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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: 03 December 2021

The Balance-Sheet of Nature

The Balance-Sheet of Nature

Chapter:
(p.189) 8 The Balance-Sheet of Nature
Source:
The Nature of the Future
Author(s):

Emily Pawley

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226693972.003.0009

Chapter 8 follows the rise of an invisible form of value—nutritional value—by examining the sudden enormous popularity of analytic chemistry in the 1840s. It begins by laying out theories of food from the 1830s, such as those around the controversial soil amendment plaster, which was cast as a stimulant, a true food, a condiment, a source of vital force, and a dangerous intoxicant. It shows how a new class of analytic chemists promised to describe the landscape in calculable monetary terms, placing different elements of the landscape in debit and credit relationship with each other. Predictably, different groups of improvers deployed this reasoning to their own ends—for example, as tenants and landlords cast blame for soil degradation on each other. However, nutritional accounting proved too complex for the messy landscapes of farming. Instead, like other improvers chemists refocused their attention on goods: in this case artificial fertilizers. Here too, agreement about the nature of nutrition remained elusive. While academic chemists revealed “frauds,” fertilizer manufacturers made cases for alternative theories of nutrition within their allied journals. This battle not only laid the groundwork for the disinterested state experiment stations, but established centers of credibility that persisted in catalogues and advertisements.

Keywords:   agricultural chemistry, chemical analysis, nutritional value, Justus Von Liebig, food, soil degradation

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