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Graduate Seminar: Syllabus (fall 2005)

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Agrarian Societies

Culture, Power, History, and Development

Anthropology 541a
History 765a
Political Science 779a
F&ES 753a
Instructors: Michael R. Dove
James C. Scott
Steven Stoll
Mondays, 1:30-5:20
77 Prospect Street, Room A002
Fall Semester 2005

drawing: carousing?



This seminar presents a multi-disciplinary perspective on the modern transformation of the countryside of the world. The rise of a capitalist mode of production as the engine of a world economy, the emergence of a contentious international polity of nation-states, and the propagation of rationalizing religions and standardizing education are three distinct yet intersecting processes in the modern transformation of the world since the 1500s. These processes have not been inevitable, nor irreversible, nor complete. However, they have been compelling, in so far as they have come to frame both our acceptance of and resistance to the modern order in which we find ourselves.

“Peasant studies” is a rubric for the loosely-bounded, interdisciplinary exploration of the initial modernization of the European countryside and the subsequent engagement and ongoing incorporation of the countryside of Asia, Africa, and the Americas into this modern order. At its most precocious, it tries to comprehend the intrusive thrusts of nation-state formation, capitalist production, and the rationalization of belief into the most distant agrarian regions of the world. At its most instructive, it insists that people everywhere have confronted those forces with their particular histories and distinctive, local configurations of environment, society, and culture. Everywhere, the encounters of old and new ways of viewing the world and organizing activities have been fitful and frightful, always metamorphic, but never uniform. Animating peasant studies has been the concern to demonstrate the varied ways in which peasants have shared in the making of the modern world that has in turn transformed their lives.

We intend this to be an introductory seminar. That is, we assume you may be ignorant of much of the basic literature. We also assume that you work hard and learn fast. Although the varying backgrounds of students and faculty require us to be somewhat eclectic, we hope that the seminar will prove foundational in an interdisciplinary sense for subsequent work on agrarian issues in any discipline. We encourage you, in your writing and discussion, to make vigorous efforts to be understood across disciplinary boundaries.

drawing: plow in fieldSeminar meetings combine lectures and discussions. We expect regular attendance; please notify us in advance if you are unable to come to a session. We regard participation in discussions to be a gauge of students’ completion and comprehension of the assigned readings. We will evaluate your performance in the seminar on the basis of this participation and on the quality and timeliness of the writing assignments.

Beginning in the third week, designated students will be asked to take formal responsibility for organizing the discussion of the readings. Such responsibility will be shared as equitably as possible. As far as writing assignments are concerned, there are two. First, students are required to submit short (3 page) essays on three weekly themes/readings of their choice. They may want to link these essays to themes for which they have some responsibility in organizing the discussion.

A second paper is due at the end of the course. This may be either a research paper on a topic related to the course concerns or a theoretical discussion or synthesis of some of the analytical readings we have covered. In either case, it should be negotiated with one of the instructors. A brief proposal (one page) is due in the class on October 10th and should be discussed with at least one of the instructors in the following week. The final paper is due (no exceptions) on December 9th.

All assigned readings for the seminar are on reserve at the Social Science or Cross Campus Libraries. Copies of all assigned books are available for purchase at Labyrinth Books. In addition, we have placed a collection of all assigned articles on file at the office of the Program on Agrarian Studies Office (204 Prospect Street, Room 204). Students may choose to have a copy of this file made for their purchase and use.

rows of corn

Weekly Sessions: Topics and Readings

September 05 Week 1 James Scott


No Reading

September 12 Week 2 Michael Dove

Agrarian Ethnography: Swidden Agriculture and the Politics of Representation


Harold C. Conklin. [1957] 1975. Hanunóo Agriculture: A Report on an Integral System of Shifting Cultivation in the Philippines. Originally published by the Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome. Reprint, Northford, CT: Elliot’s Books. (Labyrinth Books)

J.S. Otto and N.E. Anderson. 1982. “Slash-and-Burn Cultivation in the Highlands South: A Problem in Comparative Agricultural History,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 24, pp.131-47. (Reading Packet)

block print: opium poppy
The Opium Poppy: Papaver Somniferum

September 19 Week 3 Steven Stoll and James Scott
drawing: a hog

Animal Planet: On the Influence of Animals in Shaping the Rural Landscape


Virginia DeJohn Anderson. 2004. Creatures of Empire: How Domesticated Animals Transformed Early America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Labyrinth Books)

Elinor G.K.Melville. 1994. A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 2. (Reading Packet)

September 26 Week 4 James Scott and Steven Stoll

Reading Agrarian Ethnography: The Politics of Describing the Disreputable


drawing: chickenMichael Pollan. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. 2001. New York: Random House. (Labyrinth Books)

drawing: beehiveElinor G.K.Melville. 1994. A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 2. (Reading Packet)

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October 3 Week 5 Michael Dove and James Scott

Rebellion, Resistance, Revolution


James Ferguson.1994. The Anti-Politics Machine: Development, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Labyrinth Books)

block print: adorned cow

October 10 Week 6 Steven Stoll and James Scott

Agrarian Capitalism


Allan Kulikoff. 1989. “The Transition to Capitalism in Rural America.” The William and Mary Quarterly 46 (January), pp.120-44. [Use the SML ADatabases and Article Searching@ to go to JSTOR.org]

Brian Donahue. 2004. The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord. New Haven: Yale University Press. (Labyrinth Books)

Steven Stoll. 2005. “AReview of Donahue, The Great Meadow.” The William and Mary Quarterly 62 (January). http://www.wm.edu/oieahc/wmq/Jan05/stoll.pdf

October 17 Week 7 Steven Stoll

Americans and the Politics of Land in the 19th century


Thomas R. Hietala.1990.Manifest Design: Anxious Aggrandizement in Late Jacksonian America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. (Labyrinth Books

October 24 Week 8 James Scott

Resistance, Rebellion, and Revolution

block print: man harvesting corn


E.J. Hobsbawm. 1959. Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries. New York: Norton. (Labyrinth Books)

John Womack. 1968. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. New York: Knopf. (Labyrinth Books)

October 31 Week 9 Michael Dove

Cotton Sharecroppers: James Agee and Walker Evans in the U.S. South


James Agee and Walker Evans. 1988/1939. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (Labyrinth Books)

Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson. 1989. And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South. New York: Pantheon Books. AMaggie Louise,? pp. i-v; APreface,? pp.xv-xxiv; AKing Cotton,” pp.3-16; and “1936-1940,? pp.17-72. (Reading Packet)

November 07 Week 10 Steven Stoll and Jim Scott

Seeds and Plants

drawing: cotton plant



Randall S. Beeman and James A. Pritchard. 2001. A Green and Permanent Land: Ecology and Agriculture in the Twentieth Century. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press. (Labyrinth Books)

Russell Lord. 1938. To Hold This Soil. Miscellaneous Publication No. 321, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Chapter 1. (Reading Packet)

November 14 Week 11 Michael Dove

Rural People, Forests, and Discourses of Deforestation


James Fairhead and Melissa Leach. 1996. Misreading the African Landscape: Society and Ecology in a Forest-Savanna Mosaic. Cambridge University Press. (Labyrinth Books)

November 28 Week 12 James Scott

Intensive, Sustainable, Household Agriculture: A Viable Future


Robert McC. Netting. 1993. Smallholder, Householder, Farm Families and the Ecology of Intensive, Sustainable Agriculture. Stanford: Stanford University Press. (Labyrinth Books)

Andrew Kimbrell. 2002. The Fatal Harvest Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture (excerpts). (Reading Packet)

block print: plowing with horses


Prize: 1 free meal after an Agrarian Studies Colloquium

  • Be the first to name the author of any one of the first three poems.
  • Name the rebellion from which the text of the anonymous letter (4) comes.
  • A correct answer for any one of the four selections wins a prize.


When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Tom's hand was strong to the plough
Elizabeth's lips were red,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Year in year out they worked
While the pines grew overhead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

But all the beautiful crops soon went
To the mortgage-man instead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Elizabeth is dead now (it's years ago)
Old Tom went light in the head;
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

The farm's still there. Mortgage corporations
Couldn't give it away.
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.

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“Peasants Carousing,” detail, by Isack van Ostade (1621–1649), from The Dutch and Flemish Drawings at Windsor Castle by Christopher White and Charlotte Crawley (548pp. Cambridge University Press).


Flee the seat in the shade and staying in bed until dawn
during the season of reaping when the sun is withering the flesh.
This is the time to be hastening and bringing your harvest home,
rising at daybreak, that you may have sufficient to live on.
For Dawn rightfully claims as her own a third of the day's work;
Dawn gives a man a start on the road and a start on his work,
Dawn that brightly arising stirs up many a man to
go on his way and sets the yoke upon many an ox team.
But when you see the scolymus flowering and hear the cicada
sing in the tree, sending its beautiful, vibrating song
pulsing from under its wings in the season of scorching-hot summer,
then you will find that she-goats are fattest, wine most delicious,
women most desirous of love but men most enfeebled,
for now the dogstar Sirios parches their heads and their knees,
and in the heat their skin becomes dry. Then would I have
a shady retreat in the cool of the rocks, and Bibline wine with
mild-leavened bread and milk of goats that are starting to go dry,
and meat of cow that has fed in the woods, one never in calf, and
that of the newborn kid. And then would I drink of the red wine,
as I relax in the shade, my appetite sated completely,
turning my face to enjoy the cooling breezes of Zephyros,
and would pour from a clear and ever free-flowing stream
three parts of water to mix for my drink with one part of wine.
But as soon as the strength of Orion arises, you should
urge your slaves to thresh the holy grain of Demeter
on a spot well swept by the wind, well leveled for threshing.
Then you should measure it off well into your jars. But when you've
got your supply all safely stored on your homestead within doors,
find as hired laborers to help you a man without home and a woman,
one without child, I advise you, for one with a child is a burden.

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The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing
beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

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To all Churches, States and People, on the Sea Sand

O Remember

Samson sent 300 foxes with firebrands into the Philistine's corn fields,
because they robbed him of his natural rights, and God declares Samson
more justifiable than them - so now the Gentiles and Heathen starve the
poor, why marvel ye if every man turns after Samson, `for these are the
days of vengeance, when all shall be fulfilled' under

Extra Executors,
Earthquakes, Panics and Col, Witnesses.

The Peasants’ Rising

Wat Tyler killed King Richard’s tax collector with a roofer’s hammer. The man tried to prove Wat’s daughter old enough to pay the tax. The girl sat shucking peas beside the fire. The tax collector dragged her by the elbows and tore her clothes off. “Woman flesh I call this,” he roard. Wat Tyler’s hammer went to work. From collarbone to forehead Wat was a fire. The girl’s pale skin dripped brains and bits of skull. A growling rabble gathered at the window — everywhere springtime and the noise of birds, a splatter of crocuses, hollyocks by the gate, wagtails darting into the lilac bush, a gust of melancholy in the heart.

A medieval peasant garden.

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Program in Agrarian Studies
Yale University
Box 208209
New Haven, CT 06520-8209
campus address: 204 Prospect Street, Room 204
tel 203/432-9833   fax 203/432-5036
email  agrarian.studies@yale.edu
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Yale Program in Agrarian Studies / Last updated Sun, Aug 23, 2009