The Nature of the FutureAgriculture, Science, and Capitalism in the Antebellum North

The Nature of the FutureAgriculture, Science, and Capitalism in the Antebellum North

Emily Pawley

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226693835

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

The Nature of the Future examines a place and period of enormous agricultural vitality—antebellum New York State—and follows thousands of “improving agriculturists,” part of the largest, most diverse, and most active scientific community in nineteenth-century America. The book shows that these improvers saw profit and agricultural development not only as a goal but also as the underlying purpose of the natural world. However, their sense of the natural future was not unified—improvement began as a developmental tool for large landholders but its meanings split and fragmented as wealthy urbanites, middling farmers, and agrarian radical tenants took hold of improving institutions. This disparate group was bound together by a commercial network of warehouses, nurseries, printers, and manufacturers who acted as experts and focused improving attention more and more upon saleable goods. Far from producing a more rational vision of nature, improvers practiced a form of science where conflicting visions of the future landscape appeared and evaporated in quick succession, where theories of value were contested. Improving networks laid the groundwork both for later industrial agriculture and organic “alternative” agriculture.