Enclosures and the death of E.P. Thompson

Date:         Thu, 10 Mar 1994 09:13:22 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Open Fields and Enclosure <was RE:  Hello from Don                

McCloskey>

[From: IN%"stadfel%CC.UManitoba.CA@UICVM.UIC.EDU" "Bruce Stadfeld" 10-MAR-1994 08:31:50.01 [To: IN%"H-RURAL%UICVM.BITNET@uga.cc.uga.edu" "H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion list" [Subj: Open Fields and Enclosure movement

> [From: IN%"mcclosky@umaxc.weeg.uiowa.edu" "Don McCloskey" 9-MAR-1994 > 08:54:18.94 > [To: IN%"JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU" "Jim Oberly, History Dept., U of Wisc-Eau Claire" > [Subj: RE: Welcome to H-Rural > > Jim Oberly asked me as a new sign-on to pen a line or two about my H-Rural research. It is on English open fields and enclosure, as in "The Prudent Peasant: New Findings on Open Fields" in the Journal of Economic History 51 (June 1991): 342-355. In truth the work is rather on the back burner, though I expect to bring it to the front in a year or so. > > Don McCloskey

Don,

I'm interested in enclosures in North America, ie. the loss of the commons that accompanied settlement and the aboriginal response to it, especially the force relations that existed around enclosures. I've looked at some of the English work on enclosures but most of it analyzes agricultural production and industrialization. The only piece I could find on peasant resistance was an article by J.M. Neeson in _Past & Present_, 1984. Have you seen any work on preasant resistance or the power dynamics of enclosure?

Regards,

Bruce Stadfeld | Department of History | "Geography blended with time equals

destiny." University of Manitoba | Winnipeg, MB, Canada | - Joseph Brodsky stadfel@cc.umanitoba.ca



Date:         Sat, 12 Mar 1994 17:03:34 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Resistance to Enclosure                                       

[From: IN%"dessau%SCF.USC.EDU@UICVM.UIC.EDU" "Jon Dessau" 11-MAR-1994 21:51:46.33 [To: IN%"h-rural@uicvm.bitnet" [Subj: Re. Resistance to enclosure

Yes, the English literature on Enclosure has tended to be written about from the point of view of economic history, with a focus on employment, productivity, wage levels, etc., especially with regard to the C18-C19. On the other hand, there was plenty of rural unrest and agitation, but here the historiography has tended to focus on the context of either the `moral economy' (there are plenty of documented food and bread-price riots) or on industrialisation and agricultural innovation - hence it is easy to find references to `machine-wreaking' in the literature. However, the issues are clearly connected - in many instances the use of the `machines' were predicated upon landowners having been able to enclose. To what extent were these issues linked in the minds of the rural agitators? Hobsbawm and Rude (1968), _Captain Swing_ found only 3 riots out of the hundreds they investigated where _Enclosure_ was a motivation. Snell (1985), _Annals of the Labouring Poor_ sees a clear link between labour unrest, class tension and Enclosure - but I haven't got his book in front of me and cannot recall whether this is on the basis of direct evidence, or his analysis of more indirect sources.

Many historians simply haven't asked the question you are asking, or concluded the opposite - thus Chambers, Mingay and Yelling all seem to argue that enclosure helped maintain stability by creating employment, a view which Snell is arguing against. Perhaps J.M.Neeson, "The Opponents of Enclosure in Eighteenth-Century Northamptonshire", 1984, P&P, 105, 114-139 is helpful?

There seems to be many more references to enclosure motivated riots and unrest for the earlier period - see _The Agrarian History of England and Wales_, in particular Joan Thirsk, "Enclosing and Engrossing, 1500-1640", reprinted in Thirsk, ed., _Agricultural Change: Policy and Practice. 1500- 1750_, who has a substantial section on resistance, commotion and pamphlets against enclosure. Also A. Everett, "Farm Labourers, 1500-1640", reprinted in C. Clay, ed. (1990), _Rural Society: Landowners, Peasants and Labourers_ cites briefly numerous protests and cases of agitation, but gives further references to archival and secondary sources. Thus many riots, such as the 1536 `Northern Rebellion' were marked by the destruction of fences and hedges. See also Tawney (1912), _The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century_.

My suspicion is that to investigate this one should really look at the judicial records. Enclosure was mostly achieved through a legal process, and you would properly find the objections, court challenges and land disputes arising from enclosure a rich source of information. The peasants I have looked at have never been shy to litigate. However, I am more at home in French agriculture - here there's is plenty of material on resistance to the division of commons and the abolition of communal rights, during the Revolution and well into the C19. If you are interested I'd be glad to give you some references on France.

Best wishes, Jon

Jon Dessau dessau@aludra.usc.edu





Date:         Sun, 13 Mar 1994 21:43:49 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Open Fields and Enclosure <was RE:  Hello from                

Don McCloskey

[From: IN%"mcclosky%umaxc.weeg.uiowa.edu@UICVM.UIC.EDU" "Don McCloskey" 13-MAR-1994 09:53:43.08 [To: IN%"H-RURAL%UICVM.BITNET@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU" "H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion list" [Subj: RE: Open Fields and Enclosure <was RE: Hello from Don McCloskey>

Bruce Stadfield asks about resistance to enclosure. Understand that you're asking a conservative economist, what Bob Allen calls in his recent, excellent, and left-leaning book on the matter, a "Tory fundamentalist." The view from Tory fundamentalism is that most enclosure was good for the poor.

Oh, yes: they always say that. But consider. It gave them jobs and made their little plots of land more valuable.

The poor made worse off were those without jobs or land--in most places a small part, though not to be ignored.

The Tory fundamentalists observe that we get our first impression of "enclosure" from Marx et seq. Writers before the professionalization of history were likely to mix up enclosure of arable and enclosure of waste, and enclosure in lightly populated areas with enclosure in densely populated villages. The classic misapprehension is that in late Tudor times the sheep were still eating men; a more extreme version of it supposes that sheep eating men is simply what enclosure is about. It has been known to be mistaken since 1903, when Edwin F. Gay showed that Tudor enclosures were a tiny percentage of the land.

Mostly what enclosure did is dissolve the old open fields--and "open fields" are not "commons," which means in English "arable land subject to common grazing after the harvest" (the confusion is maddenningly easy, since the singular--"the common"--means the waste land outside the arable, which is what most people think enclosure was about). Dissolving the old open fields was a pretty good idea--although as I have been arguing for twenty years and as Allen confirms the gain was by no means epoch-making. Stealing the common from the goose was not the motivation for enclosure (which all sides agree were initiated by an executive committee of the landed classes), since the rights to be stolen were of such low value to a rich person.

That does not mean that economic change was harmless to the poor. But the Tory fundamentalists want you to remember that NOT changing can also be harmful to the poor. It is not always the case that preserving traditional ways of life is a good idea on egalitarian grounds. Preserving a (somewhat) inefficient system in which people were (rather) tied to tradition methods is not obviously beneficial to the poor.

An example is the present debate about what to do with public range lands in the American West. One third of the plant species on the endangered species list in the USA were put there by overgrazing by private ranchers on the nearly free land they are provided with by the US government. It is a case in which selling the land off to the ranchers would improve the ecology. It's easy to imagine it might mean more jobs, too. Collective "ownership" is not always better for the collectivity or for its poorest members than private ownership--considering, as the left and right agree, that the collectivities tend to be run by the rich.

On the creation of private property more generally (as I say, most enclosure had essentially nothing to do with this in England: it was a shift of private property from one form to another) the best place to go is a book by the Icelander, Thrainn Eggertsson (the spelling, unhappily, is only approximate), on the Economics of Property (ditto), publish by Cambridge a few years ago, in the Cambridge Economic Handbooks (I think). It is a brief, lucid presentation of the arguments for and against private property. It refers, for example, to work on the creation of property in Canadian land containing beavers, such as John McManus, "An Economic Analysis of Indian Behavior in the North American Fur Trade," Journal of Economic History March 1972, which issue also contains an early paper on English enclosure by me.

In short: be wary of this or that easy political assumption about enclosure. There's a lot of myth comfortable to one or another political view without much basis on fact or logic. And I do not exempt from this tendency my beloved Torty fundamentalism.

Don McCloskey Department of History and of Economics University of Iowa



Date:         Sun, 13 Mar 1994 21:46:02 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Resistance to Enclosure                                       

[From: IN%"stadfel%CC.UManitoba.CA@UICVM.UIC.EDU" "Bruce Stadfeld" 13-MAR-1994 14:11:28.30 [To: IN%"H-RURAL%UICVM.BITNET@uga.cc.uga.edu" "H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion list" [Subj: RE: Resistance to Enclosure

Thanks very much for the informative response. My interest in enclosure stems from my study of Native resistance to settlement in the Canadian West. Nearly twenty years ago Irene Spry published an insightful article which compared the loss of the commons in England to the end of Native communal rights on the Canadian prairies, but little has been done since to address the question. I've looked at some of the English material in hopes of finding helpful theoretical approaches to the question, but was disappointed to find, as you mention, that the question of peasant resistance has been all but totally ignored (with the exception being the Neeson article). Most studies assume that peasants were passive because of their unfamiliarity with the law, their distance from the `seat of power', and because of the uneven implementation of enclosure.

My own angle is to apply a type of post-Foucauldian analysis to the question of resistance. The result is that the physical means of enclosure, in the West surveys and fences, becomes sights of struggle between competing definitions of land. In this way the destruction of machines, survey equipment, etc. becomes very important. I also agree that you need to consult the court records to find much of this information. I anticipate that English historians would find that peasants were far from powerless in their attempts to manipulate the legal system to achieve their ends.

As for the French material, if you know of any sources which focus on the question of peasant resistance, such as Neeson's article, I would appreciate hearing about them.

Bruce Stadfeld | Department of History | "Geography blended with time equals

destiny." University of Manitoba | Winnipeg, MB, Canada | - Joseph Brodsky




Date:         Mon, 14 Mar 1994 15:06:00 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Enclosures                                                    

[From: IN%"ew16@cornell.edu" "Edward White" 14-MAR-1994 14:06:42.26 [To: IN%"joberly@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU" [CC: IN%"ewhite@polaris.cc.utu.fi" [Subj: RE: Enclosures

Don McCloskey writes: > > That does not mean that economic change was harmless to the > poor. But the Tory fundamentalists want you to remember that NOT changing > can also be harmful to the poor. It is not always the case that > preserving traditional ways of life is a good idea on egalitarian grounds. > Preserving a (somewhat) inefficient system in which people were (rather) > tied to tradition methods is not obviously beneficial to the poor. > > An example is the present debate about what to do with public range lands in > the American West. One third of the plant species on the endangered > species list in the USA were put there by overgrazing by private ranchers > on the nearly free land they are provided with by the US government. It > is a case in which selling the land off to the ranchers would improve the > ecology. It's easy to imagine it might mean more jobs, too. Collective > "ownership" is not always better for the collectivity or for its poorest > members than private ownership--considering, as the left and right agree, > that the collectivities tend to be run by the rich. >

E. P. Thompson has some comments in _The Making of the English Working Class_ that are worth reading in thinking about the enclosure question. His comments address the debate over the justness of the Industrial Revolution, and he has some strong arguments against the Tory view that the change, if disruptive, was good. For one thing, he points out that Tory arguments typically frame the question in either/or terms: either the changes for the better (Industrialization, enclosure), or stagnation, and continuation of bad traditions. Thompson rejects the terms of the debate on the same grounds that he rejects narrow economic determinism from some Marxists: the framework of the debate rules out the option of a more humane change for the better. Unless you believe that history had to happen as it did--and, in the case of contemporary politics, must continue to happen along the either/or path--this deterministic reading of the past seems to cramp the ethical terms of the debate. Don McCloskey raises some interesting points, factual and theoretical, but I'd suggest you look at Thompson as well.

Ed White Cornell University, and Turun Yliopisto, Turku, Finland




Date:         Mon, 14 Mar 1994 23:00:01 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Enclosures                                                    

[From: IN%"mcclosky%umaxc.weeg.uiowa.edu@UICVM.UIC.EDU" "Don McCloskey" 14-MAR-1994 18:01:51.08 [To: IN%"H-RURAL%UICVM.BITNET@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU" "H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion list" [Subj: RE: Enclosures

Ed White suggests one read The Making of the Working Class, a suggestion I certainly agree with. It is the other view, though by now quite an elderly book and in some matters superceded. What alarms us Tories is forgetting that after all it was a Good Thing to have an agricultural revolution and even to get away from the idiocy of rural life. Nice phrase that last, eh? I must remember it.

Don McCloskey




Date:         Fri, 18 Mar 1994 09:04:32 -0600                                   
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
list                                                                            
              <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET>                                            
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      "Idiocy of Rural Life" <was RE:  Enclosures>                      

[From: IN%"deal%oswego.Oswego.EDU@UICVM.UIC.EDU" 17-MAR-1994 18:27:01.37 [To: IN%"h-rural@uicvm.uic.edu" [Subj: "idiocy of rural life"

On a network devoted to rural and agricultural history, "them's fightin' words"! I'm sure Professor McCloskey will not mind if I respond to his deployment of Marx against the "idiocy of rural life" with some pertinent observations by Adam Smith about the "ploughman" and his town counterpart, the "mechanick." Town and industry, it might be argued, spawned their own forms of idiocy:

"The common ploughman, though generally regarded as the pattern of stupidity and ignorance, is seldom defective in this judgment and discretion. He is less accustomed, indeed, to social intercourse than the mechanick who lives in a town. His voice and language are more uncouth and more difficult to be understood by those who are not used to them. His understanding, however, being accustomed to consider a greater variety of objects, is generally much superior to that of the other, whose whole attention from morning till night is commonly occupied in performing one or two very simple operations. How much the lower ranks of people in the country are really superior to those of the town, is well known to every man whom either business or curiosity has led to converse much with both." *Wealth of Nations*, 143-144 (Campbell, Skinner, Todd, ed.).

Doug Deal History, SUNY-Oswego on the fringe of rural upstate NY :-)


Information provider:
Unit: H-Net program at UIC History Department Email: H-Net@uicvm.uic.edu
Posted: 8 Jul 1994
 

Return to Menu