What image conjures the Enlightenment? A man sitting in his dark study, perhaps? The library of some ancient college? White men in wigs? If Peter M. Jones had his way, readers would think of a farm as well. Building on his previous work on networks of technical know-how in the West Midlands of England in the late eighteenth century, particularly Industrial Enlightenment: Science, Technology and Culture in Birmingham and the West Midlands, 1760–1820 (Manchester University Press, 2013), Jones tackles the growth of agricultural knowledge throughout Europe for over a century. As Jones argues in Agricultural Enlightenment, Enlightenment thinkers obsessed not only about ideal social and political systems, they also thought meaningfully about the material world; about agriculture; and how a perfected, practical farming system could create an ideal society. From the early eighteenth century to the 1840s, networks of know-how bounced around Europe, creating a web of people and information largely responsible for the gains in agricultural production and yields that preceded scientific agriculture in the late nineteenth century. Enlightenment thinkers across the Continent took it on faith that society could be perfected through the improvement of agriculture. Agricultural surplus became a supreme matter of public concern and policy. Crucially, agricultural enlightenment was not in and of itself a revolution; skills, know-how, and techniques in some places combined to produce great change and upheaval. In other areas, true agricultural revolution would not take place until the second half of the nineteenth century with fertilizers, scientific management, and fossil fuel mechanization. As such, Jones is interested in the question of divergence, big or little. He notes that a North Sea network developed among agronomic theorists helps historians understand why enclosure and practical management of commercial estates proceeded quickly across north and west Europe but moved at a slower pace farther east. Agricultural Enlightenment contains eight chapters with an introduction and conclusion. The chapters start with theoretical traditions of agronomy and physiocracy, move through state policies and agricultural reform, and end with the specific farms and farmer networks that provided the superstructure through which knowledge and debate moved across Europe. His final four chapters focus, as the subtitle suggests, on the scientific, technological, and environmental components of the agricultural enlightenment with a particular emphasis on Scotland and Denmark, two nations with especially pronounced agricultural change during the period of study. In these three chapters, Jones drives home his central argument that the agricultural enlightenment—and thus the Enlightenment writ large—took place as humans worked in between the tectonic forces of nature and ideas. The book is simultaneously in depth and broad. It provides many tentacles for scholars to follow and deepen their understanding of the agricultural enlightenment itself and expand its connections across time. While Jones focuses on domestic concerns, one place for scholars to explore further would be how the agricultural enlightenment was carried out into colonies or into the European trading sphere. This perhaps could also help explain how the agricultural enlightenment in Europe was shaped by knowledge wrested from around the world by colonial agents. Sometimes the survey moves fast, and comparisons may sometimes lose the lay scholar. It is helpful to start this book with a basic knowledge of European agricultural history. Environmental historians will welcome this as a work of mainstream history or agricultural history that cites environmental historians and incorporates the dynamism of nature as a seamless backdrop to the human stories it follows. In Chapter 8, “Nature and Habitat,” Jones details how knowledge produced around Europe reshaped villages in Denmark and Scotland, and how the process of enclosure reshaped ecologies, landscapes, and communities as farmers adopted fashionable ideas. Jones’s scholarship here is careful, always sure to lay out theoretical or methodological issues. Agricultural Enlightenment is ultimately a model blend of interdisciplinary synthesis; multilingual archival work; and close analysis of primary pamphlets, tracts, and memorials. Taken together, Industrial Enlightenment and Agricultural Enlightenment ably uncover a continent struggling to deal with the upheavals of industrialization and population explosion, and will help readers understand the role that agriculture played in the creation of modern Europe. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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