Jahrbuch für Geschichte des ländlichen Raumes 14 (2017)

RHN 190/2017 | Publication

Wer das Gras wachsen hört. Wissensgeschichte(n) der pflanzlichen Ressourcen vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert / The ones who hear the grass grow. Histories of knowledge concerning plant-based resources from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century

Editors: Simona Boscani Leoni and Martin Stuber

Language: German (with English abstracts)

Table of Contents and Abstracts:

Simona Boscani Leoni and Martin Stuber: Introduction


Dorothee Rippmann Tauber: The Acquisition of Things “Wild” and New, through Language – in the Light of Agricultural Texts and Herbals
This contribution explains three aspects of the development of botanical knowledge between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries: the genres or media used for collecting and circulating knowledge, including the collections of dried plants (1), the institutions for the production and distribution of knowledge (2), and the aspect of knowledge spaces (3). From the 1540s onwards, university botanic gardens were created as experimental places where it was possible to study and breed plants (from the New World). At the same time, private and princely gardens remained important. After Petrus de Crescentiis (ruralia commoda), the standing of personal “experiencia” and observation grew, while ancient texts were critically examined.The example of Charles Estienne’s work (1504–1564) shows a growing awareness of the historicity of plant societies, which was developed through the study of ancient textbooks. Similarly, a focus on locality found its way into botany and agricultural theory. Estienne recognised the specific regional conditions of the plants’ natural surroundings and prepared the ground for the concept of a “local flora.” In order to study regional flora, it became more important to collect plants on excursions (herbaria), and the information given by rural informants was increasingly valued. The last part of the article looks at the work of the botanist Hieronymus Bock. A number of arable and food crops from the New World as well as plenty of wild plants found their way into this classic herbal. Bock viewed these new things favourably, since in his eyes every useful plant was not only another sign of God’s creation, but also proof of Germany’s fruitfulness and prosperity. The universalist approach to the study of nature visible in the encyclopaedias of the thirteenth century has since changed. In the time of colonial discoveries and pre-national awareness, the horizons specific to country and region have grown more important.

Ulrike Kruse: Useful Bedding Plants in Paterfamilias Literature
“House Father Literature” (Hausväterliteratur) gives information about which plants were cultivated in the early modern era and whether the composition of those plants in various gardens changed over time. Three works from the end of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries respectively posed the following questions: What plants were cultivated? What information is there on those plants? Why are those plants in particular to be cultivated? Can any tendencies of scientification or economization be determined? Those plants named in the aforementioned works were put into lists and described in detail; then the lists were compared and questions were posed as to their similarities and differences. Particular plants were subjected to analysis. There is almost always information regarding the plants’ needs in terms of soil and climate; the best times for seeding and planting; harvesting, preparation and storage as well as seed production. Sometimes plants are listed according to their humoral pathological properties and their healing potentials are emphasized. The recommendation of specific plants for cultivation is based on their uses: during the time of the “House Fathers,” the cultivation of certain plants was seen as so important that one continuously encounters their names. These plants have maintained their importance because of their properties as good nutritional plants and because of their prestige as exotics.

Sophie Ruppel: From “Phyto-theology” to Ecological Thinking? Natural Cycles, Balances and Networks in Descriptions of the oeconomia naturae in the 18th Century
Historical research dealing with changing attitudes towards nature at the beginning of modernity has mainly focused on the progressive economization and the exploitation of natural resources. The development of new technologies, making use of an objectified nature in the 19th and 20th centuries, has been connected to the rise of the natural sciences in many aspects. This contribution reveals a different type of scientific thinking emerging in the 18th century that might not have played a dominant role, but was nevertheless important at the time. While developing ideas of the oeconomia naturae, the “household” of nature, scholars like Julius Bernhard von Rohr (1688–1742), Carl von Linné (1741–1783) or Heinrich Sander (1764–1782) studied the interconnectedness of plants and animals. Their interest in the natural sciences was still closely linked to the physico-theological thinking of the time, searching for God’s wisdom within the natural world. Thereby they described the interdependencies of natural beings in detailed images of nets, vast chains or circles and analysed what we today would call eco-systems. In that respect, scientific ideas about the interrelatedness within natural settings emerged long before ecology was established as a field of science. Whether these ideas can be seen as roots of modern ecological science is still to be discussed.

Simona Boscani Leoni: The Debate about Peat Extraction during the 18th Century: the Brothers Scheuchzer between Johannes von Muralt and Johann I. Bernoulli
The article’s focus is the knowledge transfer about peat and the debate about its use as source of energy in 18th-century Switzerland. The use of peat as an alternative source of energy when wood became scarce was already known at the beginning of the 1st century A.D. as can be seen in Pliny the Elder’s (23/24–79) Naturalis Historia. Thanks to the works of Martin Schoock (1614–1669) and Charles Patin (1633–1693), the knowledge and know-how about this source of energy circulated in Europe and was noticed also in Switzerland. At the beginning of the 18th century, the city of Zurich had to deal with a shortage of wood because of the ban on exports by the bordering region of Schwyz and was searching for new sources of energy. The council of the city decided to create an expert committee with the objective to detect peat’s deposits within the city’s territory. Members of this committee were politicians and well-known naturalists like Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672–1733) and his brother Johannes (1684–1738), who were very active in this enterprise. The article deals with the role of these naturalists as brokers between politics, science and commercial interests, and with their role in the diffusion of knowledge about peat in Switzerland. Their correspondence with the mathematician and university professor Johann I. Bernoulli (1667–1748) offers a good example of knowledge transfer about alternative sources of energy before the industrial revolution.

Meike Knittel: “Dominus creavit ex Terra Medicamenta”. Knowledge on Medicinal Plants in Johannes Gessner’s Phytographia Sacra
This paper examines the bodies of knowledge discussed by the Zurich naturalist Johannes Gessner (1709–1790) in his dissertation on medicinal plants published in 1762. It explores how Gessner linked the latest insights on plant classification and debates on the functioning of human bodies with existing knowledge on plant-based remedies. Published as a part of Gessner’s Phytographia Sacra (sacred description of plants), the dissertation combined the praise of God with the imparting of knowledge on exotic and local plants. Through his teaching as a professor of physics and mathematics and with the publication of dissertations composed for the examinations at the local Collegium Carolinum, Gessner provided future clergymen, physicians and merchants with knowledge about the numerous useful qualities of plants. The paper argues that by adapting the dissertations’ topics to local interests and habits, Gessner tried to win over supporters and allies for his own botanical studies. Thereby, this paper contributes to a history of knowledge that takes into account the interrelated and manifold ‘ways of knowing’ that exceed scholarly circles and combine different approaches.

Regina Dauser: Competing Knowledge Claims: Debates on Tobacco Cultivation in the Economic Enlightenment
Recent studies on the economic enlightenment have focused increasingly on social networks and communicative patterns of ‘enlightened’ actors in the 18th century. The attitudes and actions of the erudite in particular are comparatively well-known. Their research strategies and their propositions for the improvement of resource management and production processes are available to us in numerous written and printed sources, such as letters and journals. By contrast, tacit knowledge of practitioners like peasants, their reactions to erudite and governmental concepts of reform as well as their own contributions to reform projects are far less accessible in coeval sources. These were often passed on by mediators, e.g. the rural clergy, teachers, and local authorities. This article analyses efforts made in order to improve tobacco cultivation in 18th century electoral Palatinate in a case study, exploring the confrontation of erudite and governmentally approved knowledge about tobacco cultivation with practical local knowledge of peasants, gained over several generations. Role models of the actors involved are reflected on, and so are consequences of the confrontation of forms of knowledge in the reform process. By doing so, this contribution highlights the importance of exploring different cultures of knowledge about natural resources and the communication between these cultures.

Sarah Baumgartner: “Useful herbs and grasses”. The Zurich Economic Commission and the Knowledge about the Cultivation of Clover and Meadows
The promotion of forage plants like clover was an essential element of enlightenment-era agricultural reform programs. Societies like the Zurich Economic Commission played an important role in advancing such reforms. The Commission used a broad range of means, aiming at the collection, testing and distribution of useful knowledge such as; price competitions, the distribution of manuals, benefit payments for peasants ready to try clover on their fields, and experiments with different sorts of grasses in its botanical garden. These measures were supposed to link different cultures of knowledge, i.e. the well-educated commission members’ ideas about agriculture and the peasants’ practical know-how.

Gerrendina Gerber-Visser: Hemp – Flax – Nettle. How the Economic Society of Berne Promoted the Cultivation of Textile Plants
The production and manufacture of flax and hemp were important subjects of the Economic Society of Berne (Oekonomische Gesellschaft Bern). The findings of this article are based on the journal of the Bernese Economic Society, on its correspondence and on the so called “topographical descriptions”, that inform readers about agriculture in a specific community or region. The sources deriving from the Bernese Society about these textile plants provide good examples to show the way new knowledge was acquired in the 18th and 19th century, until it was acknowledged as secured and valid. It can be shown that international publications (The Dublin Society’s Weekly Observations) as well as traditional methods and experiences in Flanders, Ireland and Switzerland were combined and that only the exchange of all these elements led to new insights. Simultaneously, the society was also active in transferring seeds from Riga to Berne, which at the time was known as the best flax-seed. The Oekonomische Gesellschaft Bern was an important platform for communication about agricultural innovations and for the exchange of new methods and techniques in agricultural production. The network and the publications of the society were essential to the generation and diffusion of new knowledge about textile plants. Moreover, some of its activities’ outcomes were included in international encyclopaedia such as to the Krünitz in Germany and the Encyclopédie méthodique in France.

Martin Stuber: From the Patrician Garden Culture to the Systematic Register of Varieties – Bernese Fruit Cultivation in the longue durée
Among the efforts to improve agricultural productivity, the cultivation of useful plants was of particular importance to the Economic Enlightenment. In contrast to fodder and textile plants, cereals and potatoes, fruit trees were not among its favourite subjects. This may come as a surprise in light of the significance that fruit has acquired in contemporary diet. Be that as it may, efforts to improve fruit cultivation go back farther than the classical period of the Economic Enlightenment. The example of Bern in particular works well for the analysis over the longue durée that covers the time from Daniel Rhagor’s Pflantz-Gart (1639) to the Register of Varieties of Excellent Species of Pome Fruits for the Canton of Bern (Stamm-Register, 1865). From the perspective of the history of knowledge, the connection between scholarly knowledge and local experience on the one hand and the changing actors in these knowledge systems on the other hand are of special interest to this contribution.

Juri Auderset/Peter Moser: Explorers into the Infinite – Wheat Breeders 1850–1920
Plant breeding is always affected by the way plants are perceived by those who breed them. A knowledge based history of wheat breeding has, therefore, to take into account, that the wheat breeding practices of the farming community at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century increasingly took place in an industrial context, where plants were conceptualised as fixed entities that could be manipulated with the help of modern genetics. Scientific-oriented plant breeders working in laboratories had, in principal, a different understanding of the plant than farmers who incorporated their long-time experiences into their breeding and production practices in the fields. While the distinction between scientifically legitimated, Mendel-oriented breeding activities of scientists and the breeding-production oriented practices of the farming community was used by scientific actors to set up new state supported breeding institutions in the early stage of 20th century Switzerland, the actual wheat breeding activities of the emerging agrarian-industrial knowledge society were characterized by a close cooperation of farmers and scientists. The complexity of the agrarian world resulted in the creation of a private-public wheat-breeding arrangement, where scientific and tacit knowledge were not equal, but equally important. While scientists remained dependent on the breeding practices of the farmers and their knowledge, the latter incorporated Mendel’s terminology in their reflections about improving their plants. Many wheat producing farmers, therefore, successfully resisted their transformation into multipliers of seed (Vermehrer von Saatgut) until the 1950/60’s, when plant pathology, new varieties and an abundance of relatively cheap artificial manure enabled the time-, space- and social-separation of the breeding and multiplying activities – a far-reaching process which not only made the farmers breeding-knowledge obsolete but also led to the view, that breeders were inventors whose plants could be patented.

Marcus Popplow: Wissensgeschichte der pflanzlichen Ressourcen in der longue durée. Kommentar


Dorothee Rippmann Tauber: Das Herbarium des Felix Platter. Die älteste wissenschaftliche Pflanzensammlung der Schweiz


Martin Bauer: Die Schätzungsoperate des Franziszeischen Katasters als agrarhistorische Quelle


Website: http://www.ruralhistory.at/de/publikationen/jglr

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