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The Real Agricultural Revolution: The Transformation of English Farming, 1939-1985

Paul Brassley, David Harvey, Matt Lobley, and Michael Winter

An investigation into farming practices throughout a period of seismic change.

The Real Agricultural Revolution: The Transformation of English Farming, 1939-1985

In 1939 British agriculture was largely powered by the muscles of men, women, and horses, and used mostly nineteenth-century technology to produce less than half of the country’s temperate food. By 1985, less land and far fewer people were involved in farming, the power sources and technologies had been completely transformed, and the output of the country’s agriculture had more than doubled.

This is the story of the national farm, reflecting the efforts and experiences of 200,000 or so farmers and their families, together with the people they employed. But it is not the story of any individual one of them. We know too little about change at the individual farm level, although what happened varied considerably between farms and between different technologies. Based on an improbably surviving archive of Farm Management Survey accounts, supported by oral histories from some of the farmers involved, this book explores the links between the production of new technologies, their transmission through knowledge networks, and their reception on individual farms. It contests the idea that rapid adoption of technology was inevitable, and reveals the unevenness, variability and complexity that lay beneath the smooth surface of the official statistics.

PAUL BRASSLEY is an Honorary University Fellow in the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter. DAVID HARVEY is an Associate Professor in the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Aarhus University (Denmark), and Honorary Professor of Historical Geography, University of Exeter. MATT LOBLEY is Professor of Rural Resource Management and Director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter. MICHAEL WINTER is Professor of Land Economy and Society in the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter.

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Boydell Studies in Rural History

Richard Hoyle writes:

This is the first volume to appear in the new Boydell Studies in Rural History. Both Boydell and I, as series editor, are delighted to launch the series with a work of such distinction and quality which we anticipate will be widely read and debated. Buy and enjoy!

Other volumes are in preparation: by the end of 2022 we expect to have published three volumes of essays (on agricultural networks, rural housing and early modern Scottish rural history) and a study of enclosure. Other works, both monographs and collections of essays, are in various stages of preparation. Our intention is to make a striking contribution to the discipline with books which are both accessible and challenging. The series’ remit by no means limits it to Britain and Ireland. Informal proposals are welcome: in the first instance they should be directed to me at r.w.hoyle@reading.ac.uk and I can advise on making a formal proposal to the publisher.