CWRU history grad student wins DAAD award to conduct research in Germany

Nathan Delaney’s cellphone got him thinking about the metals used to make it—primarily copper. In a roundabout way, he also started planning his doctoral dissertation research on the history of copper mining in Mexico. And it earned the graduate student in history a prestigious international research fellowship.

Delaney’s dissertation project, “Modes of Extraction: German and American Copper Mining in Mexico: 1848-1910,” focuses on the transnational business, labor and environmental relationships developing among three industrializing nations.

His interest in copper mining with the German connection earned him the respected Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) German Academic Exchange Service Award. He is among 200 recipients selected in 2013.

The DAAD fellowship allows Delaney, originally from Toledo, to conduct an archival search of corporate and government papers in Berlin for a year.

He is particularly interested in how Mexican mines fueled industrial development in both countries, considered dominant powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“This research will hopefully help moderate Americans’ belief that ‘globalization’ is something entirely new and good,” Delaney said. “Our experience with cellular phones and the Internet is in many ways similar to the experience people had in 1900 with telephone and telegraph technologies.”

He continued: “Copper has been and continues to be an important ingredient for the modern economy and by following copper from its initial point of extraction all the way to the home of the consumer; I think we can learn some valuable lessons. My main concerns: What are the costs and benefits to the human and non-human world as a result of this commercial process?”

Germans first arrived in Mexico and began searching for copper mines in the 1820s. As electricity began to power industry in the late 19th century, it drove the United States and Germany to a copper rush to buy mines in Mexico. The U.S. began buying and transporting Mexican copper in the 1880s after a railroad expanded southward from Arizona to Mexico.

John Flores, Delaney’s dissertation adviser at Case Western Reserve and a specialist in Mexican-American history, described Delaney’s dissertation as an “exciting research project, which examines German business and labor migration into Mexico during the 19th century.

“A number of studies examine the lives of Third World migrants in the United States and other First World nation-states,” Flores said. “Nathan’s research is expanding our understanding of the conventional immigration paradigm by exploring how the German people rationalized their migration into Mexico and how German migrants affected Mexico’s economy, environment, and legal system.”

Kenneth Ledford, a Case Western Reserve historian on German legal history, said Delaney is the first history student to receive a DAAD since he arrived in 1991. Ledford noted that the DAAD dissertation fellowship is precisely the same grant that he and fellow history faculty members Alan Rocke and Jay Geller won to support their own dissertation research.

The award helps students make important connections with German researchers in a field related to their dissertation research. Each recipient has a host scholar at a German university. Delaney’s host is Prof. Sebastian Conrad of the Free University of Berlin, which is near the archives where he plans to conduct his research.

Delaney spent last summer touring Germany, examining archive sites and learning how to read a type of German writing used before the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler banned its use.

Although he is fluent in German, the older script would have been incomprehensible without last summer’s classes on how to read and interpret it. He received a German Historical Institute of Washington, D.C., fellowship to tour the various archives in Munich and Cologne and meet scholars that could help in the dissertation process.

“Learning the old handwriting was probably something DAAD considered as crucial to making this investment in me,” said Delaney, who is also competing for a Fulbright award.

For the past two years, he has been a Ralph Besse Fellow, updating and creating new articles about Cleveland’s rich past as an associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.