Call for Papers: Rural History 2017 Panel - Agriculture and economic crisis in contemporary Europe (late 19th – 21th century)

RHN 97/2016 | Call

Organisers: Gérard Béaur (CNRS & EHESS, Paris, France) and Francesco Chiapparino (Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy)
11-14 September 2017, Leuven, Belgium

Panel at the Rural History 2017 Conference:
Agriculture and economic crisis in contemporary Europe
(late 19th – 21th century).
The farm crisis of 1929 in a historical perspective

This double session aims to address the relationship between agriculture and the major recessions of the contemporary age, with particular – albeit not exclusive – reference to the 1929 crisis. While the key position of the primary sector in pre-industrial depressions (like in those of non-industrialized economies) is indeed a consolidated assumption, the role it played in the great modern recessions is more controversial. The weight of the agricultural sector in the same Great Depression of the late 19th century, although widely acknowledged, is still subject of different, often opposite, interpretations. While, on the other hand, some recent crises seem to indicate that, even in the post-industrial world of globalization, the primary sector retains an important role in structural economic dynamics.

As in particular to the 1929 crisis, if its general explanations are far to be univocal among scholars, the positions about the relevance of the primary sector in the depression are even more diverging. In fact, the downturn of agricultural prices was focalized as a major cause of the recession by the first reports of the Society of Nations. Already during the Thirties, however, this analysis left the place to other interpretations, stressing time by time monetary and financial factors, speculative and monopolistic behaviors, or long term demographic and investment cycles. In parallel with a more general loss of interest for the issue of the crisis, the importance of agriculture passed progressively into the background, up to be even denied sometimes. The outburst of the recession in 2008 has changed this perspective drastically, stimulating a renewed attention to the depression of the Thirties and comparing it explicitly to the present crisis for its lasting and depth – as suggested, for instance, by the International Conference held in Ancona, Italy, in December 2015 on Large-scale Crises: 1929 vs 2008. In this new framework, some neo-Keynesian analyses have highlighted again the relevance of the primary sector and particularly the impact of the rural incomes fall on the aggregate demand. This slump may have had an important weight, if not in triggering, just in strengthening and prolonging the depression across the 1930s, especially where agriculture still represented a wide macro-sector of the economic system.

The proposed session intends therefore to solicit a discussion on the role of agriculture in provoking and aggravating large-scale crises of the modern industrial Europe, with special reference to that of the Thirties. The goal of the panel is to present compared and comparable analysis at different local, national and international levels in order to investigate long-term and structural transformations at the basis of extended crises and how they are associated to the dynamics of the primary sector.

Contact: Gérard Béaur ( or Francesco Chiapparino (