Notes from the Ground: Science and Agricultural Improvement in the Early American Republic
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The story herein introduces the production of an important set of conditions that allowed later scientific developments across the land to have meaning and significance: forms of communication, precedents of organization, field-tested modes of analysis, a tradition of improvement and experimentation, the long-standing search for solutions to soil exhaustion, increasingly mechanistic philosophies of soil composition, a market force to drive all of these, and a unique American political and agricultural environment into which the above could take shape. The lesson is not that the entirety of our modern scientific worldview can be traced to the activities of a disgruntled antebellum American farming class, but that this example of rural science and agricultural improvement provides a fruitful example of what it takes to make a scientific worldview. Thus, arguments about philosophical and conceptual bases for scientizing the landâ topics of great importance in the fields of environmental history and various branches of science and technology studiesâ gain strength and plausibility by reference to the workings of antebellum agents who first argued over the value of using science to define their land.
By putting the circulation of agricultural science in the context of early Republic improvement-minded agents, we can better locate agrarian American culture into a post-Enlightenment setting, we are better equipped to recognize how everyday citizens came to treat scientific practices as legitimate means of interacting with their lands, and we have a more developed picture of how morality, materiality, and theory were wedded in the much-revered principles of practice and practicality. The sum of those points highlights how traditional means of managing the land, as with religious doctrine, almanac strictures, the lessons inherited through family lineage by generations of daily practice, or uncodified folk knowledge in general, were being complemented with or displaced by organized, methodical, and systematicâ eventually, scientificâ practices on the land.
- Doctoral Dissertations