Mobilities, international business and global mining capitalism. The French mining engineers abroad (19-20th cent.)

Digital project coordinated by Marco Bertilorenzi

Project overview

This research project investigates the mobilities of the French Ingénieurs civils des mines (ICM – Civil mining engineers) during the 19th and 20th century.
Usually, the scholarly studies about engineers mainly focus on the transfers of technologies and techniques that came along with the mobility of these skilled workers.  Although technology transfer is an important aspect, this research project would like to extend our understanding about the engineers’ mobility, integrating  the transfer of capital (foreign direct investments, explorations, multinational companies) and of commodities behind their mobilities. On the one hand, the study of the mobility of French ICM can be used to chart and account the spread of French capitals abroad, both in the French colonial empire and in other countries. Engineers only seldon move following their own personal goals, in many cases they were sent as agents of large firms that had clear strategies of foreign direct investments or resources exploitation/exploration.
On the other hand, the linkage, through ICMs, between France and other countries can shed light on the creation of complex commodity chains, exploitation of resources and a growing integration of the global mining economy. Actually, the impact of French investments abroad was not only an outcome of the colonial policy, but it entailed the creation of private strategies of business groups in a wide range of countries outside the French colonial empire, like in Russia, Latin America, and Arabian and Far East regions. The research project adopts both qualitative and quantitative perspectives. It is based on a large database of ICM, who were formed in the French Ecole des mines de Saint-Etienne between 1880 and 1970, and tracks the mobilities of engineers through several benchmarks were it is recorded the firm for which ICMs worked, the hierarchical position they had and the place of their activity.
The prosoposophical study of this group can reveal the nexus between personal choices of economic actors in their mobilities and the macro-economic position of the flow of French investments abroad. The project also involves the adoption of new technologies and tool, like ArcGis and StoryMaps , thanks to the involvement of Mobilab.

Research team:

  • Prof. Marco Bertilorenzi
  • Dr. Jean-Philippe Passaqui (Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne)
  • Prof. Nadine Dubruc (Ecole des mines de Saint-Etienne)
  • Dr. Marco Orlandi


The publication of a workable database including the carrier of about 4000 French civil mining engineers
Joint publications and workshop on this topic, in collaboration with the international partners
Attract interns to assign some work on the construction of the database