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.
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