19 Oct 2023 17:00 - 19:00 Change of room to S1, 1st floor, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road


An event by the Military Surplus: Toxicity, Industry and War research network

The event will take place in the seminar S1, 1st floor instead of SG2


  • Peter Hinterndorfer (University of Vienna) in conversation with
  • Layla Renshaw (Kingston University)


Camille Westmont (University of Cambridge)


Peter Hinterndorfer
‘Tunnels, camps, and ruined factories – the difficult heritage of national socialist forced labour and armaments production in Austria’

The incarceration and enslavement of millions of forced labourers and concentration camp prisoners by the Nazi regime not only served as an instrument of terror and oppression, but also played a crucial role in German arms production during the Second World War. This involved adapting existing factories to the war industry, building new facilities, and establishing forced camps in the immediate vicinity of the production sites. Among the most significant infrastructural relics of this period in Austria are several tunnel systems that concentration camp prisoners were forced to build in the late stages of the war for the continued production of war materials after Allied bombing had already damaged large above-ground complexes of the armaments industry. This paper will discuss these sites and material traces within the framework of historical archaeology. Partly reused, partly destroyed, partly abandoned and forgotten, these material remains of National Socialist forced labour and armaments production were and are, again and again, the subject of discussions about how to deal with this difficult heritage. Publications and details on my former and current work

Layla Renshaw
‘The mercurial past: industry, civil war and mercury poisoning at the Almadén mine in Spain’

The town of Almadén in Castile-La Mancha contains the world’s largest deposit of liquid mercury and was a site of mercury mining for 2,000 years, until the mine’s closure in 2002. The closure was due to a Europe-wide ban on mercury extraction, given its extreme toxicity to humans. Effects of mercury poisoning include muscle, skin, and nerve damage. Long-term exposure to mercury is associated with complex neurological and emotional disorders. Due to these risks, there is a centuries’ long history of forced labour at Almadén, including the deployment of political prisoners under Franco’s dictatorship. Mercury was of significant strategic importance in the Spanish Civil War, as a source of foreign currency to buy arms, and for use in the manufacture of armaments. This paper explores these different forms of toxicity, and the capacity for dangerous, even lethal, industries to be an enduring source of pride and identity to the community around them.

Since the closure of the mine, Almadén has experienced rapid de-population. However, it has emerged as hub of mining expertise and mining heritage, with both key to its regeneration. The town is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, listed for the ‘heritage of mercury’ and has found great success as a visitor destination. Throughout the early 20th century, the town was a centre of organized labour, and suffered violent political repression when it fell to Franco. In recent decades, there has been concerted work by local scholars and community groups to research and memorialise the violence of the Civil War in Almadén. This paper examines how the toxicity of mercury, the structural violence of the mine, and the murderous violence of the Civil War are mutually entangled, and the degree to which these interconnections are acknowledged, or masked, in divergent representations of the past.

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