Call for Contributions: Knowing how to farm. Renegotiating global knowledge in rural societies in the 20th century

Heinrich Hartmann Discussion
Call for Papers
June 11, 2020
Subject Fields: 
History Education, Rural History / Studies, World History / Studies


Summary: We are inviting contributions to a volume investigating the transnational history of rural and agricultural education in the twentieth century. Authors are invited to participate in a workshop to discuss preliminary papers to be held at the University of Basel, Switzerland, on 11 June 2020.


Theme: The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a proliferation of agricultural and rural education initiatives. Across the globe, agricultural colleges, village schools, farmers’ associations, home economics movements, children’s clubs, and agricultural extension services proliferated with the aim to scientifically transform farming practices and rural living conditions. Agricultural research and education in different countries emerged out of similar experiences of structural transformation, with the “agricultural question”, the commercialization of farming, and increasing urbanization challenging existing agricultural practices and rural livelihoods. Experts, officials, and rural producers sought new ways of ‘improved’ farming and rural living in order to compete in a context of rapid production and trade increase. At the same time, rural education constituted a way to deal with those who agricultural commercialization had left behind, as many governments and urban elites, driven by fears of social unrest or eugenic concerns, argued that struggling producers had better be contained in the rural areas rather than crowd the cities.

Agrarian historiography has neglected aspects of knowledge in this structural transition, overlooking the ways in which farmers, experts, and officials valued scientific knowledge as a resource and/or as a tool of social engineering. In addition, existing research that does take into account of the role of science in agrarian transformation has barely engaged with its profoundly transnational character. The striking resemblance of agricultural and rural education initiatives across the globe, however, was not only the result of parallel experiences, but also of far-ranging knowledge exchanges. Despite the fact that agriculture is highly place-specific, depending on local soil types and microclimates, farmers, rural homemakers, experts, and officials engaged in vibrant exchanges of agricultural and rural knowledge. This volume, discussing rural education in different parts of Europe, North and South America, India, and Africa, highlights these parallels and linkages. 

Process: With this call, we would like to expand our existing group of contributors (historians working, among others, on Turkey, Greece, Costa Rica, South Africa, Liberia, and International Organizations). We will pre-circulate papers and discuss them during a workshop at the University of Basel, Switzerland, on 11 June 2020. The costs for travel and accommodation will be covered on the understanding that participants agree with the scope, purpose and timeline of the workshop. To participate, please submit a 1-3 page summary of your planned contribution by 15 April, 2020 (; Full contributions, to be circulated in preparation of the workshop, are due by 1 June 2020. Please feel free to contact the conveners for a detailed outline of the workshop topic.