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HIS220Y1 Lecture Notes - Plough

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Isabelle Cochelin

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HIS220 Agricultural Foundations of Society Tuesday September 25th 2012
- In the Middle Ages, agriculture and peasantry were fundamental aspects of society and life
- 90-95% of the population were involved in the production of food
- The wealth in the Middle Ages was measured by land, and most of the wealth came from the
- 90% of the exportation of goods from England were products of the land
- While the peasants made up such a large part of the population, we have very little
sources/evidence of their everyday life
Agricultural adaptation to colder climates
History and Agriculture: longue duree and changes
- Longue duree, agriculture didn’t really change much after the changes that occur in the 11th and
12th centuries until the 2nd world war?
- Agriculture practiced in the longue duree was repetitive, the same thing was done at the same
time day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year
- From the late 10th century to the late 13th century the weather was generally stable and a bit
warm, but beginning in the 14th century the weather began to fluctuate and became colder
- Grain made up more than half of their diets, so any slight change in the growing of grain had a
major impact on their diets and ability to feed themselves
Mediterranean Agriculture and two-field system
- 5000 BCE agriculture was developed, and the way it was done didn’t really change much
- Grains would be planted in October, but first the earth would be prepared with the Light Plow to
crush the surface of the earth
- After the land was cultivated with those winter grains, the land was left to fallow for 16 months
so that it would refertilize itself naturally (two-field system)
Three-field system and the heavy-plow
- One field was used, one was left to fallow
- Heavy plow was then introduced, needed a team of oxen to pull it (so you either needed a local
lord to pay for it or a team of peasants to pool together to buy it)
- This allowed people to cultivate previously uncultivable land in the north
- It allowed them to clear a lot more land as well
- There is thus a lot of land being put to use throughout Europe
- For instance, in the late 11th century in England there was approximately 5-6 million acres of
land used for agriculture, but by the late 13th century there was now 10 million acres used for
- Three-field system introduced in the 12th -13th centuries: spring planting, fall planting, fallow
- The three-field system allowed people to stock more food and allowed for two harvests (so that
if one harvest failed they still had the hopes of the second harvest)
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