Société de Chimie Industrielle Fellow, 2011-2012
Nathaniel Freiburger is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis. His research examines the development of the science, technology, and politics of a lithium industry currently under way in Bolivia. In general, this research focuses on the connections between the production of scientific and technical knowledge of lithum extraction and use, the engineering and scientific practices entailed in such a large-scale project in Bolivia, and the implications of this technoscientific project for state formation processes. Ethnographically, it examines how the interplay between technoscience, politics, and the physical properties of the salmuera (salt water containing lithium) in Bolivia shape the material and symbolic construction of lithium and the development of a lithium industry there, as well as detailing the role of this nascent industry in processes of state formation. Historically, the study seeks to link the early production of knowledge of the alkaloid elements (specifically lithium) to developments in the philosophy of chemistry and to the development of chemical engineering. Taking these links into account, the study then seeks to describe the trajectory of the science and technology of lithium obtention and production and the influence of this trajectory on the current lithium project in Bolivia.
During Freiburger’s short-term fellowship stay at CHF he will conduct archival research enabling a more profound development of the historical links and precedents for the current trajectory of the lithium industry in Bolivia. In particular, accounting for the elemental role of lithium in the current Bolivian state and society entails following the specific trajectory of the discovery, production, and use of lithium. Archival research will be centered on the development of a philosophy of chemistry articulated by Sir Humphry Davy (one of the first to isolate lithium), the development of chemical engineering as a subfield of engineering, and the development of chemical knowledge of, and extraction processes for, lithium that has been produced by the Foote Mineral Company, whose technical manuscripts continue to circulate among those involved with the Bolivian lithium project. CHF’s archives and library contain a large and unique collection of archival documents and manuscripts directly related to these three themes. Freiburger will make use of these archives during the months of February and May 2012.