“Towards a Global History of Soil. Sciences, Practices, Materialities, and Mobilities, 1100–1700”

Towards a Global History of Soil: Sciences, Practices, Materialities and Mobilities, 1100–1700

This conference will explore the scientific, practical, and material culture of soil in the premodern world. Developed in conjunction with MPIWG’s Working Group "Agriculture and the Making of Sciences, 1100–1700," it invites research on soil as mobile matter, in the sense of being transported across space, manipulated, and systematized in various bodies of knowledge.

As one of the most basic materials, people at all social levels and from both lay and elite backgrounds engaged with soil in various ways. Because soil was fundamental for agriculture, historians have typically focused on this aspect of its use. However, in the premodern era, soil's utility extended far beyond this into domains as disparate as architecture and medicine, divination and alchemy. This reassessment of soil, raises many questions:   

How did soil emerge as a subject of discourse? How are practical and theoretical approaches to soil related? How was soil classified and how did they compare from region to region over time? What premodern methods existed to evaluate the quality of soil? How did the agricultural knowledge of soil move into other bodies of knowledge and vice versa?

We especially encourage scholars working on East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the indigenous Americas to apply. Contributions must address the period between 1100–1700.

Successful applicants will be invited to a virtual conference hosted by the MPIWG on July 22–23, 2021, to present their research. The format of the conference will be pre-circulated papers of a maximum of 3,000 words paired with a short 15-minute presentation of research via Zoom. The organizers of the conference will plan a publication based on the proceedings. 

Deadline for application: April 30, 2021.

Scholars at all levels, including advanced graduate students, are welcome to apply. Applicants should send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a current CV, all in one PDF file, to Dr. Justin Niermeier-Dohoney,

Please note that only successful applicants will be notified.

We invite submissions of original, unpublished research papers on topics including, but not limited to:

  • soil mixtures and mobilities: chemistry, experiments, taxonomy, classification
  • techniques and practices related to soil in alchemy, agronomy, medicine (human and animal), divination, astronomy, and astrology
  • natural philosophies, cosmologies, and natural histories of soil 
  • representations of soil in art, religion, literature, and culture
  • soil as a commodity: economic development, labor, land, expertise, and the state 
  • archaeological methods for interpreting soil 
  • soil and human/ecosystem relations 

An overview of current research themes of the Agriculture and the Making of Sciences research group can be found here.

For the call for visiting scholarships, open until July 31, 2021, click here.