The Golden Age of State Enquiries

RHN 115/2014 | Publication

Nadine Vivier (ed.), The Golden Age of State Enquiries. Rural Enquiries in the Nineteenth Century. From Fact Gathering to Political Instrument (Rural History in Europe, vol. 14), Brepols: Turnhout 2014.

The heart of the nineteenth century was the golden age of state enquiries in Europe. This international comparative study highlights the importance of transnational cultural tranfers and the enquiries as a means of construction of the nation state.

Any state intervention in society requires a high degree of knowledge. This is usually given by a state-sponsored enquiry. Some of these surveys can be traced back to Antiquity, but by the nineteenth century enquiries proved to be different because the nature of the state and the distribution of political influence had changed, and the scientific and financial means to investigate had progressed. This new context prompted states to launch large enquiries to assess transformations in the rural world: new techniques, opening to long distance trade. The heart of the nineteenth century was the golden age of state enquiries. Inspired by the nascent sociology, they fulfilled the desire for scientific knowledge accessible to everyone and the search for innovative solutions for the improvement of agriculture and rural life.

Most of those enquiries about the countryside are well known by historians who have built their work on the vast data collections. In a different approach, the present volume does not focus on their content; it examines the origins and functioning of the enquiries as new and important objects of historical research. Fourteen studies are gathered from across twelve countries. The main focus is on Western Europe, with broadening perspectives to the East (Ottoman Empire) and West (Canada and Mexico). The International comparative perspectives highlight the importance of transnational cultural transfers in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world. French and British methods were considered models of progress and of a civilized state. Statistical methods and the needs of the administration were discussed and adapted in each state according to their conception of state power, in the context of the construction of the nation state.

This book is a result of the COST-action Programme for the Study of European Rural Societies (Progressore).

Source: Brepols