AMOS: Phase 1 (2020-2024)

Global History of Soil & Agricultural Knowledge in Farming Manuals

In the first phase, under the theme "Soil," this working group explored how the quotidian labor of the field informed the disparate ways of organizing knowledge across the premodern and early modern world. In particular, we focused on

  1. Boundary work: how historical actors classified and negotiated “peasantly” knowledge among various fields of knowledge in Asian cultures. Some of these fields of knowledge parallel modern disciplines, such as medicine, hydrology, forestry, geography, or botany, but nevertheless had very different boundaries, teleologies, and structures. Others have no comparable Western counterpart. We aim to comprehend the “scientific” rationale underlying these domains of learning.
  2. Material practices: the role of empirical observation, argumentative styles, and experimentation in this boundary work. Across the Islamicate and the Sinographic world, agriculture formed the economic backbone while political power was concentrated among landowning elites. These elites, while removed from direct agricultural labor, positioned themselves as learned stewards of the land. Such hands-on engagement of elites with the material realities of agriculture—while often mediated through hired labor—generated both practical and theoretical knowledge. Our purpose is to elucidate these generative processes, while remaining particularly attentive to the agency of material actions.

This phase included two group projects: 1) Examining the global history and material culture of soil(s); 2) A comparative study of agricultural knowledge in fourteenth-century farming manuals (Arabic/Chinese). See the project descriptions below for further details.