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Agrarian Studies Undergraduate Course

“Agriculture, Farmers, Food: Foundational Matters”

  1. Instructor
  2. Meetings
  3. Description
  4. Readings & Assignments
  5. Syllabus

to top Instructor

James C. Scott, Political Science and Anthropology

to top Meetings

The course meets from 3:30 pm to 5:20 pm, Thursday afternoons. Venue will be announced later.

to top Description

This seminar is designed to be a brief but foundational introduction to the study of agriculture, food, and farming: an intellectual ‘boot camp’ for those who want the background knowledge for further work along more specialized lines.

For most of mankind’s history, subsistence activities have been at the center of human work, social life, and artistic imagination. Since the Neolithic revolution and until very recently, most of the world’s population has scratched the earth for a living and much of the rest has been occupied in grinding or otherwise processing it, transporting it, and cooking it. Agriculture has been, then, the key activity in the transformation of the world’s landscape, in the lived experience of work, in the formation of classes, in the organization of social bondage, and in the creation of imagery and in the social imagination. Peasants and farmers are the most numerous class in world history; hence, to study human welfare, material life, rebellions, and aspirations is necessarily to study also the land, those who till it, and what they produce.

The literature falling under this rubric is vast and spans many disciplines. Despairing of any attempt to be comprehensive, the class will be guided by three pedagogical choices: 1) to introduce as many of the major themes as possible in a single semester, 2) to select ‘classic’ works that either attempt an historically deep and sweeping analysis of a theme or that represent an original analysis of a topic that breaks new ground (pun intended), and 3) to emphasize exemplary works of interdisciplinary scholarship. It’s the closest thing to an introduction to basic literature in agrarian studies that I can devise.

to top Readings & Assignments

Since there are so many works that might profitably be read, the class will, occasionally, be divided into two groups, each reading one of two works that are implicitly or explicitly in dialogue with each other. Each group will produce a brief summary of the work they are reading for the other group to serve as a basis for discussion. Each seminar meeting will begin or end with a half hour summary, by the instructor or by an invited guest, of the main intellectual issues raised by the readings.

Students will be expected to write three brief responses to the texts they will be reading and to take responsibility for helping to organize discussions. Students are expected to write a research paper. The topic should be negotiated beforehand with the instructor.

to top Syllabus

The complete syllabus for the fall 2008 course is available online in PDF format [opens in new window].

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Last updated 7/24/11 at 1:58 PM

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Program in Agrarian Studies
Yale University
Box 208300
New Haven, CT  06520-8300 (U.S.A.)

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204 Prospect Street, Room 204
tel 203/432-9833 | fax 203/432-5036

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