Call for Contributions: A science of what and for whom? Historical understandings and perspectives of agricultural science (Leuven, 31 January 2017)

It is striking how the agricultural sciences have undergone a series of conceptual and practical changes between the early modern period and the present. Through four case studies this panel will highlight some of the different ways in which the agricultural sciences have been conceptualized and communicated throughout the western world.

How was agricultural knowledge structured as a science? How was it communicated to related, but non-scientific fields? How did agriculture change as a science and as a scientific object? And how did rural societies shape scientific knowledge? While focused on these investigative questions, we will cross major issues and challenges to studies of agricultural sciences such as the role of tradition, chemistry, economy, industry, technology, pedagogy and the media.

The panel is already accepted. But we are open for two more speakers. Anyone who might like to join us and who is able to give a relating and valuable talk to our subject, is invited to send an abstract (up to 200 words) to

Case 1: Agricultural Enlightenment (Dr. Verena Lehmbrock, Berlin, DE)

Promoted by early modern governments and facilitated by the rapid growth of media infrastructure, agriculture became a public science in the 18th century. It not only brought together traditional scholars, but also a wide range of educated middle-class representatives such as clergymen and state officials as well as wealthy (noble or bourgeois) landowners. “Improving agriculture” was the rallying cry of agricultural improvers, who were busy collecting, ordering and disseminating agricultural knowledge and understood these activities as scientific. Which shape did agricultural science take in the veil of the so-called common good during the Enlightenment period?

Case 2: Early Agricultural Chemistry (Christopher Halm, Regensburg, DE)

Simultaneous to these endeavours to improve agriculture, scholars, implicated within social hierarchies, tried to theorise rural, traditional knowledge. They developed claims based on principles and experimental methods of chemistry. Hence, the conception of Agricultural Chemistry as a sophisticated branch of science in its own right emerged and was slowly recognized as such. However, this conception is not so much about chemistry as it is about the results of a didactic attempt to organise and teach agrarian knowledge, which was mostly collected in an armchair approach before.

Case 3: The agrarian-industrial knowledge society (Dr. Juri Auderset, Fribourg, CHF)

In the following century fertiliser companies began to redefine the corpus of agricultural knowledge, and therefore agriculture as a whole.

Case 4: The diffusion of agricultural knowledge (Elena Kunadt, Wuppertal, DE)

The late success of artificial fertilisers and insecticides during the wars of the 20th century, laid out the path for a worldwide operating agrochemical industry. Under benevolent governance and public reliance, synthetic herbicides such as Atrazine were introduced in the late 1950s. Despite the fact that Atrazine showed environmental dangers after the first years of application, it remained the mainstay of industrialised corn production. Different interpretations of scientific knowledge and non-knowledge lead to either maintaining the market share or banning the substance on a national level. How was “knowledge” about Atrazine produced, distributed within and interpreted by different actor groups in West Germany and the United States?

  • Chair: Prof. Dr. Ernst Homburg, Maastricht University, NL
  • Co-organiser 1: Dr. Verena, Lehmbrock, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany
  • Co-organiser 2: Elena, Kunadt, Bergische Universität Wuppertal
  • Presenter 1: Verena, Lehmbrock, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany
  • Presenter 2: Christopher, Halm, Universität Regensburg, Germany
  • Presenter 3: Juri, Auderset, Archive for rural history, Switzerland
  • Presenter 4: Elena, Kunadt, Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany