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

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226693835

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226693972.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 01 December 2021

Divining Adaptation

Divining Adaptation

(p.130) 6 Divining Adaptation
The Nature of the Future

Emily Pawley

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 6 examines the success with which improvers convinced themselves that certain landscapes were innately “adapted” to particular future modes of production, an assumption built into free trade ideology. It begins by addressing the idea of adaptation, a concept that both improvers and naturalists in the nineteenth century saw as a fundamental feature of the natural world, demonstrating the presence of a designing intelligence that had fitted particular environments to particular future uses. It then follows the efforts of one improver, Zadock Pratt, to demonstrate that a town he had deforested as a tanner had a natural future as a butter district. Pratt used multiple forms of standard argument about adaptation—from settler knowledge about tree species and their relation to soils, to geological surveys, and expensive experimental farms, whose products were trumpeted through the improving press and at the fairs. Such arguments rendered the skill of butter making women invisible even as they helped make particular assemblages of exotic species seem like the natural products of the landscape. The chapter argues that Pratt's efforts were commonplace and that what sometimes seem to be centralized maps of agricultural potential were actually composed of bids for reputation.

Keywords:   argument from design, free trade ideology, adaptation, geological surveys, regionalization, butter, Zadock Pratt, experimental farms

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