Two Montana State University historians who see similarities between former copper mines in Montana and Japan have received $306,000 from the National Science Foundation to investigate and share their findings.
Brett Walker, Tim LeCain and six MSU graduate students will compare how Montanans and Japanese residents dealt with the technology, science and pollution associated with two huge copper mines that existed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One mine was at Butte/Anaconda, the other at Ashio, Japan.
The mines existed in different cultures, environments and religious contexts, but each used highly-sophisticated technology that had never been used before, Walker said. They had underground electrical systems. They had railroad systems and complicated smeltering systems. Each mine helped modernize its country and allowed it to thrive in an international economy, Walker added. Both operations were entrenched in local politics. At the same time, the mines created environmental disasters that appeared first in species that symbolized the earlier economies of those areas -- cattle in the American West and silkworms in East Asia. Sulfur dioxide fell onto pastures and poisoned the cattle that grazed around Anaconda and Butte. It also fell on mulberry bushes and killed large silkworm colonies in central Japan.
"If you are a Buddhist and believe that all living creatures are part of a continuum of life and everything has a soul, do you view environmental destruction, particularly the death of animals, differently than you do if you're raising livestock in Butte and Anaconda"" Walker asked.
LeCain said, "Two key symbols, cattle and silkworms, suffered very similar effects, but more interesting is that Americans and Japanese, because of their respective cultural differences, had very different readings of these two pollution events."