Sketch of UK Agricultural Research and Education

I have posted a quick outline sketch of trends and institutions in UK agricultural research and education here.

Also, a recent post at the Board of Longitude project blog got me thinking a little bit about the idea of a “Board” in the British state.  I tried to post the following comment there, but it did not go through, so I thought here might be a good place to drop it.

I would be very much interested in anything you might have to say about the evolving idea and function of the “Board” in the British state. Here at Imperial College London, we are running a working group on agricultural history, and although we deal mainly with the 20th century, we are interested in antecedent problems as well.

The first Board of Agriculture (1793-1820) seems to have had the Board of Trade primarily in mind as a predecessor organization, but also, to my surprise, the Royal Society. As a body oriented toward “improvement” (or, indeed, “perfection”) it also has some affinity with the Board of Longitude. The precedent/rationales for sponsoring these sorts of bodies is sketched here, but this is just after some cursory searching. Please do post whatever you might find out about this topic.

About Will Thomas

Will Thomas is a junior research fellow at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at Imperial College London. He is originally from Minnesota, and received his PhD in the History of Science from Harvard University in 2007. From 2007 to 2010 he was a post-doctoral historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics near Washington, DC. There he developed the Array of Contemporary American Physicists resource. His primary interests are in 20th-century America and Britain, and in the histories of physics and the sciences of policy analysis. He maintains the blog Ether Wave Propaganda, usually posting about the problems of maintaining a constructive historiography, and about argumentative systems in all eras.
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8 Responses to Sketch of UK Agricultural Research and Education

  1. Thony C. says:

    Will, you seem surprised that the Board of Agriculture should look at the Royal Society as a predecessor or role model but there was a ‘science’ driven ‘agricultural revolution’ in the 17th century even before the founding of the RS and I think if you read the Philosophical Transactions you will find several reports of schemes to improve agricultural yields, things like using seaweed as fertilizer. I wish I could supply you with more detail but it’s something that is only on the periphery of my own interests. I suggest you go back and look at Bacon’s New Atlantis, which certainly also deals with agricultural improvement, not forgetting when you do that the RS was originally Baconian.

  2. Will Thomas says:

    I didn’t know the agricultural improvement movement went back so far — it’s been too long since I’ve given Bacon a good read over as well.

    I suppose there are two things that surprise me about the Board of Agriculture looking to the Royal Society here. First, improvement schemes seem to be more at the center of the Board’s interests here than I would have thought (I’d imagined it had more to do with agricultural markets), and, second, I wouldn’t have thought a non-government club (if you’ll allow me to use the term to describe the RS) would be seen as a precedent to a government board. However, it looks as though whether agriculture was going to get a society or a board seems to have been something of a toss up. Again, though, all this perception is only after an extremely superficial look at things.

    Admittedly, I’m more spectator than expert in this period, but in my general effort to de-center science from the social and political life (i.e., the world didn’t become scientific with the Scientific Revolution), I may have gone too far in under-estimating the importance seen in the RS in the late 18th century. Of course, the improvement-minded Board proponents would have been unusually sympathetic to the RS, so I guess I’m still not totally sure how to think about it.

  3. Rebekah Higgitt says:

    Hi Will – I’m sorry that you had problems commenting on the Longitude Project blog. I’ve asked our tech guy to look into why this might have happened. I’ll try to get the comment up one way or another as it’s certainly something that the project members are discussing. In fact we are planning to have a workshop in September this year looking at this very topic (will post more details when we have them).

    Two quick points to make here (before, I hope, taking discussion over to the other blog): firstly, there are various other Boards, like the Board of Ordnance, Navy Board and Board of Admiralty, that need to be considered here as well and, secondly, that the Royal Society was hugely significant in giving advice to government in all these areas, especially, but not only, under the presidency of Joseph Banks. This is not just a question of “improvement-minded” commissioners and members of government, but also the fact that much of the output of the RS in the 17th and 18th century was directed to patronage-gaining topics like agriculture and maritime travel, from John Evelyn’s 1664 Sylva, printed by the RS in response to questions from the Navy Board, onwards.

    • Will Thomas says:

      Ah, excellent, yes, that’s just the sort of thing I’m interested in. I look forward to reading more later!

      • Thony C. says:

        I will add to Becky’s John Evelyn that if you look at the composition of the RS in the 17th century it is packed with highly influential people like Evelyn, Pepys, various aristocrats numerous Bishops and the like. Although never official it represented an important part of the establishment and so was closely tied to those in power. Newtons patron, Charles Montagu Earl of Halifax was a President of the RS and simultaneously the Chancellor of the Exchequer who established the Bank of England.

  4. Pingback: Longitude ups and downs | Whewell's Ghost

  5. Rebekah Higgitt says:

    Just to let you know that Nicky Reeves has added an interesting comment on this topic over at the Longitude Blog. Thanks again for raising it, as it looks like it will be a really helpful comparison for our thinking about government funding for science in the 18th and early 19th century.

  6. Will Thomas says:

    That is interesting — thanks to Nicky for the reply. I hadn’t been aware of Sinclair, but he looks to have been a very energetic character.

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