I am hoping to put together at the last-minute a panel for the Agricultural History conference (meets June 15-17, 2006 in Cambridge, MA). The deadline for submissions is October 15. Please let me know as soon as you can if you’d be interested in putting together a panel with me. Here below the topic and the paper I suggest.
Topic suggested for the panel : History of the relationship between peasant practices and agricultural sciences The history of the agricultural learned discourse is preceded and accompanied by a long history of peasant technics, practices and knowledge. Ploughing, seed liming or brining, fruit trees grafting, etc, are pre-existing to the learned speculations. These speculations have to take into consideration both together natural phenomena (sap motion, soil characteristics, etc) and peasant practices (ploughing, manure, etc). From at least the 18th century, discussions about this relationship regularly appeared in particular in the framework of proposals to set up agricultural teaching, popularization system and research institutions. To what extent the agricultural sciences to set up have to base on the peasant practices or, on the contrary, have to attack the peasant ” routine “? These questions, this relatioship ; these discussions interest the historian who try – for different period and for different countries – to precise the impact of the agricultural sciences development , the linkage existing between rural world, politic world and scientific world, to precise and to understand the way of perceiving, of understanding, behaviour, point of view, decisions of one and another.
My paper will focuse on the relationship between peasant practices and learned theories in the context of the debates on the transmission of corn diseases between 1730 and 1760. At first, learned texts on plant diseases sought for the causes in weather conditions, in accordance with Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder. Then, country scholars suggested explanations and remedies based on peasant practices for the symptom of corn turning entirely or partially into black dust. These practices designated the quality of the seed in particular whether or not it was spotted by a diseased grain. In the 1750s, some members of the learned world turned toward the writings of these country scholars and, on their basis, carried out experiments in the fields. A case in point, Tillet suggested an explanatory theory incorporating concepts borrowed from chemistry and medicine, which was to set the pattern of research for fifty years. This movement arose in a specific context: the progress of education in rural areas, the emphasis on agriculture as central to the creation of wealth, the use of tscientific methods to understand and master nature as well as interest in professional knowledge and practice.