Articles, Blog

Agricultural Revolution

August 10, 2019

>>Hello and welcome to our week on Urban and
Agricultural revolutions in Europe in the 17th, 18th, and stretching even a little bit
into the 19th century here this week.>>And stretching back into the 16th.>>Important point, actually. We’re looking at the Atlantic world. We’re looking at, well, we will be looking
at colonization in the Atlantic world and the Caribbean and North America
and South America in later weeks. But of course, this is the — the backdrop
to all of this is an expanding, developing, and empowering Europe in this time period
and we’ve looked at some political changes that are taking place in
Europe in this time period. We’re going to be looking
at some economic changes that are taking place in
this time period as well. Behind me, you see a map of
London from the 16th century.>>16th.>>And London’s one of the
biggest cities in the world and it’s growing dramatically
in this time period. Several European cities are growing dramatically
in this time period, but London certainly stands out as a particularly impressively growing city. Of course, to have a growing
city, you need food. You need to be able to feed
those people and that means that they need to be able to produce more food. Urban people do not produce their own
food, they, you know, some small amounts of it, but really not very much at all. So, you need a strong countryside
behind all of that, an improving, developing agriculture behind all of that. And that’s going to be one of
the basic questions we’re going to be looking at today, how did this happen? Why did this happen? And, interestingly, even when did this happen,
because as we’ll see, there’s some debate on exactly when this revolution actually
happened, which of course begs the question, how revolutionary was it if
we can’t even spot it in time? But certainly, there was a massive increase in
agricultural productivity in this time period, and that enables this urban growth. So, a big question this week is going to
be to look at a secondary consideration, secondary literature consideration this
week, we’re going to look at two authors who have different interpretations of when
that Agricultural Revolution took place.>>In the British Isles.>>In the British Isles, exactly. They’re both looking at Great Britain. They’re both examining basic agricultural
economic data and they’re trying to determine when the big changes actually took place. And they arrive at quite different answers. In fact, they’re off by almost 200
years, so that’s a pretty big difference in an understanding of basic story. And we sort of look at Eric Kerridge, who
emphasizes the 17th century and Mark Overton, who represents, who emphasizes the
late 18th and early 19th century, and we’ll look at the arguments they
make but also the kinds of evidence that they bring forward to
answer those questions. And so, you’re going to talk for a few
minutes here about how we can approach that basic question, how we can think about
that, as we study these basic questions, basic questions of evidence
that these guys bring forward and then the interpretation of that evidence.>>Yeah. So far, you’re right, Danny. Well, so far, of course you’re right, but so
far in the course, we’ve been getting everyone to examine what historians for shorthand
call primary sources, sources that are, that give as direct, as direct as possible
kinds of evidence for the questions we’re trying to answer, but for — our focus this week
we’re going to be looking at secondary sources, sources that aren’t from the
English early modern era. They’re not from the period from
the 16th through the 19th century, which is the period we’re trying
to understand in this lesson. We’re looking from, looking
at sources from the late 20th and early 21st century by two historians. The secondary literature is what we
might call historiographical literature. It’s a term that historians use to
talk about literature that interprets or gives accounts of evidence from the past. Eric Kerridge and Mark Overton are two quite
well-known economic and social historians who have, as you outlined already, provided very
different answers to the same basic questions. When did the English agricultural
economy transform in a fundamental way? They provide different answers, not
because one of them is necessarily wrong and the other is necessarily right. They argue about that in other writings,
not writing that we have provided with — for you, but rather writing that
is part of a larger discussion, a larger historiographical discussion. A basic thing for everyone to understand
is that it’s normal for historians to disagree and why might that be the case? As you said, the evidence
for big questions and even for very specific questions is often not clear. It’s fragmentary, often, so we have to try to
draw the best conclusions we can as historians, students of history, from
the available evidence. That’s what we’re going to be doing in
every week of this course in our lessons and forum discussions and that’s what
historians always do on a bigger scale. So for this week, the historical thinking
challenge is to understand secondary sources, sources about the past, sources about the English Agricultural
Revolution and when it happened. And so, don’t — we don’t have to think about
one historian being more biased than the other. They have different perspectives
and different biases. We might say we’re trying to
understand these different perspectives and these different interpretations
on the complex evidence from the past. And one of the questions that
everyone could examine is, what kinds of evidence do
Kerridge and Overton point to? Is it the same? Or, do they point to different kinds of
evidence to answer a basic question about change and continuity in English agriculture? So, that’s one point about secondary sources, with particular reference
to the lesson this week. It’s good to keep in mind for every week that
we have a, and for any historical question, it’s good to look at interpretations of evidence
from the past, secondary sources, and then also, primary sources, evidence from the past
societies, peoples, and events that we’re trying to understand, a basic question
of historical method. That’s about the English
Agricultural Revolution. You also, Danny, pointed to change
in cities, the growth of cities. So, thinking about another
basic historical interpretation, our question of historical interpretation,
we’ve got the question of continuity and change. We can see that with regard to this interpretive
issue about the English Agricultural and the British Agricultural Revolutions. But we can also see it in change
in maps of the city of London. One of the bits of evidence that we
highlight in our introduction are two maps, not just the one behind us right now, but
another map from a couple of centuries later, from the 18th century that shows
just how rapidly London expanded. It’s not the only bit of evidence about the
growth of London, but it’s primary evidence that all of us can look at to try to
think about and understand and make sense of the rapid growth of London
over many generations. And so, continuity and change, different
types of sources, primary and secondary, how do we make sense of these changes with
these- using these different types of sources? A challenge for any topic, and
in particular for this lesson. A good point to wrap up, perhaps.>>I think so.

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