Current Project

Peasants and Lords – Small and Big Farmers: Innovation, Institutions & Productivity in Saxon Agriculture, 1700 to 1900

The project analyses peasant and manorial farms in Saxony, ca. 1700 to 1900, constructing a representative sample of the agricultural sector. The collected data is expected to show the development of fundamental aspects such as the advent of new crops, density of livestock, intensity of land use, as well as gross and per hectare yield. Additionally, a large number of elements will be compiled, in order to differentiate the results with respect to different classes of Saxon agricultural producers. Ideally, that will include manors, peasants, and small subsistence producers known as “Häusler” in German.

Thus, the spreading of new methods among the agricultural producers can be investigated and compared – leading to conclusions about which groups contributed to agricultural development, in which way, and when. The results will shed new light on the institutional differences and ties between these groups, too, allowing for a re-evaluation of agrarian reforms, including the abolition of serfdom, in 19th century Germany.

In that context, special attention is given to the Agricultural Associations of Saxony, a form of voluntary corporate and professional self-organization. On the one hand, they acted as agents of knowledge production and distribution, especially with regard to new crop rotations and nutrient cycles. On the other hand, they brought together farmers of different social origin, levelling former lords and their subject peasants in a way that was not known before. It is unclear, however, how deep these new institutions actually permeated the rural world.

The project predominantly uses source material that was either mostly unknown before or never used in a systematic fashion. A large number of local fragments of contemporary statistical accounts allow for the investigation of many peasant economies on an individual level. Furthermore, farm accounts from private owners and small local collections will be included.

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