Abstract: Some Technological Consequences of Emancipation: Fertilizer, Credit,and the Changing Calendar of Tobacco Agriculture

Barbara Hahn


Examining the history of agricultural technologies uncovers some of the complex causal relationships between market demand and market regulation, between the human manipulation of the plant into commodity production and the institutions that influenced technological choices by outlawing some practices and providing incentives for others. This paper compares the technological systems of tobacco production in three periods of Chesapeake history, examining the different political economies of the colonial, antebellum, and postbellum periods and sketching the ways that different market structures and distinct regulatory frameworks shaped technical choices in each era. It also presents counter-examples, cultivation and harvest methods that developed in other regions and periods, to denaturalize cultivation methods and limits to growth. Taken together, these different systems of agricultural production demonstrate the contextual basis for technological choices, which mature into accepted methods that limit economic possibilities and decision-making.