Decision-Making in Medieval Agriculture

Decision-Making in Medieval Agriculture

Decision-Making in Medieval Agriculture

Decision-Making in Medieval Agriculture

Synopsis

This fascinating and important book uses a wealth of contemporary sources to reconstruct the mental world of medieval farmers and, by doing so, argues that there has been a stereotypical interpretation of the middle ages. David Stone overturns the traditional view of medieval countrymen aseconomically backward and instead reveals that agricultural decision-making was as rational in the fouteenth century as in modern times. Investigating agricultural mentalities first at a local level and then for England as a whole, Dr Stone argues that human action shaped the course of the ruraleconomy to a much greater extent than has hitherto been appreciated, and challenges the commonly held view that the medieval period was dominated by ecological and economic crises. Focusing in particular on responses to commercial forces and the adoption of agricultural technology, this book hassignificant implications for our understanding of agricultural development throughout the last thousand years.

Excerpt

Above all, history is about people, their attitudes, and their actions. One of the main aims of this book is to put medieval people and the economic choices and decisions that they made at the heart of our interpretation of that period. As this implies, and as the first chapter amplifies, this is currently not the case. Indeed, the medieval period has in many ways become synonymous with backwardness; rational decision-making, based on a judicious assessment of known information, is generally thought to have developed much later, in the early modern and modern periods. in attempting to explore the nature and impact of medieval decision-making, this book concentrates on the agricultural economy. After all, approximately nine out of ten people at this time relied on income from land. Moreover, the documentary evidence for English farming is much more informative between the late thirteenth and the early fifteenth centuries (and consequently more capable of revealing the mentalities of those who worked the land) than at any other time before the nineteenth century.

In essentials, the book is a revised and expanded version of my Ph.D. thesis. But as theses are written with just two people in mind (both of them examiners) while books are usually somewhat more optimistic in terms of readership, I have made every effort to make the published version accessible as well as academically challenging. This completely rewritten version of the thesis therefore includes entirely new chapters that broaden out the discussion in a variety of ways and, it is to be hoped, will bring into much sharper focus many of the issues raised. It is intended to be of interest not only to seasoned medieval economic historians but also to undergraduates and postgraduates, some of whom will be grappling with medieval economic and social issues for the first time, to historians (including local historians) whose main interest perhaps falls outside the period or places discussed here, and last but not least to the general reader of history. After all, history undergraduates at Cambridge, East Anglian local historians, and those people who got more than . . .

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