Rural Science: Experimental Philosophy and Agricultural Improvement in Early Modern England

Navn på bevillingshaver

Esben Bøgh Sørensen


University of Oxford


DKK 850,000




Visiting Fellowships at University of Oxford


Since the Neolithic revolution, agriculture has been the foundation of human life. For most of human history, knowledge about soils, crops, and fertilizer, crucial for survival, has been rooted in local customs and obtained through 'learning by doing' processes passed down from one generation of farmers to the next. Rural Science studies how English natural philosophers, agricultural reformers, and farmers broke with customary and habitual farming knowledge in the late 16th and 17th centuries. The project hypothesizes that the intersecting emergence of experimental methods within natural philosophy, the rise of agrarian capitalism, and the reform-aspirations of agricultural improvers led to the development of an experimental and theory-based approach to farming in early modern England.


The project argues that the traditional dating of a scientific approach to farming to the late 18th and 19th centuries misses a crucial period in late 16th and 17th century England. In so doing, the project intervenes in the fields of agricultural history and the history of science by significantly enhancing our knowledge of the agricultural roots of early modern experimental science and the early modern roots of scientific approaches to agriculture. Finally, the project explores highly relevant themes within environmental history, such as the changing views on the role of human agency within wider natural systems following the rise of capitalist farming.


To explore how the connection between experimental philosophy, agricultural reform, and farming unfolded in the period, the project creates the analytical concept of 'rural science'. The concept refers to the forms of knowledge and practices of knowledge production, such as information gathering, discussions, observations, and conducting experiments, occurring in the spaces where experimental philosophers, agricultural reformers, and farmers interacted, corresponded, and met. These spaces took various forms, from farms, fields, and gardens to correspondence and information networks. Through three cases studies, including extensive archival research, the project traces how the often messy but not entirely disorganized knowledge and practices of rural science unfolded throughout the period.

Tilbage til oversigtssiden