Thesis ID: CBB001561170

Planting Improvement: The Rhetoric and Practice of Scientific Agriculture in Northern British America, 1670--1820 (2008)


Zilberstein, Anya (Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Ritvo, Harriet

Publication Date: 2008
Edition Details: Advisor: Ritvo, Harriet
Language: English

"Planting Improvement: The Rhetoric and Practice of Scientific Agriculture in Northern British America, 1670-1820," explores the history and cultural politics of environmental change in the British empire through a focus on rural land-use practices and the construction of scientific expertise in the cold temperate colonies of New England and Nova Scotia, from the late seventeenth through early nineteenth centuries. Improvement was an abiding mode of and justification for British imperialism through territorial expansion and early modern economic development. British American and anglophone colonists of a range of status positions embraced agricultural improvement, though to different degrees and in different ways. For all settler-farmers, improving extra-European land meant transforming native environments into neo-European agricultural landscapes that were aesthetically familiar. For elites in northern North America, agricultural improvement was additionally a science of the practical Enlightenment, which encompassed husbandry and horticulture, stadial theories of progress, and the objectives and methods of natural history, geography, and economic survey. By exchanging farming advice, botanical literature, and seeds, plants, and livestock with other naturalists and improvers in the republic of letters and scientific institutions in the region as well in England, Scotland, Sweden, Russia, and France, elites in New England and Nova Scotia took a uniquely scientific approach to colonial property development. By employing the rhetoric of science and flaunting their privileged access to transatlantic, European, and imperial networks, northern elites who formed agricultural societies, supported natural history professorships, and private, academic, or colonial botanical gardens, distinguished their land improvements from those of their neighbors. Moreover, they believed that scientific improvement could ameliorate the troublesome disadvantages of the region's nature--especially its climate, seasonal weather extremes, short growing seasons, uneven topography, and thin soils. Scientific improvement would erase the geography of difference which made their lands marginal to the real estate market, staple-crop economy, and migration flows of the British empire and the early United States. Because improving the landscape and environment promised to improve the people inhabiting them, agricultural improvement was also a program for social reform: northern elites crafted projects to employ 'surplus laborers'--especially Indians, Acadians, Jamaican Maroons, women, children, criminals, and the poor--in silk production or in the region's small farms. Yet the limits of the northern environment challenged the regional practicability of scientific agriculture as well as enlightened improvers' pretensions to universalism. I conclude by analyzing these broad ambitions in relation to northern improvers' allegations of widespread indifference (or their own failure to popularize) a scientific approach to agriculture. The study bridges the 'First' and 'Second' Empires in British imperial historiography and the colonial and early national periods in the field of United States history, emphasizing instead the solidarities that persisted among elite Americans, Loyalists, and Britons, through kin, friendship, and scientific networks, despite conflicting allegiances to the Crown or to the republican causes of the American and French Revolutions.


Description Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 70/01 (2009). Pub. no. AAT 0821383.

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Authors & Contributors
Chaplin, Joyce E.
Parrish, Susan Scott
Gronim, Sara Stidstone
Woodward, Walter William
MacLeod, Roy M.
Mylander, Jennifer
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
William and Mary Quarterly
Gastronomica: The Journal of Culinary History
Agricultural History
University of North Carolina Press
Harvard University Press
Rutgers University Press
Oxford University Press
Yale University Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
Great Britain, colonies
Science and society
Nature and its relationship to culture; human-nature relationships
Travel; exploration
Winthrop, John
Bartram, John
Bartram, William
Tradescant, family
Tradescant, John
Atlantic world
Great Britain
New England (U.S.)
North America
United States
17th century
18th century
19th century
16th century
20th century
20th century, early
Royal Society of London

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