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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Agricultural science

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Plant-breeding: selecting fodder beets, around 1910

The particular form of agricultural technology which a society uses has more far-reaching consequences than most people realise. Among the issues on European political agendas in recent years have been food safety, environmental problems, genetically modified organisms, and the high level of European and American farm subsidies. Moreover, the British government has been urging Western nations to play a greater role in fostering development in the Third World, where nearly one billion people are chronically malnourished. In one way or another, all of these issues are the product of a science-based and industrialised form of agricultural production which has emerged since the late nineteenth century. If we want an understanding of how this form of technology came to predominate -- as well as a perspective from which to consider alternatives -- the history of agricultural science and technology is an essential starting-point.

CHSTM is one of the few sites in the UK where such research is being done. A recent book by Jonathan Harwood focused upon the development of agricultural higher education in Germany from the latter nineteenth century; the central issue was to explain why, over time, those colleges which emphasised the centrality of natural sciences in their curricula have tended to displace those which integrated their science teaching within a practical problem-solving framework. He is currently writing a book on the the rise and fall of  'peasant-friendly' plant-breeding in Central Europe, 1890-1945 which will offer a historical perspective on past, present and future 'green revolutions'.

Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students

Jonathan Harwood. 'The fate of peasant-friendly plant-breeding in Nazi Germany’, forthcoming in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, spring 2010.

Jonathan Harwood. 'Research and extension in political context: rural unrest and the origins of the Prussian chambers of agriculture'. In Nadine Vivier, ed, The State and rural societies: policy and education in Europe, 1750-2000, Turnhout: Brepols, 2009, 135-157.

Jonathan Harwood. 'Peasant-friendly plant-breeding and the early years of the Green Revolution in Mexico'. Agricultural History, 2009, 83: 384-410.

Jonathan Harwood. Technology's dilemma: agricultural colleges between science and practice in Germany, 1860-1934. Berne: Peter Lang, 2005.

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