“The science of farming is a science full of benefits; it is the origin of all industries.” ʿ ilm-i filāḥat ʿ ilm-i pür menāfiʿ ve aṣl-ı cemi-i ṣanāyıʿ, Nevi Efendi (1533/4–1598)
If philosophy and mathematics constituted the major achievements of early modern scientific thought, agricultural practices grounded premodern scholars in their approaches to such topics: Shen Gua 沈括 (1031–1095) based his discussions of constants (chang 常) and variables (bian 變) in the principles of things (wuli 物理) on his observations of farming rhythms; Al-Ghazali (1058–1111) discussed man’s rational faculty and geometry after observing the hexagonal shape of bee hives. This project scrutinizes how “working the soil” informed change in scientific, technological, and medical knowledge and practice from the shores of Bahr al-muhit al-gharbi (the Atlantic) to Donghai (East China Sea) during the twelfth to seventeenth centuries. We invite scholars to examine at practices such as grafting, manuring, hydraulic engineering, or seed production, to determine how knowledge about the natural world was defined and systematized. For example, what was deemed useful for medical purposes; what constituted a food, and what was utilized in mechanic structures? By examining concrete practices of agriculture, we look from the “ground up” at the formation of different fields of knowledge and knowledge cultures in which these practices found expression, and from there the production of farming knowledge. Our comparison has two reference points: the Sinographic world, incorporating Classical Chinese (as used in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam), and the Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish literary traditions.
The working group is collaborating with Brill to launch a book series: "Agriculture and the Making of Sciences 1100–1700: Texts, Practices, and Transcultural Transmission of Knowledge in Asia."
We address these questions:
- What bodies of knowledge were abstracted from people's experiences in the complex realities of agricultural practice, and how?
- How were such bodies of knowledge categorized into different epistemic fields, and negotiated between discrete epistemic subjects?
- How were some bodies of knowledge generalized, universalized, until they became “the orthodoxy” that created social and material realities, while others were only discussed within a narrow field (for instance, farming manuals maintained a stabilized body of agricultural knowledge, did what was excluded go into other fields and became organized in other forms)?
- How were new epistemic fields formed when various bodies of knowledge were negotiated and reconnected to reproduce heterodox alternatives?
- In times of increasing global interconnections, how did authors make sense of “new things” (for example, American plants, etc.), incorporating them into established bodies and forms of knowledge? What were the mechanisms of keeping the established forms of knowledge as the orthodoxy?
- How did genres such as farming manuals evolve and their contents change over time?
In addition to farming manuals and treatises, we examine diverse forms of agricultural knowledge that did not conveniently fit into the discrete scholarly categories of their respective times: legal writings, cosmographies, dictionaries, materia medica, manuals of mechanical art, as well as artifacts and visual representations.