. Team members will work closely with colleagues from the Key Research Area History of Science.

The advisory board consists of Pamela Smith (Columbia University), Oscar Gelderblom (University of Antwerp), Ulinka Rublack (University of Cambridge), and Andrew Mendelsohn (Queen Mary University London).

The official starting date of this project is 1 November 2023. The text of this homepage is adapted from the grant proposal and serves to inform collaborators and prospective team members about our objectives, approach, and structure. Download the project homepage as a PDF document here.

Contact: PI Sebastian Felten,

Funded by the European Union (ERC, SCARCE, Grant number 101076422). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.