Red fever. The natural resource company and the commodification of the global copper frontier (1900-1939)

Start - End 
2017 - 2020 (ongoing)
Department of History
Research Focus 
Research Period 
Research Methodology 



Due to large scale electrification, demand for copper rose exponentially at the end of the 19th
century. New copper resources were found across the world, particularly South America and
Africa. In these areas, companies transformed and integrated new sources of resources, the socalled
resource frontiers, in the world economy, however, mostly under very difficult
circumstances. The central argument of the project is that historical research hitherto fails to
capture the local and global complexity of business investments in such frontiers and has taken the
provision of natural resources as a given. Often in remote areas or without much prior
infrastructure and organisation, natural resource companies needed to deal with a wide variety of
local challenges. It was required to organise the access to land, labour and resources (food &
energy) whereas these firms usually had to work under hostile environmental and social
conditions. Next to these local challenges, companies faced a variety of global challenges.
Companies did not simply follow expansion of empire, and depended heavily upon networks with
other private actors. In order to capture the variety of local and global challenges, the project
focuses on the activities of three copper companies, the Union Minière du Haut Katanga,
Rhodesian Selection Trust and the Chile Exploration Company and how they incorporated new
copper frontiers in the world economy.