New Perspectives on the History of Life Sciences and Agriculture
This volume explores problems in the history of science at the intersection of life sciences and agriculture, from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Taking a comparative national perspective, the book examines agricultural practices in a broad sense, including the practices and disciplines devoted to land management, forestry, soil science, and the improvement and management of crops and livestock. The life sciences considered include genetics, microbiology, ecology, entomology, forestry, and deal with US, European, Russian, Japanese, Indonesian, Chinese contexts. The book shows that the investigation of the border zone of life sciences and agriculture raises many interesting questions about how science develops. In particular it challenges one to reexamine and take seriously the intimate connection between scientific development and the practical goals of managing and improving - perhaps even recreating - the living world to serve human ends. Without close attention to this zone it is not possible to understand the emergence of new disciplines and transformation of the old disciplines, to evalucate the role and impact of such major figures of science as Humboldt and Mendel, or to appreciate how much of the history of modern biology has been driven by national ambitions and imperialist expansion in competition with rival nations.
The article examines an episode in the history of nineteenth-century agricultural improvement, the attempt to change the climate of Russia’s southern steppe provinces by planting forests. The afforestation efforts carried out in the Velikii Anadol’ forestry district in the eastern Ukraine were closely interwoven with debates about the potential climatic impact of deforestation – debates that were waged across Europe from the eighteenth century onwards and that are often considered by historians as crucial for the emergence of modern environmental consciousness. This chapter focuses on the changing character of experiments and observations carried out in Velikii Anadol’, and analyzes the ways in which they reflect a broader transformation of evidentiary standards in the nineteenth-century life sciences. It also explores the ways in which different scientific agendas were applied in the Russian frontier as part of attempts at agricultural colonization.
This chapter examines the rise of applied entomology in the nineteenth-century Russian empire from the time when certain branches of the Russian civil service began collecting field data on insect pests till the moment when the first professional positions for agricultural entomologists were established. The central theme of our research is the interaction between a small group of trained naturalists, the Russian state administration, and a broader network of provincial observers that was instrumental for the emergence of a discipline whose success ultimately depended on a stable flow of mass-produced field data. The paper explores the complex relations between the state and civil society, and between the political and academic center of St. Petersburg and regional initiatives that shaped the early history of applied entomology in Russia.