CFP: Transatlantic Agricultural Improvement, 1600-1900

Ariel Ron Discussion

Grassroots Modernities: Nature, Agriculture and Improvement in the Atlantic World

Yale University, June 9-10, 2015
Organized by Ariel Ron and Emily Pawley
(apologies for cross-listing)

Paper proposals due January 7, 2015

The Yale Center for Representative Institutions welcomes conference paper proposals on any aspect of transatlantic agricultural improvement from roughly the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. We encourage the submission of new work in progress as well as reflections on the state of the field. See the description below for more details. Confirmed participants include Joyce Chaplin, James C. Scott, Richard Drayton, Courtney Fullilove, Fredrik A. Jonsson, S. Max Edelson, Anya Zilberstein, and Christopher Clark.

Papers will be presented at a one-day conference in New Haven.  YCRI will support travel expenses as well as paying a small honorarium.

Send proposals to Ariel Ron (

After years of relative neglect, agricultural history is suddenly producing a flood of exciting work. Impetus comes, on the one hand, from the seemingly novel, hot-button politics of food and environment. On the other hand, the return of an old subject—financial crisis—is directing that impetus toward political economy. The new work thus links science, commerce, and nature in ways that reveal a surprisingly modern “agrarian” world where defining economic and political change proceeded literally at the grassroots.

Some of the most stimulating work is emerging around the history of “improvement.” From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, improvement signified something like what we might today call “development” or “innovation.” It functioned as an organizing concept for a new set of global institutions—botanical gardens, experimental farms, agricultural societies and publications, correspondence networks—that worked to transform the moral and material conditions of humanity’s most basic relationships to nature. These institutions shaped imperial and national destinies in ways both highly consequential and intriguingly odd.

Several subdisciplines and national historiographical traditions have independently contributed to the growing literature on agricultural improvement. In particular, the emphatically linked improving institutions of the British Empire and the United States have generated separate lines of inquiry. The conference aims to bring these perspectives together in fruitful conversation.